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Why You Should Consider the Patient Journey When Commercializing a Healthcare Product

By understanding how a patient navigates the complex and ever-changing healthcare system, life sciences organizations can better tailor their research, development and commercialization efforts to get the right treatment into the hands of the patients who will benefit most.

Why You Should Consider the Patient Journey When Commercializing a Healthcare Product

By: Sarah Hand, M.Sc.

Posted on: in Blogs | Life Science Blogs | Medical Device Blogs

In today’s competitive healthcare landscape, securing regulatory approval for a drug or device is just the beginning. The introduction of value-based pricing and highly personalized therapies necessitate the use of tools and analytics which will help position a treatment or service in the marketplace.

This is where the idea of the patient journey comes into play. By understanding how a patient navigates the complex and ever-changing healthcare system, life sciences organizations can better tailor their research, development and commercialization efforts to get the right treatment into the hands of the patients who will benefit most.

“The key elements of the patient journey ultimately enable an organization to get a better understanding of how patients are being cared for, what’s working, what’s not working, where unmet needs and opportunities may be, and ultimately, to see what physicians, payers and patients are saying about treatments in an existing marketplace,” says Lou Brooks, Vice President, Commercial Analytics for Optum, a health services company which helps companies leverage real-world data.

Brooks and his colleague Joy Brown, who is Vice President, Advanced Analytic Applications for Optum, will be sharing their insight into the value of the patient journey in an upcoming webinar. Click here to save your spot for this event.

Positioning Your Product Using Patient Journey Analytics

In addition to identifying the steps a patient will take on their journey to diagnose, treat and manage their disease, condition or injury, many more insights can be gained from taking a deeper dive into this data. In a given therapy area, patient journey analytics can help to identify the side effects, breakthrough symptomology and costs associated with currently available treatments. This can help life sciences companies better position their products and services in the marketplace to address patient needs and improve access.

With these types of valuable insights just waiting to be uncovered, life sciences companies can’t afford not to pay attention to the patient journey and its effect on their business.

“For life sciences companies, the biggest potential miss is not maximizing the value of their assets,” says Brooks. “It’s very expensive to develop and bring a product to market and there are a wide range of hurdles – many of which are regulatory in nature – that must be overcome. If you don’t have a good understanding of where to position that product then you can miss out on that investment and not only impact your bottom line, but also miss out on an opportunity to change patients’ lives for the better.”

Since not all medications will benefit all patients, it’s important to identify the market for a given treatment. Maximizing care is a common goal among life sciences companies serving the healthcare sector, but the way in which a company aims to reach that goal can vary depending on their perspective.

“We all tend to look at healthcare through a different lens,” says Brooks. “Payers look at it from one lens, providers look at it from a different lens, life sciences companies from a third, and finally, the patient from a fourth. When you think about this, all four of those individuals are headed down the same path, albeit with a slightly different set of objectives.”

Payers want to ensure that a treatment has a high likelihood of providing a health benefit to their insured patient, particularly when it comes to newer therapies. Physicians and other healthcare providers are most interested in serving their patients and providing them with a treatment option that is tailored towards their individual situation.

The life sciences companies who develop these therapies are looking to provide a drug that works more effectively than the traditional treatment, which is priced in such a way as to provide value and help recoup the costs associated with development. Finally, the patient wants to find a treatment that is effective as soon as possible in their healthcare journey with the fewest side effects.

According to Brooks, understanding how a patient goes from identifying their health issue to the point when the issue is resolved can make the process more efficient, save costs, make it more effective, increase the population’s health and support innovation.

Market Research versus Patient Journey

Traditional market research has been a mainstay of almost every industry, including the life sciences, but Brooks explains that this data source has distinct limitations which restrict its usefulness in informing commercialization-related decisions. Market research comprises a distinct set of questions, with respective answers that may be difficult to collect. Once you’ve amassed a group of people willing to participate in the research – which is no small feat in and of itself – you’ll need to keep their attention long enough to complete it. While the obvious answer to this issue seems to be to make the survey as short as possible, this could make your data worth even less than if you had a stack of partially-finished long surveys.

