Matt Eagles is our Head of Patient Engagement, here he tells us about his experience of the PM Society Patient Engagement event; 'A Real World Snapshot Beyond The Talk'

To say I was excited about this event is an understatement. I genuinely was. The thought that I would gain new insight into patient relationships with pharma and HCPs to bring back to the office filled me with optimism. But I soon realised that with new insight comes new problems, and there are many hurdles to overcome before we reach the optimum outcome.

Probably the biggest take-away from this conference is that there is no doubt Pharma companies are endeavouring to become patient-centric and engage with patient communities. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind the desire is there the plans are there, but the missing piece of the jigsaw is the final commitment to allocate resources to and budget for a patient engagement programme to show they really mean business and they are not just paying lip service to a vital cog in the pharma wheel. Talk is cheap, but investing in a lifelong commitment to patients is not. It is by no means straightforward and there are several issues which need to be addressed before this can happen.

Fear was a recurrent theme of the conference – meaning Pharma companies need to be braver. Currently they are scared to death of negative consequences as a direct result of their interactions with patients – which, as a patient myself, I totally understand. However, in order to better understand the patient journey and build relationships, it is crucial that when the patients tell their story it is inevitable that details may emerge which might not always be palatable. Patient journeys are rarely smooth and problem-free and the sooner this can be recognised, the better. If pharma companies could ‘listen without prejudice’ then all stakeholders would gain invaluable insight and that in turn would begin to establish trust which still appears to be in short supply. The goals are essentially the same – to improve health outcomes. The tactics and strategy for getting there are not.

Guy Yeoman, founder of MediPaCe and VP, Patient Centricity at AstraZeneca, spoke about getting people to engage with their disease and highlighted the ‘burning platform’,

“How do you motivate the patient to want to engage in the first place?”

In response he highlighted a need for transparency, a need for respect and compassion and a need to understand the best possible outcome within a tangible framework.

The most surprising question of the whole afternoon was,

“How do you overcome the notion that if [you] are patient centric that you are ‘soft and fluffy’ and not commercially focused? The answer lies in the interpretation of patient centricity and how willing companies are to change their behaviours. Far from being ‘soft and fluffy’ they should be considered brave and forward-thinking if they can adopt policies which have patients at their centre.

With this bravery will come mutual respect and commercial success.