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In recent years, there has been a significant shift in the healthcare industry. Healthcare providers have moved away from the traditional ‘fee-for-service model’, where the focus was on the quantity of services delivered, towards a value-based healthcare model, that focuses on the quality of services rendered. The “value” in value-based healthcare is derived from measuring outcomes that matter most to patients against the cost of delivering those outcomes. Life sciences companies play a critical role in delivering this value.


The emphasis on value underlines a decade of patient-centricity. Often used as a buzzword, patient-centricity is nevertheless a meaningful expression of an ever-present focus in the pharma space. As defined by AstraZeneca in 2017, patient-centricity is:

“Putting the patient first, in an open and sustained engagement of the patient, to respectfully and compassionately achieve the best experience and outcome for that person and their family.” 1

One of the most common areas where patient-centricity has been applied in the life sciences industry is the development of digital patient services and patient engagement solutions to complement the product, creating opportunities to make a difference in patients’ lives.

In today’s world, people have come to expect life sciences and healthcare organisations to provide digital services. This is in part due to liquid expectations – consumers inevitably making comparisons between experiences across different industries, which means they have higher expectations when it comes to service and experiences across all aspects of their lives. Patient services is a growing business segment within the life sciences industry, with US$14bn of investment annually and a growth rate that is outpacing the overall healthcare sector.2 The number of patient services has boomed and we have seen pharma and medtech companies acquiring or collaborating with digital health and wellness players, launching patient service innovation hackathons and building internal patient service and innovation hubs with dedicated resources to address increasing needs.

Despite this significant investment, delivering truly meaningful patient experiences and measuring value is still a considerable struggle for many organisations.

We have developed a proven methodology to support life sciences organisations through the important process of understanding patient and caregiver journeys, to develop patient services that will truly make a difference. Our methodology leverages human-centred design principles, with the focus on the underlying human problems that need to be addressed rather than working backwards from a solution.


While elements of this methodology are industry standard, there are many pitfalls that can occur along the way. These can derail organisational efforts significantly, costing time and money to correct.

Managing risks, avoiding pitfalls and realising greater value

1. Empathise

The first and most important step is to gather patient and caregiver data to understand their needs. The fundamental pitfall we often see is brand teams trying to construct a patient journey based on generic insights, without investing in primary and secondary research. This can be due to a lack of budget or because organisations assume they already know this information. It is only by understanding behaviours and motivations that important golden nuggets of information are uncovered. It is also important to remember that behaviours and needs should be considered across the entire patient lifecycle and not just around the prescription and administration steps. The patient journey starts and ends far beyond the direct remit of the brand team.

Plan and secure the budget and resources to conduct your primary research, then analyse these new insights to ensure the team prioritises patient needs. You can capture patient journey insights across a range of activities, so be thoughtful in keeping this need front of mind and build in questions to other pieces of work. This insight can then be creatively pieced back together for the patient journey.

2. Define

The second step is taking the insights and unmet needs to identify the most important pain points in the journey, which when addressed have the highest impact on the overall experience and outcome. The most common pitfall we see is assumptions being made about what the most important areas are. Brand teams can sometimes jump to conclusions about what is most important based on a single insight or a gut feeling rather than evidence – this can result in designing solutions that address the wrong problems.

Include a validation step in your process which involves going back to patients and caregivers to confirm insights and relevance of actions/minimum viable products (MVPs). You can then estimate behavioural changes and/or outcomes that will have the most meaningful impact.

3. Ideate

The next stage is all about ideation – using your creativity to come up with as many new ideas for solutions to address these challenges. The team should explore all possible options and use design-thinking techniques to refine, iterate and prioritise ideas to develop into viable concepts. The major error we often see is failing to involve a broad enough range of stakeholders in the ideation process. It is critical to involve as many relevant stakeholders as possible, including medical, patient access, IT, other brand teams within or outside of the therapy area, and external stakeholders such as patient associations or consultancies who can bring different perspectives.

Ensure that you involve as many stakeholders as possible in this process. The best ideas will come through bringing together the creativity of all stakeholders that have knowledge and understanding of what patients and caregivers experience and/or expertise on potential solutions to help address these challenges.

4. Prototype and test

The fourth step is where ideated concepts are turned into tangible products. The effort of creating this tangible concept or MVP should be kept to a minimum. The format can be as simple as sketches of scenarios and descriptions of services or mock-ups of a digital solution describing the features. The primary purpose is testing and gathering feedback to scrap, iterate or validate the solution. There is often no limited testing conducted with patients or caregivers. Sometimes this step is skipped altogether and an off-the-shelf solution selected and brought to market without any further iteration or validation.

Validate prototypes with your target audience and measure impact. If they don’t hit the mark, revisit the MVP and problem statement, revisit the target needs, and get creative without losing customer perspective.

5. Develop, deploy and measure

The last step is broad and encompasses the development, deployment and measurement of the patient engagement solution in the market. Development may not always be required if there are opportunities to partner with existing market solution providers. In fact, this may be the fastest and most cost-effective way of testing a solution. We tend to see two common pitfalls at this stage. The first is insufficient marketing to ensure awareness of the solution among patient and caregiver groups. Many patient solutions have very low usage rates because patients and caregivers are not aware of the services and the value they can bring. The second is a lack of clear metrics to evaluate success and clarity on how the data points will be measured. If you want to track a certain behaviour change or increase in adherence, what will the targets be and how will you measure it? How will you know the data is accurate?

Build out a detailed marketing plan for how patients and caregivers will become aware of and access your services. Develop a value realisation plan outlining how success of the patient solution is defined and measured, and how and when data points will be collected to assess against these.


Establishing a rigorous process involving patients every step of the way will maximise your success of patient service innovation. However, meaningful patient-centricity goes beyond this and requires embedding patient-centric ways of working across the organisation. Look out for the next article in our series on how to set up a patient-centric organisation.

Karianne Winderickx
Sophie Bradley

At Gate One, we tackle your toughest challenges and accelerate your boldest ambitions. Our mission is to deliver meaningful change.

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