Brooks points out that patient journey analytics are also of value to market research as it combines multiple data sources including claims data, electronic medical records (EMR), social media data and more. Another important consideration is that not every patient journey has a definite end; for example, while patients with a minor sports injury may receive treatment, signaling an end to their journey, those managing a chronic disease will have a patient journey that is more cyclical in nature.

“We tend to look at patient journey as a higher level analytic process in terms of being able to describe and eventually predict the best courses of action for patient care,” says Brooks. “Market research is a component of that by filling in gaps we can’t obtain from secondary data sources.”

Another key aspect of the patient journey is that it is always changing and is highly-dependant on the healthcare system that the patient is navigating. A cumbersome market research approach to understanding the patient journey was the norm just a few years ago, however the availability of claims data and other sources, along with technological advances, have advanced patient journey analytics.

“Five or ten years ago, a lot of patient journey work was done using primary market research data,” says Brooks. “Organizations would set out to do a set of surveys with patients, providers and payers and would collect information from a relatively small number of individuals to describe that patient journey. As we build tools to help manage that process more effectively, both in how we create the underlying data to analyze the patient journey and the tools that allow us to address business questions in minutes rather than weeks or months and utilize visualization tools that enable us to demonstrate the various paths that exist, we can understand how those paths ultimately tie back to patient outcomes.”

Key Insights from the Patient Journey

The underlying components of patient journey are inherently complicated with as many as seven to eight thousand personalized healthcare pathways existing for a single diagnosis, according to Brooks. In addition, physicians make individualized care decisions for each patient, which now includes the employment of new targeted therapies, which further differentiate one patient’s experience from another. One of the primary benefits of patient journey analytics is in identifying the optimum pathway for a patient to take.

“Imagine being able to sift through millions of patient records, and thousands of potential patient pathways and being able to establish, based on clinical evidence and the data that we’ve analyzed, that these three or four patient journeys or patient pathways are the most effective in getting a patient to a particular goal from a treatment standpoint,” says Brooks. “Now imagine being able to turn that into a predictive algorithm and put it in the hands of clinicians so that when a patient presents with a certain profile, they now have two or three choices at their fingertips rather than spending weeks, or months, or years trying to get that patient into the right spot. From a care management standpoint, we can accelerate that time to treatment and ultimately time to resolution, and hopefully lead to better outcomes and quality of life for patients at a lower cost to the healthcare system.”

Insourcing versus Outsourcing Patient Journey Analytics

So, you’re convinced of the potential benefits of analyzing the patient journey and have decided to start utilizing the available data, or perhaps deepen your dive into this area. But where do you start, and how do you decide whether to take on this task yourself or outsource to a more experienced organization?

Brooks’ advice is to consider your current capabilities and which resources are available to you because this is a very labor-intensive undertaking. If you have the infrastructure to work with raw data, your organization might be better positioned to tackle patient journey analytics; if your capabilities only extend to the analysis of processed data, outsourcing might be a better option.

“The organizations that are most successful at executing this on their own are those that have large quantitative, analytic shops with a good range of data science expertise,” says Brooks. “Those that aren’t successful overestimate their capabilities in that arena as well as the work required to execute on patient journey, and those organizations would be better suited to outsource the project or invest in applications they can use to bring the project in-house.”

Access to the data and advanced analytic tools is just as important as having the “intellectual horsepower” of a group of specialists, including epidemiologists, health economics and outcomes researchers, data scientists and programmers when tackling the patient journey.

For more on the data, methods and applications which drive more effective patient journey analytics, register now for Optum’s upcoming webinar. Not only will Brooks and Brown be exploring how organizations can develop a successful patient journey analysis to drive decision-making, but audience members will have the opportunity to get their questions answered by highly-experienced data experts.


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