COVID-19 has dramatically altered the patient experience. During Impact Summit 2020, Hensley Evans, a ZS principal and expert on patient centricity, and Laurie Meyers, Head of Patient Engagement at Genentech (Commercial, Medical and Government Affairs), discussed how the treatment journey and patient experience has evolved, and ways pharma can consider responding and supporting patients and their needs.


Hensley Evans: As a result of COVID-19, what sorts of changes in the patient experience are you seeing?


Laurie Meyers: What we’re seeing is that the journey looks different, just like every patient’s healthcare journey usually looks different. In this space, it’s about safety, trust and ability to access therapy.


COVID-19 has accelerated the drive towards technology-enabled healthcare delivery. We’re seeing the patient journey evolve based on when and how patients entered the healthcare market. For example, if you’re a patient who started seeing your physician again or accessing your therapy again early on in the pandemic, you might be a bit more comfortable with telemedicine. And you may be a bit more comfortable with the different ways to access your therapy, maybe different infusion sites, because you’ve created that trust and comfort. Many of our patients are immunocompromised, which means many have still been self-quarantining. So they’re back to that thought process of, “I need to know if it’s safe, I need to know that I’m going to be protected [on site]. What’s my risk, especially given that I’m immunocompromised or a high-risk patient?” There are also barriers we’re more familiar with, like, “How do I access my therapy when affordability is more important than ever?”


HE: I know you mentioned a story about some of the questions your call centers were getting and how they’ve shifted over time. Could you share that story with us?


LM: When the pandemic first started, and we were thinking about how to focus on experience, we brought all of our patient support contact centers and teams together and we created a way to share patient feedback, questions and stories in real time, so that we as an organization could evolve where needed and make sure we had fast, accurate, up-to-date answers to patients’ questions. We started getting a very specific question: “Where was my medicine made? In what country?” It wasn’t necessarily something that would be high up on our FAQs, but it was important to patients. And we needed to make sure that we worked with teams across the organization to provide this information and affirm our commitment to delivering medicines safely to patients. Right now we’re getting questions around flu season, and what that means for them. I think our most important lesson—and something we strive to do every day at Genentech—is instead of just creating solutions, to listen to the patients. Let them tell us what they need, and then let’s figure out the best way to get that to them quickly.


HE: I love that story. What are some other tools that you’ve used to get input from patients in real time?


LM: We do that in a couple of different ways. We work really closely with our advocacy partners to get patient perspectives. We also, as I mentioned, share the real-time feedback we’re getting across contact centers so that we can make changes quickly in regard to the experience. Another way we get feedback, which is new at Genentech and has proven to be the most rewarding, was to establish a patient co-creation council. The council currently has over 100 patients on it and is growing quickly. We work directly with patients weekly, so when something comes up, we ask them about it. If there’s a problem statement and the organization wants to do something about it, we can get the issue in front of the patient co-creation council to validate that the problem is what we think it is. And then we partner with them on creating a solution. I bring up the problem statement because it’s really important. Nine times out of 10, the problem we think we need to solve is not a problem for patients, or there are other things they’d prefer we work together to solve. That’s why we appreciate being able to work with patients directly so that we’re creating services and solutions for them with them.


HE: How is Genentech thinking about telemedicine, the role it plays in the patient journey with new diagnoses and new starts, and how Genentech should partner with or think about telemedicine providers?


LM: As patients and the healthcare industry as a whole get more comfortable with it, it will evolve. Our greatest challenge is going to be resisting creating overly complex solutions because when we do that, we’re putting the burden back on our patients. COVID-19 has accelerated the need for and the adoption of telemedicine.


As an organization, we aren’t trying to be the solution when it comes to telemedicine. What we’re hearing from our patients and their providers is that they don’t need more options on this from us. They’re trying to figure out what works best for them. What’s important is hearing from them so that we can see the best way to support patients who need our medicines. Patients like consistency, and what they may be experiencing today is that the tool their hospital uses is different from the tool their primary care physician is using, which may be different than the tool we’re using. We see it’s a traumatic time for patients and there’s a lot of fear and uncertainty. The last thing we want is to create more clutter and burden. We recognize that things for patients are evolving as they learn to access care through telemedicine, but we also hear them saying, “Please don’t overburden me because I’m still learning.” Do I think telemedicine’s still evolving? Absolutely. We’re committed to figuring out ways to seamlessly and consistently support the patients we serve in the ways that are the most meaningful for them.


HE: Yes, and when we think about patients staying on their therapy, removing barriers becomes especially important. One of the places we see this is with delivery of medications. Patients are saying they prefer not having to go into a retail pharmacy setting where people who are sick may also be going to pick up medications. What are you seeing in terms of medication delivery and trends around other support mechanisms to help patients stay on their current medications?


LM: We’re seeing two things. First, questions from patients around “Do I have different options for accessing my medicine?” are increasing. We particularly see that with our clinical trials. Are there patients who aren’t going into their clinical trials site and are there ways for them to still be able to receive their oral medications? Before, they were very comfortable with whichever mode they were receiving their medication. This is a behavioral change. Second, patients need alternate sites to be infused. For example, the infusion centers they were going to and may be comfortable with may not have opened or may have had limited access for them to receive their treatment during COVID-19. One way we’ve been trying to support patients, in coordination with their physicians, is to find alternative site options for them to receive their treatments when necessary. That’s really important when you think about meeting patients where they are. I don’t know what next week’s problems are going to be. I anticipate that as they evolve, new barriers are going to come up. For us, it’s about being flexible, listening and really considering how we can best support patients in ways they want, need and trust us to do.


HE: Could you spend a few minutes explaining your overarching mission regarding patient centricity?


LM: Our vision at Genentech is to become patient centered. We use “become” very purposefully because the journey will continue to evolve for patients, and we want to continue to evolve as we need to. Our “becoming” isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. Our mission statement was created in partnership with patients and it focuses on three key things: ensuring seamless, consistent and meaningful experiences for patients. What we hear loud and clear from them is “I want you to listen to me.” “I want you to make this easier. It’s too complicated. You’re a small piece of my overall life, and a small piece of my overall healthcare.” Our mission has stayed the same throughout the pandemic, and it will stay the same as we get through this and into our new normal, because that’s what patients need from us. They want to make sure that we’re listening, that we’re actually building and supporting them with solutions that were built with them. We want to make sure that patients identify the problems they have and prioritize them with us. That’s going to start us off on a journey of co-creating better experiences and the right solutions for and with patients.