Eliran Malki, co-founder and CEO of Belong.Life, explores what pharma can do to engage the modern patient

Over the past few years, our digital world has moulded a new kind of patient – engaged and empowered individuals who want to be actively involved in their health journey.

With access to different treatment paths and complementary approaches based on location, physician, insurance, funds and more, therapies are becoming more personalised than ever before. The market is evolving – the patient voice has been amplified, forcing pharma companies to develop new ways to listen and interact, creating new opportunities to understand and prioritise patient needs and preferences.

What Do Patients Really Want?

Today, the expert knowledge that once exclusively belonged to physicians is now easily accessible to patients, thanks to the internet. As a result, patients have become active consumers instead of passive participants in their medical care. Their expectations have risen in conjunction with their increased participation and they want to be personally engaged. Patients want to be treated as people, and in our digital age this is not always easy. Like any other business, healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies can appear as faceless entities. Pharma can benefit greatly from bridging this gap and creating an approachable brand that patients feel they can engage with.

What Can Pharma Do?

To engage patients, pharma must create trust and opportunities for genuine, two-way interactions. Traditionally, pharma has only interfaced with healthcare professionals and patient advocacy groups about patients’ needs, but for various reasons have spent less effort communicating with individual patients directly about their experiences, needs and wants. The time has come for this to change!

Here are some ways this change can be achieved, keeping current regulations in mind:

* Always be there: Deliver value to patients all the time, even before they use your drug

* Take a holistic approach: Go beyond the medicine and try to understand the ecosystem they are navigating and their challenges. This may especially help when trying to optimise adherence

* Be patient-centric: Focus on the patients’ needs, personalise your value and timing, and focus on how to improve patient quality of life and quality of care

* Provide emotional support: Build a community around a medical condition/medication, encouraging patients to share their experiences with others going through the same

* Research and improve care: Listen, understand and evaluate real- world patient experiences to help shape future decision-making

* Use artificial intelligence (AI): The world is data driven. If you engage patients, you can use advanced tools to discover patterns that let you anticipate patient needs and create an even more personalised experience, providing information and support exactly when it is needed

A Strengthened Connection

Just as Amazon revolutionised the way we consume products, so too digital health is changing the way patients consume medical care. Patients are becoming digital consumers with the ability to manage their own treatments, and the results are significant. Over the next few years, patients will continue to play a crucial role in pharma decision-making – impacting millions of lives and billions of dollars. Making this shift is undoubtedly challenging as it requires shifting mindset and business models. However, the future is undoubtedly patient engagement. Companies who can successfully achieve the above points will have a far greater understanding of patient needs and market demands. Furthermore, they will help patients better appreciate the critical role of pharma in the healthcare continuum. Ultimately, this shift is a win-win for pharma and patients and will improve healthcare for everyone.

Eliran Malki is the co-founder and CEO of Belong.Life, developer of social and professional networks for managing and navigating treatments, among them the world’s largest social network for cancer patients - Belong - Beating Cancer Together, BelongMS, and more.