Posted: 15 Apr. 2019 3 min. read

Digital tech and strong patient-advocacy partnerships could be a win-win-win for pharma, advocacy groups, and patients

By Jonathan Fox, Specialist leader, Deloitte Consulting LLP

I’m in Philadelphia this week for the annual EyeForPharma conference where I’ll be moderating a panel looking into how pharmaceutical companies and advocacy groups can take their relationship to the next level. Both sides have something to gain, and the patient could be the biggest winner.

Pharmaceutical companies often collaborate with patient advocacy groups, but historically many of these relationships have been transactional rather than strategic. That has the potential to change, which could help to make these relationships stronger and ultimately better for patients. Digital technologies are creating new collaboration opportunities for pharmaceutical companies, patient advocacy groups, and other organizations. Stronger partnerships with advocacy groups could help pharmaceutical companies forge closer relationships with patients. At the same time, funding from pharma could help advocacy groups experiment and develop more innovative and effective ways to support patients. This is all particularly relevant given the current industry context. Rising prescription drug costs, the opioid epidemic, and Congressional hearings have negatively impacted the public perception of the pharmaceutical sector. According to our 2018 survey of US health care consumers, consumers identify pharma companies as the second to last least trusted source of reliable information on treatments (only above social networking sites).

In an era where public perception of the industry is low, a closer relationship with patient advocacy groups could bring increased credibility to the efforts pharma is making to cure disease and improve the lives of patients. At the same time, a stronger relationship could help to highlight some of the pioneering work advocacy groups are doing.

All groups have something to offer, something to gain

Pharmaceutical companies and patient advocacy groups can be stronger together. Partnering strategically and changing the way they engage with each other could help to create broad, patient-focused health ecosystems. Consider these three strategies:

  1. Create strategic partnerships: The relationship between pharma and advocacy typically isn’t seen as a strategic partnership. In fact, we sometimes see the two organizations doing similar activities to support patients, which can drive confusion in the market. What is likely needed is more of a big-picture approach….to collaboratively discuss what patients need and then determine how those needs will be addressed. This could help eliminate duplicate efforts while bringing more effective, patient-centric solutions to the market.
  2. Think above the brand: Pharmaceutical companies sometimes limit their engagement to patients who use their products. To be truly patient-centric, they should consider the whole patient. Instead of seeing advocacy groups as a way to just promote their products, pharma companies could work with them to promote what is best for patients. Nearly 70 percent of consumers said they would trust a prescription drug more if the manufacturer provided information, tools, and support to help them manage their disease, according to a 2018 report from the public relations firm, Edelman. Teaming with advocacy to bring the patient the holistic support they need could provide pharma companies with opportunities to become more patient centric.
  3. Build a digitally connected health care ecosystem: Digital technology can play a significant role in allowing pharmaceutical companies to more effectively and efficiently reach and engage with patients. At this point, few companies have been successful in connecting directly with patients. Patient advocacy groups, by contrast, typically have strong relationships with patients, but they tend to have limited resources to develop digital tools for patients. Other players in the ecosystem—such as providers, start-ups and payers—also have much to gain from bringing innovative solutions to market. Increasing the collaboration across players in the ecosystem can also help drive greater overall value and provide opportunities to scale solutions and drive greater impact.
    There is a tremendous opportunity for pharmaceutical companies, patient advocacy groups, and other stakeholders to change the way they engage with each other and with patients. Organizations that succeed in building strong partnerships can unlock value and set themselves apart.

If you happen to be at the EyeForPharma conference this week, please stop by my session on Tuesday, April 16 (The importance of advocacy groups in driving next generation patient centric platforms and engagement). We will be diving into this topic more in-depth.


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Jonathan Fox

Jonathan Fox

Managing Director | Deloitte Consulting LLP

Jonathan is a leader within Deloitte’s life sciences practice. He has more than 20 years of consulting experience, primarily focused on envisioning and implementing innovative customer and technology strategies and assisting companies with building capabilities to address evolving market dynamics. Jonathan has focused a significant amount of time on the topics of digital strategy and innovation, patient engagement, mHealth, digital R&D, real world evidence and new care delivery models.