From ‘patients’ to ‘customers’: Roche’s Dr Christian Velten explains why this matters

Patients deserve the best care and treatment possible. It’s a no-brainer. But we need to shake up the idea of ‘patient centricity’ if we are to fully realise this ambition.

Understanding how a condition can affect every facet of a person’s life is critical to designing effective clinical trials, diagnostic tests, new drug treatments, empathetic healthcare services and more.

But we’re still not there yet. In an earlier article we discussed how the pharmaceutical industry should forget patient centricity and become more ‘patient obsessed’. It’s a sentiment shared by Dr Christian Velten, Strategic Lead for Digital Customer Experience for Roche Pharmaceuticals. However, Dr Velten proposes going further by dropping the term ‘patient’ entirely.

In our recent webinar, he spoke to Mark Doyle, creator of A Life in a Day, about why the term ‘customers’ can lead to better outcomes for patients and why he believes this is the only way for the industry as a whole to achieve its patient-centric goals.

Watch the full video:

Patients as customers

During the webinar, Dr Velten discussed how crucial it is to always think about patients as customers. Whether a clinical trial is being designed, a treatment is in the process of being approved by regulators, or care is being provided, the person who ultimately benefits – and pays – is the patient.

This can be easy to forget, especially by teams who may have more contact with healthcare professionals, regulatory bodies or researchers. But without the patient, everything will inevitably fall apart. This is why, Dr Velten argues, that all activity must be done with the patient as the final customer in mind.

This isn’t about telling patients that they are customers, it’s about treating them like customers. For example, understanding what’s important to them, the information and care they might need at different stages, any challenges they may face in accessing treatment or care, and the impact on their life.

“How can I – in whatever role I have in contributing to care for this patient – put the patient in the centre of whatever we do,” Dr Velten said. “It is about this person’s life.”

Can the term ‘customer’ lead to a deeper level of care?

While the term ‘customer’ is normally used in a commercial context, Dr Velten has a different way of thinking about it.

“My logical chain is , customer equals ‘it’s about me’, equals ‘people care bout what I need’, equals ‘I’m taken [seriously], equals ‘good’.”

Dr Christian Veltan, Roche Pharmaceuticals

For him, calling patients ‘customers’ isn’t about the pharma and healthcare industries being more commercially minded. It’s about providing a better level of care and giving patients more value. It’s about taking patients seriously and for patients to know that they are being taken seriously.

This can begin by talking to them as human beings to find out how a condition or treatment may impact their life outside the clinic – something our immersive experiences can also help companies achieve.

A deeper understanding of patients’ needs will not only support the transformation of patient-centric thinking and behaviour across the pharma industry, but it will also empower patients to make informed decisions in conjunction with their clinicians.

Following the lead of big business

It might seem strange to compare healthcare with global business giants like Amazon[1] [2] , but there are lessons we can learn from such corporate giants.

They strive to understand their customers inside and out. They learn what is most important to them and build systems and products that best fit their needs. This approach is just as important, and arguably more so, in the healthcare space.

“I think we can learn a lot…when I’m talking about seeing the patient as a customer, it’s seeing the individual, taking the person [seriously] and trying to understand the needs and expectations to be able to serve [them]. That’s what Amazon does,” Dr Velten said.

He’s right. The term ‘patients’ can be easily thrown around in meetings or in conversations without too much thought of who these people are, but each one is an individual with their own personal circumstances and challenges.

Whether you choose to use ‘patients’ or ‘customers’, it’s crucial that we understand what people value most and how their condition, treatment options and care can affect them in and out of the clinic. Without this knowledge, we will never achieve a healthcare system that fully revolves around patients’ needs.

And this is why we do what we do.

We are dedicated to supporting the pharma and healthcare industries to put the patient at the centre of everything they do. It’s the only way to improve patients’ lives.

Our immersive experiences allow participants to experience what life is like for a patient over the course of one day, from morning until night and at work and home.

Focused on several therapy areas, each one uses a variety of tactics – interactive challenges via a smartphone app, live role-play,  patient interviews and a physical kit of items – to provide an unprecedented level of insight into a patient’s life.

And of course, all experiences are designed hand-in-hand with patients to ensure they accurately reflect the reality of living with a chronic condition. We consistently help turbocharge clients’ patient-centric thinking and behaviour through the experiences we develop.

Contact us to learn how we can support you to put patients first.

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