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July 11, 2019
In Pharmacovigilance we trust: Part 1​
By: Ross Wooddisse

Over the past seven years, Accenture has hosted a Pharmacovigilance (PV) Industry Leaders’ Roundtable with some of our Life Sciences clients. A focal point of our recent meetings has been the challenge of becoming a patient-centric PV organization, and renewing the trust between patients and the pharmaceutical industry throughout the patient journey. During these meetings, we discussed a number of scenarios, such as the ”moments that matter” for patients, how that compares with the ”moments that matter” for the industry, and how trust can be maintained and furthered through digital technologies. The goal was to identify potential approaches to further support renewing or maintaining trust, such as supporting and managing patient expectations when safety risks become patient issues.

Pharmacovigilance looks to renew trust

Trust between patients and pharmaceutical companies can be improved by breaking the confusion among perceptions, expectations and reality. With the proliferation of available health information (and misinformation), including via formal and informal media outlets, patient confusion is at risk of growing. Physicians, being among the premier guardians of trust in the healthcare ecosystem, are dealing with ever-more informed, anxious and assertive patients with expectations on health outcomes that are higher than ever. For pharmaceutical companies, a goal is to strengthen the relationship with patients and those providing care, but how can they appropriately influence this when there may be an inherent relative distrust in ”bad pharma” and the primary interface with patients is that caregiver?

Drug safety is a highly important topic for all patients (“first, do no harm”), and one that they are increasingly aware of and concerned about. Safety risks inevitably exist with all drugs and as such patients are also relying on the pharmaceutical industry as well as other organizations such as health authorities to support the identification and management of safety risks. In their role, pharmaceutical company PV professionals work tirelessly to safeguard patient safety outcomes by helping the industry to develop, market and maintain pharmaceutical products where the benefits outweigh the risks. All PV leaders have a mission to be focused on the needs of patients, but how can they substantially move the needle in patient-centricity when they don’t have a direct connection with patients and care-givers?

PV professionals pride themselves in their worthy mission as the custodians of benefit-risk assessment and benefit-risk decision making, however their passion for patient safety is unheralded, as what they do is often largely done behind the scenes. They can even sometimes be seen as the ”bearers of bad news,” ”a barrier to development or commercial operations” or just a ”large cost of doing business.” In fact, PV is none of these—it is so much more beneficial and is a critical part of the value chain of the life sciences industry.

Without necessarily knowing it, patients place their trust in pharmacovigilance professionals with every medicinal product they use.

The question for PV professionals is, “How can we shift perceptions appropriately about what we do in the pharmaceutical industry to build a new level of trust between patients and the pharmaceutical industry’s PV professionals?”

Defining trust with the patient in mind

The PV department of every company in the industry is uniquely qualified (and given the low level of trust in pharmaceutical companies, potentially the most qualified department) to build value and contribute to renewing or maintaining trust in the industry. To initiate this renewal, it’s important to define exactly what trust means. One such definition arises from the so-called “trust equation,” developed by Charles Green of Trusted Advisor Associates here it is considered that there are four objective variables to measure trustworthiness; credibility, reliability, intimacy and self-orientation. A powerful and crucial factor in trust is the denominator of this equation: self-orientation. People who are overly concerned with their own needs and think less about others have high self-orientation and therefore low trustworthiness, Green explains. It is this factor that may frequently have resulted in a negative perception of the work of pharmaceutical companies, who might be viewed as putting their own commercial interests as a business first, ahead of patients—yet the strategic objective of becoming patient-centric sets out to end with a different perspective of the industry against a challenging backdrop.

PV organizations and the professionals working within them tend to be viewed by patients and healthcare professionals as being relatively higher in the values of credibility and reliability, and relatively lower in self-orientation (genuinely acting with the patient’s best interests at heart). This will help to take steps towards renewing trust. On the front lines of drug safety, PV professionals can contribute to renewing trust by ensuring the patient journey is less risky, and by continuing to inform patients appropriately on benefits and risks.

Improving a patient's experience

In Pharmacovigilance we trust: Part 2, we’ll explore a patient’s experience in a clinical study scenario that demonstrates the potential impact that PV organizations can have on the rebuilding of patient trust. If you would like to learn more about Accenture’s PV services and platform, or if you are interested in joining a future Pharmacovigilance Industry Leaders’ Roundtable, please contact me.