Browse through any clinical trial-focused conference agenda around the world, and you’ll see a new, hot, must-attend topic: patient centricity. At a first glance it seems relatively straightforward, right? After all, patients are literally where clinical trials happen. We ought to consider them in the work we do. That should go without saying.
And yet as with so many trends-turned-buzzwords, in spite of the popularity of patient centricity, there’s a distinct lack of clarity as to what it means. There are dozens of articles, panels, and papers about the importance of patient centricity; new technologies spring up every day, and patient advocacy is suddenly on everyone’s minds. We’re willing to invest to look good, it seems. But try and find an in-depth critique, or deep data, on the results of patient centricity, and you’ll come up relatively empty handed. New technology, digital enrollment, VR, or any other new trend, does not equal patient centricity. It may be part of it, but it is not the whole sum.
The truth is, our industry has avoided the voice of the patient for years. And now that it’s all the rage, we’re scrambling to look good for sponsors, investors, and ultimately, patients. You could go as far as to say that the concept of patient centricity has been obscured significantly in the last few years, diminished to little more than another sales ploy, that all-important punctuation for sponsors to help in their decision-making processes.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. The truth is that patient centricity, real patient centricity, is difficult but essential. And companies hoping to get by on the least effort are going to be in for a big surprise in the next few years if they don’t learn to adapt.
Marketing and patient centricity
Patient centricity, as a concept, isn’t new. In fact, it owes a certain debt to consumer marketing. In brand lingo, it’s called the customer journey, and it’s a new way of thinking of the end user first, rather than the brand’s messages or aims.
Forrester defines the customer journey as, “…the series of interactions between a customer and a company that occur as the customer pursues a specific goal. (The journey may not conform to the company's intentions.)”
In the clinical trial space, by extension, that means that the planning, protocol, goals, and means, should all consider the patient first. And though it looks very good on paper, many “patient centricity” attempts still define the trend by their own goals. Here is an example:
Unfortunately, the patient is significantly divorced from the actual aim in this definition: we’re talking clinical trial endpoints and objectives. It looks right on a first glance, but what does “interest in the patient community” mean, anyway? How is it measured? How does it change the goals of the trial?
Like the customer journey, patient centricity seems a natural fit in the information age. Everyone has a voice, and the digital landscape is a breeding ground for data. Simple social media searches can help predict outbreaks. Complex algorithms can break down the prevalence of certain diseases in patient populations.
But it’s not so easy to be patient-centric. It requires doing a whole lot more. It’s not just about listening to patients, it’s about being willing to make changes and adapt on their behalf. And clinical trials are notoriously bad at adapting.