In mid-2019, ZS partnered with eyeforpharma on the ZS Patient Centricity Industry Study, surveying professionals on their patient centricity efforts and progress. The study found nearly universal agreement about the importance and significance of being patient centric, but noted that investment has not yet matched intent. We also identified an “optimism gap” in terms of how far we’ve really come as an industry (senior leaders think more progress has been made than middle management). Yet during the past few months as the industry responds to the pandemic, pharma has demonstrated that it can quickly mobilize to surround and support patients. In particular, we’ve seen pharma move quickly to focus the workforce on patient priorities, invest to understand the impact of coronavirus on the patient and partner with others in the ecosystem.


The ZS Patient Centricity Industry Study highlighted the challenge in taking patient centricity from a vision to implementation. We found that while 73% of participants agreed that patient centricity is fundamental to their organization, only 16% said they understood their individual role in the organization’s patient centricity initiatives. As the pandemic emerged, we saw several pharma organizations pull together cross-functional “SWAT teams” to give patients continued access to medication and treatments. Several organizations have also shifted clinical trials to be more virtual and used remote monitoring to support patient health and safety and alleviate burden. If nothing else, these efforts help to emphasize the role all functions can play in supporting the patient, from finance and HR, to reimbursement specialists and call center nurses, to clinical directors.


Pharma’s efforts to rally around the patient in this time of need have highlighted the fact that most organizations simply didn’t have a good grasp of how the patient experience evolves and changes over time. Recent ZS research shows that few organizations in pharma actually measure the patient experience, and those that do use more indirect metrics such as NPS, adherence or engagement with marketing materials. In fact, the ZS Patient Centricity Industry Study found that just 6% of participants believe their organizations have patient data readily available for analysis and measuring impact. Over the past three months, we’re starting to see organizations look at new ways to engage with patients, like patient panels to continually check in and monitor the impact on the patient experience, connecting with patient advocacy groups to get a pulse on critical needs and leveraging the field force to hear from physicians where their patients need the most help.


In fact, pharma has shown great flexibility and creativity in tapping into their combined expertise and skills to support patients and the healthcare community in a time of need. Pfizer rolled out a five-point plan including an R&D SWAT team to support vaccine development. Lilly, Merck and others banded together to help employees with relevant skills volunteer on the front lines of treatment and several pharma companies have joined with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to share data. Over 50% of participants in the ZS Patient Centricity Industry Study said their organizations have advanced or transformed partnership capabilities. However, while the capabilities exist, their potential to improve the lives of patients might not yet be fully realized.


Pharma often cites regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles to patient centricity, yet our study found that in reality, it’s more a function of fear of the unknown and lack of precedent versus a real limitation. Forty-three percent of participants cited difficulty identifying quantitative, measurable KPIs that fit within organizational structure and practices, 29% indicated a lack of tools and resources to help communicate tangible outcomes and the case for change and 22% cited organizational silos as the true barriers. As an industry, our collective experience responding to COVID-19 has emphasized the importance and the meaning of being patient centric and demonstrated not only that we should be more patient centric, but that we can do it.


As pharma settles into operating in this new world of business unusual, here’s how organizations can be more patient centric:

  • Deeply embed the vision:
    • Help employees learn what it means to be patient centric in their role and why it matters to the business using the lessons from COVID-19 by removing hurdles to access, partnering to advance treatments and engaging more closely with advocacy.
    • Break down silos and foster collaboration internally and externally. This may require a cultural shift, and sometimes a mandate from senior leadership helps motivate teams to collaborate.
  • Invest in implementation:
    • Create accountability for being patient centric. Set actionable KPIs and share learnings across the organization. Some organizations have begun to include patient-focused metrics in employee performance reviews. Others have co-developed a framework for measuring patient impact with advocacy groups.
    • Allocate funds and resources to teams for patient initiatives.
    • Focus on the infrastructure and capabilities needed to collect and democratize patient data. Often this means investing in collecting and consolidating patient data and investing in platforms that can make it more accessible across the organization.
  • Partner more broadly:
    • Continue to work with patient organizations and expand to others that play a key role in patients’ lives, such as health tech, telehealth and other providers and payers. For example, as a result of the pandemic, several brands are partnering with telehealth providers to help patients get access to an HCP.
    • Actively work with others (pharma partners, providers, payers, technology firms and regulators) to meet patient needs. This can be in the form of sharing data, collaborating on new initiatives to help raise awareness of PROs or addressing access hurdles.

Industry leaders agree that patient centricity is important, and COVID-19 has proven that it’s possible to actually be more patient centric – but some organizations still have work to do in getting there. By following these recommendations and sharpening their focus, pharma organizations will be in a better position to succeed.