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One of the many reasons pharma sales differs from sales in other industries is that the “customer” can be thought of in two ways. Although the US allows direct-to-patient advertising, the pharmaceutical rep is more likely to interact with a physician, nurse, pharmacist, or even a formulary manager than an actual patient. And yet the patient is the eventual customer, because if he or she doesn’t want a drug, doesn’t like the side effects, or finds that the benefits don’t sufficiently outweigh the risks, that prescription won’t get filled.

Patient insight is increasingly being used to design clinical trials that patients actually want to take part in, helping to drive recruitment and retention.

George UnderwoodPharmaTimes Online

Being “patient-focused” isn’t as straightforward for pharma reps as it is for, say, a doctor who wants to market her clinic. But when sales representatives can present relevant information representing the voice of the patient, he makes a stronger case for his product and keeps the focus where it ultimately rests: on the patient.

Are Sales Practices Really Patient-Focused?

It’s easy to say that sales practices are patient-focused, but in many cases, patients themselves might be surprised to hear this. Of course sales professionals must make the sale by working with the clinician, pharmacist, or formulary manager, and this takes time. It’s not hard to see why the opinion of the patient gets lost in all the surrounding action. Being patient-centric largely requires interaction with patients before, during, and after clinical trials.

In order to truly put patients first, pharmaceutical reps must develop the knowledge necessary to sometimes say to doctors, for example, “Patient surveys said they don’t mind twice-a-day dosing, because they don’t have as many side effects.” Doctors generally do know their patients well, but there have been cases where the conventional wisdom as espoused by physicians is contradicted by what patients themselves tell clinical researchers.

Ideally, Patient Centricity Begins Before Clinical Trials

Patient focus should begin well before clinical trials start. Potential trial participants want to know what a product is designed to do, and how, specifically, it is expected to benefit them. Was a drug designed to minimize another drug’s side effects, or was it designed to directly address a patient’s illness? Whether or not they have a scientific background, they are the ones living their lives, and they want some idea of what to expect when deciding whether to commit to a clinical trial.

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Gathering patient input even before trials begin is ideal, because it can then offer a more comprehensive picture of the patient experience at multiple points during the trial, as well as afterward. What’s more, patients want to understand why trials are structured the way they are. In particular, they may want to know why there’s a chance they’ll get a placebo when the drug being tested is supposed to treat a very real and painful illness that they must live with. In some cases, patient input has prompted researchers to redesign trials to address these fears and help ensure more participants benefit from a drug.

Pharma Reps: Listening to Doctors and Listening to Patients

Pharma sales professionals are in a unique position of having to be patient-centric while also having to make the technical and clinical case to the doctors that patients work with. It means listening to both, even if there’s no direct contact between reps and patients. This could be done in several ways. End-of-trial questionnaires are one way researchers listen to patients, and they can be quite revealing, because patients often point out things that researchers simply don’t think of, including fundamental factors like scheduling testing so that it’s compatible with public transportation for patients who don’t drive.

For patients involved in clinical trials, letting them know trial outcomes, in non-technical language, and asking for their own patient-related outcomes in their own words can open up new insights. Researchers may focus on, say, the level of a marker in the blood, but the participants can put it into straightforward terms, like “I can walk farther without getting short of breath.” Paying attention to these insights from clinical trials benefits the sales professional and physician.