By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @RfwrightLSL
Everyone has experienced poor customer service in one form or another. Say you want to call a company with a question or a complaint about a product. After being prompted to press a series of buttons to get you to the right person, you’re likely to be informed by an automated voice that, “Due to the high volume of calls we are currently experiencing, your anticipated wait time will be X minutes. For faster and more convenient customer service, please visit our website at www.wedon’tcaretospeaktoyou.com.
Every time I encounter these kinds of scenarios I get the impression that the company isn’t doing a good job of understanding the needs of its customers. After all, if they are truly receiving a “high volume” of calls, wouldn’t that be an indicator that their customers prefer the telephone as a means of communicating? And sending those customers on a second errand — searching through your website — may not be the best way to strengthen that company/customer bond.
In the biopharmaceutical industry, everyone is talking about strengthening the company/patient bond, hence the proliferation of patient-centric programs and initiatives, especially those pertaining to clinical trials.
Enable The Patient’s Voice
At the 5th annual DPharm: Disruptive Innovations to Advance Clinical Trials conference there was a lot of discussion around how cell phones can be used to passively and continuously measure patients in clinical trials. For example, by using mobile phones with built-in accelerometers and a Parkinson’s app, researchers were able to measure the stability of a Parkinson patient, as well as how that stability improved with the onset of an effective treatment.
Nuria Oliver, Ph.D., scientific director for Telefonica R&D Barcelona, is an expert on the symbiotic relationship that has developed between human beings and their cell phones. She enlightened the conference’s audience on the “quantified self movement” — the aim by people to use technology to measure all aspects of their daily lives. Despite the hype of wearables, Oliver says the future of computing resides in mobile computing (i.e., the smartphone). Though there are a variety of technologies that will soon enable people to have multisensory interactions (i.e., touch, taste, and smell) with their phones, it is voice (i.e., people using their voice to interact with their phones) that Oliver views as being key to unleashing the power and potential of the smartphone. I submit that enabling the patient’s voice — i.e., determining their communication preferences and listening to what they have to say — is the key to biopharmas improving their clinical trials and becoming truly patient-centric.
There Isn’t One Definition Of Patient-Centric
On the second day of DPharm, Joseph Kim, senior advisor of clinical development innovation at Eli Lilly, talked about the importance of simple innovations, “Those that are so obvious that no one is paying attention to.” His idea, empower the patient to be able to easily access clinical trials online. Built on a system similar to the OpenTable restaurant reservation technology (being developed by Yuzu Labs) that allows customers to make dinner reservations online, Kim created a system that allows patients to register themselves for clinical trials. While his idea may seem simplistic, from my perspective, it most certainly qualifies as also being disruptive. Is it patient-centric? Well that depends. An enlightening moment occurred when Kim asked the audience if they still call to make dinner reservations. He shared that he can’t remember the last time he used the phone to make a reservation, and made a generalization that hardly anyone does either. Here in lies the rub on what it means to be customer-centric/patient-centric. Obviously for Kim, OpenTable is much more customer-centric than using the phone. Similarly, for some patients, Kim’s system may be much more patient-centric, while for others, the telephone might be preferred. Perhaps being truly patient-centric requires a willingness to be flexible.
One of the DPharm presentation topics I found to be disruptively innovative was conducted by Janick Michel, global director direct-to-patient contact at Mapi, a patient-centered research company; and Jeremy Edwards, VP of business development and general manager for Exco InTouch, a clinical research technology company. According to Michel, taking a patient-centric approach requires a willingness to deploy a variety of different technologies — including paper — to capture clinical trial information. Considering the movement to remove paper from clinical trials, their idea is very disruptive.
Ultimately, the best option will be to create devices, apps, and processes that can automatically capture information without inconveniencing the clinical trial patient, or better yet actually “conveniencing” the patient. So, if a patient calls to sign up to participate in a clinical trial, don’t put them on hold and then give them the option to go sign up via your website. Be patient-centric: Consider how you can be more accommodating of patient preferences and perhaps less stringent on serving your own.