5 minute read 12 Aug 2019
Doctor comforting patient in hospital

Putting patient outcomes at the heart of digital engagement


EY Global

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

5 minute read 12 Aug 2019

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Technology advances, changing expectations of treatment, and new regulatory requirements are converging to re-shape the Life Sciences sector.

At some point in our lives every one of us will be a patient, whether for a chronic or acute condition. When that happens, we assume that those responsible for our treatment – healthcare professionals and those developing the treatments we’re prescribed – will make decisions based on a deep understanding of our condition and how to treat it.

In the past, medicines were developed for large groups of patients, but today, understanding each patient’s unique journey is critical to how products are successfully developed, approved and marketed. 

In this blog, I discuss how technology advances, changing expectations of treatment, and new regulatory requirements are converging to re-shape the Life Sciences sector.

Changing expectations

The Life Sciences industry is changing because it has to. The industry’s legacy cost base can’t be sustained; health authorities are demanding more evidence of efficacy, safety and cost-effectiveness. More importantly, the expectations of patients, and society at large, are undergoing rapid change.

Digital transformation is impacting everything, from R&D right through to manufacturing, supply chain and all commercial activities.

There is no doubt that advances in treatment and innovative technologies have the potential to radically improve patient experience – but they bring a new set of challenges.

Networked R&D

The sector is now more focused on networked R&D – R&D that’s no longer conducted just within pharma companies, but is also hugely dependent on external third parties like service providers, research organisations, technology partners and academic institutes.

These multiple data sources now drive the identification of the products and services that should receive R&D investment and become most relevant to patients and their outcomes in the market.

This creates new challenges, like assuring compliance with global data privacy requirements, and deciding what capabilities to acquire related to advanced analytics and artificial intelligence.

Pharmaceuticals is one of the few industries where the traditional customer is not the product’s end consumer, because end users have to go through a gate keeper – their health care professional.

In many cases, it’s not just the health care professional who has a say, but also the paying authority, the HSE, the NHS, or the health insurer. So there are many different perspectives that need to be considered.

Outcome-based treatments

Outcome-based treatments are only truly possible if the people making the product understand what a good outcome is for the patient, the prescriber and the payer.

The last 3-5 years have seen companies investing heavily in understanding patient and health care professional’s journeys so they really understand what’s going on from pre-diagnosis, through diagnosis and tests, treatment and cure or long-term maintenance.

This investment by Pharma companies has been broadly welcomed by patients and their representative groups. What we have seen with, for example, diabetes, dermatological conditions and some cancers, is a real drive from patients to engage with the companies making their medicines.

The historical distance between Pharma and patients is now evolving into a mutually beneficial relationship driven by higher patient expectations.

In treatments for rare diseases – ‘orphan drugs’ – where there are very small numbers of patients with very rare conditions, a company must establish closer relationships with the physicians and patients from the very early stages, to understand them and make their treatments work.

Regulatory concerns

However, there are two constraints to overcome in order to have meaningful engagement with both patient and company. The first is the fear of breaching regulatory boundaries.

Companies must understand the codes of practice in the regions they operate in. In Ireland the IPHA have set out the standard for digital engagement so the industry knows what’s feasible, and where the boundaries are.

Secondly, technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, and companies in the Life Sciences sector may struggle to deal with this. Innovative start-ups and global technology providers are disrupting the digital health space by using technology to enhance their offering.

Data protection issues continue to evolve, and are often seen as a barrier to engagement. However, we have seen many companies take the initiative to educate their staff about data privacy so these considerations are built into any initiative right from the start.

It’s truly everybody's responsibility to understand the obligations and have a clear path to escalate any concerns or questions, or seek advice.

What next?

Most, if not all, companies are looking at digital engagement – but in some cases, the overall objective is not clear. From our perspective, the key issue for Life Science companies is understanding what they are trying to achieve from investment – then build and execute a strategy to meet those objectives.

A broader consideration of the impact on IT architecture is also important, and a success factor in moving from proof of concept to broader implementation.

4 key questions to ask:

  1. How well do we understand our patients and what does a ‘good treatment outcome’ mean for them?
  2. How well do we understand the healthcare professionals and other stakeholders and their needs?
  3. Are the channels and ways we engage with these customers relevant for them? What needs to change?
  4. Is our IT architecture fit to deliver the right customer engagement in a secure, compliant way?

At EY we have extensive experience helping Life Sciences companies in many countries define and execute innovative customer engagement programmes in several therapeutic areas, including dermatology, cardiovascular and oncology.


Today, understanding each patient’s unique journey is critical to how products are successfully developed, approved and marketed.

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EY Global

Multidisciplinary professional services organization