Views from the DT research team: why pharma medical affairs and clinical development need a better customer experience

By Francesca Properzi

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Three weeks ago, I had the pleasure to join DT Consulting as the new research director covering clinical operations and medical affairs. As a neuroscientist with many years of experience in life science research I am excited and thrilled to start contributing to what I consider one of the most urgent challenges of the industry: connecting pharma with their customers. Without proper solutions to improve the communication channels and the experience of healthcare professionals (HCPs) and patients, the pharmaceutical industry will not thrive.

Pharmaceutical companies are running behind other sectors in improving and building capabilities around customer journeys and experiences, with digital transformation plans

lagging. In contrast, and as I have learnt from my life science journey, pharmaceutical assets’ competition is increasing. The industry is shifting towards personalized medicine and preventative approaches which are becoming increasingly available and have the potential to deliver more sustainable models of care. For these new approaches the industry’s connection with HCPs and patients is essential.

So, what are the actions that pharma companies need to take to bridge the gap with customer needs, provide a better customer experience (CX) and stay competitive?

Standardized assessments of patient and HCP experiences are a first key step. Our diagnostic tools to measure progress in a firm’s digital maturity and the degree to which great customer experiences are created, are already providing accurate guidance for commercial organizations in pharma. I feel the time is right to look at its equivalent for clinical and medical organizations.

We believe the opportunity for pharmaceutical companies today is to improve the patient experience holistically, despite the challenges. Therefore, we will be looking at digital maturity and CX across the pharma value chain, including clinical development, medical affairs, and commercial operations.

As a research director here at DT, I thought I’d share my initial thinking in terms of research these focus areas to achieve this goal:

Clinical Development

The R&D process leading to the identification and approval of new drugs has reached an unsustainable cost of over two billion dollars per asset, largely due to the expensive nature and high rate of failures of clinical trials. Indeed, of ten drugs that enter human testing only one is on average approved for patient treatment. Why is the process so inefficient? The lack of a sufficient level of efficacy and safety underpins 70% of failures.[1] In addition, a substantial percentage of trials is interrupted due to poor patient engagement and experience for which the industry lacks good assessment standards.[2],[3] The main challenges in clinical development today are:

  • Patient recruitment: finding participants that are willing to undertake trials is one of the most-expensive processes of clinical development, accounting for 30% of total costs. Currently at least 80% of trials are delayed or cancelled due to the lack of a sufficient number of patients, that are either not found or not available to initiate the study.[4] Is this because pharma can’t find them, or because they can’t onboard them properly? 
  • Patient retention: only 7% of patients originally identified for the trial successfully complete it. Evidence shows that most dropouts are related with poor quality of communication with trial researchers and coordinators;[5]
  • Patient adherence: A whopping 40% of patients become non-adherent to the treatment within few weeks undermining the quality of the trials. Patient adherence crucially depends on the relationship of HCPs with patients, which need support with follow-ups and reminders and trust in communicating unexpected symptoms.[6]

Companies’ digital strategies and capabilities aimed at improving HCP and patient clinical trial journey in each of these areas have the potential to increase the success rate of drug testing and significantly reduce R&D costs.

Medical Affairs

HCPs scientific exchange and engagement with pharma companies, outside the promotional area, is key to improve the knowledge on how a new drug is performing. Better, more personalized information can lead to more awareness, better education, and, also improved alignment to healthcare systems and sustainable strategies. Medical Affairs is strategically positioned to achieve these goals, and to become one of most important functions for the future of the pharmaceutical industry.

Research by Indegene’ Medical Affairs Digital Strategy Council identified the following criteria for delivering good customer experience and interactions in Medical Affairs, which align with DT’s findings :

  • Human-centred design: customer experiences that are clear, simple and intuitive are more easily adopted, especially if they are developed in collaboration with the end users
  • Individualization: bringing relevant information and services to customers is a key driver of engagement. Exciting new technologies like big data and machine learning promise to help companies individualize their customer engagement efforts
  • Trust: communication with customers need to be credible, accurate and evidence based. T rust can slip not only from the perspective of content, but also when required new ways of working to meet customer needs across different channels are not adopted well.

In conclusion, I’m excited to uncover the opportunities, challenges, best practices that digital technologies bring to the industry, specifically in Clinical Operations and Medical Affairs sectors.

[1] https://www.nature.com/articles/d41573-019-00074-z

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6092479/

[3] https://trialsjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13063-019-3444-y

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7342339/

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6092479/

[6] https://www.nature.com/articles/nrd.2017.1

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