A pilot project with The Method was all it took to convince a pharmaceutical product director that she was missing crucial patient insights. After helping 160 co-workers better understand the experience of a cancer patient undergoing CAR T-cell therapy, she thinks pharma companies could partner externally with hospitals, so that healthcare professionals become more empathetic too.
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Like many other pharma professionals, Maria and her co-workers had been using well-established techniques, such as patient interviews and stories, to get close to the patient’s perspective. Her lightbulb moment came on the back of a pilot project with The Method that allowed Maria to spend a whole day immersed in the life of a cancer patient. “When I did that, I realized ‘Whoa, we are missing a lot’,” she recalls.
Need for a new approach
Maria is a product director focused on ‘patient experience’, within an oncology brand team. When Maria was first introduced to The Method, her team was preparing for the launch of a new cancer therapy. The team’s approach was highly insights-driven and disciplined in using research and data.
Already steeped in information about the disease state, Maria still felt there was more to learn about the patient population because of the nature of the therapy itself. The soon-to-launch product was a CAR T-cell therapy: an addition to a relatively new class of immunotherapy that has begun to enter the mainstream of cancer treatment. Making and delivering a CAR T-cell therapy is a complex process, with many steps. In addition, CAR T-cell therapy is usually only considered for very sick cancer patients after other treatment options have already been exhausted. They will have been living with cancer for years, experienced remissions and relapses several times, and been through multiple lines of treatments.
For Maria, these factors pointed to a very specific patient profile, which would have been hard to understand holistically through traditional interviewing techniques. “With our therapy, we can help these patients. But part of that help is understanding what goes on in their mind for such a long time before they could get to our therapy,” says Maria. “We were missing that patient insight: What does that journey look like?” Another missing piece was how to empathize with a cancer patient who, once identified as a candidate for CAR T-cell therapy, then will interact with the numerous and diverse stakeholders involved in its delivery.
This nuanced client brief required a twist to the usual A Life in a Day approach. Rather than designing a pharma program that would shed light on a disease, The Method had to create an immersive experience focused on the relevant oncology indication as well as this new type of cancer treatment.
Collaborate process of development
Then followed a close collaboration (see figure 1). The patient-centric development phase of work began with in-depth interviews with cancer patients, their caregivers and families. The Method used the insights to build a prototype for a 24-hour interactive journey, which was later refined in collaboration with Maria and her team, together with input from medical experts. Extensive testing and piloting ultimately brought the complex journey to life.
Figure 1: A Life in a Day Patient centric implementation process
What success would look like
One important task for Maria during the development phase was to agree with her internal stakeholders what success would look like. While many possible metrics were on their list, they agreed on two founding principles. First, there had to be an increase in participants’ understanding of the patient journey. And second, as a result of this knowledge, they wanted to see a change in participants’ behavior, such as being able to integrate the learning from this experience into conversations with colleagues and customers. Maria took these requirements to The Method and was satisfied that the surveys sent to all participants in A Life in a Day experiences would capture the metrics she was looking for.
As of October 2022, 160 of the pharma company’s US-based staff, representing 14 teams, had taken part in the CAR T-cell program that Maria developed with The Method (see Box 1).
Rather than making the experience available to all of the relevant internal audiences at the same time, teams were prioritized in a stepwise fashion, according to their proximity to the end patient. This meant customer-facing teams – those interacting with healthcare professionals (HCPs) – were first in line. Once positive feedback from this priority group of participants started to roll in, the business case for expanding the program more broadly became compelling.
“Everybody in the brand team took part in the program. Whether they were responsible for nurses or patients, they went through the experience,” recalls Maria. Then followed her extended business partners, meaning colleagues in research, finance and communications, among other functions. “Everyone that touches this brand had an opportunity to go through the experience. People in training had an opportunity to go through the training. And then because we found it so valuable, we opened it to other teams within the same disease state. So, now you have pretty much everybody in marketing that deals with this kind of patient, including other brand teams, that has done A Life in a Day.”
Box 1: Who took part
Surprise and delight might be the best words to describe Maria’s reaction to the results. “We are a patient-centric organization, and one that really empowers our teams with information to make decisions. And yet the results 100% exceeded our expectations,” says Maria.
Across all 160 participants, immediately after the CAR T-cell therapy experience, results included a 93% increase in patient focus, an 86% increase in knowledge and a 52% increase in confidence when talking to stakeholders (see Table 1).
“Our teams include actual patients, caregivers and medical professionals, and to hear them say ‘I never saw it from this perspective’, I was not expecting that at all.
To have 96% of people recommend A Life in a Day, this tells you the caliber of program that it is.”
The Method gathers feedback from participants straight after they have been through its immersive experiences and again 45 days later. It is this second dataset that speaks to the programs’ longer-lasting impacts. For the CAR T-cell program.
four in every five of Maria’s colleagues who took part were still thinking about the experience after 45 days (see Table 1)
Maria sees it this way: “As you think about the experience, and putting yourself in the shoes of the patients, that makes you more patient-centric, right?”
Maria has even witnessed the changes play out in her own team. During conference calls, she and her co-workers often challenge each other to remember specific moments in the CAR T-cell therapy experience. They might use their recollections to reframe a problem or to prompt a fresh way of thinking. “From my brand’s perspective, this has really impacted the way that we work,” she says.
Taking a step back, Maria also has a bold vision that extends far beyond the walls of pharma. She sees value in “dual purpose” projects. One audience would be a pharma organization’s internal stakeholders, while a second would be “the external environment”, including nurse practitioners, clinical nurses and clinical educators who may be open to novel types of training.
There has to be a different way of engaging with customers and saying: ‘Hey, have you ever considered that there are other things that patients are going through and do you understand what those are?’
Maria thinks the best way to realize this vision would be for pharma companies to partner with healthcare institutions and to align their metrics with the metrics that the institutions use to measure HCPs’ performance. Then it would be clear to HCPs how participating in a program with A Life in a Day is helping them reach their goals. Maria says: “If any pharma company could bring this to the external environment, that would set it apart big time.”
Table 1: Impact of participation in A Life in a Day experience in CAR T-cell therapy
In their own words: what some of the participants said:
“Going forward, I will be even more patient-centric and encourage the same of our team. We design training and I’d like our team to be more proactive in thinking about how the output of the materials we design will land on HCPs so that the patients are positively impacted.”
Senior Manager, Hematology
“From a marketing perspective, the experience gave me renewed energy around how we can simplify the experience for patients to alleviate some of the burden of this disease – from how to educate them to training them on side effect management.”
Group Product Director
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