Driving More Effective Medicine by Listening to Patients

Driving More Effective Medicine by Listening to Patients

July 01, 2020PAP-Q2-20-CL-027

The voice of the patient has long been underserved in the pharmaceutical industry, despite extensive evidence that listening to patients and learning about their experiences can dramatically improve drug development, delivery, and accessibility, as well as patient support. The platform technology developed by Talking Medicines is designed to report on marketing intelligence for medicines, gathering information about patient experiences with existing drugs to help pharma companies identify barriers to access and opportunities for growth, and to provide enhanced support for optimized health outcomes.

What Is Patient Centricity?

Consumer awareness is increasing across all facets of the buying experience, including healthcare. Patients have more knowledge of their health and want to actively participate in decisions regarding the treatment and management of their diseases. At the same time, personalized medicine has emerged as an important and growing component of the pharmaceutical industry. The demonstrated value of real-world evidence and patient experiences has also led regulators to mandate the inclusion of the patient voice in the product development and approval processes.

However, there is no one definition of patient centricity.1 It involves patient engagement and consideration of patient experiences to improve treatment options, access, and ease of use, as well as effectiveness. It is not merely a public relations initiative or the collection of information merely as an exercise.

Pharmaceutical companies are pursuing multiple avenues to increase patient centricity, from conducting preference studies to exploring how patients cope with diseases as they progress. Partnering with advocacy groups and presenting clinical trial data in a patient-friendly manner are other important activities.

A recent study by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions found that, to be successful at implementing patientcentric strategies, identifying concrete objectives and operationalizing them, tracking progress, using digital data and analytics, forming stronger collaboration across all groups within the industry, and learning from industries that excel at customer centricity are critical.1

Inflection Point

Even with acknowledgement that patient centricity is essential to success for the pharmaceutical industry going forward, the voice of the patient remains underserved. Channels of communication continue to largely be directed at healthcare providers with the goal of encouraging the use of drug products.

However, changes are occurring at an increasingly rapid rate, most recently in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is growing recognition that patients are worth listening to, particularly with respect to their specific experiences taking medicines in the real world.

Pharmaceutical companies are hiring chief digital officers from other industries with the skill sets needed to leverage the digital tools and technologies required to access the voice of the patient and to apply that information across their organizations. Graduation to the next phase will require a change in mindset within pharmaceutical companies. In addition to having the value of patient-centric strategies encouraged from the top of the organization down, patient centricity must be recognized and championed from the bottom up. Real benefits of listening to the patient voice can only be realized if companies take a strategic, rather than a tactical, approach.

Some big pharmaceutical firms have taken great strides with respect to embracing the patient voice and patient centricity. We are encouraged by these changes and believe that now is the time for the industry as a whole to do so. Once big pharma takes a strong lead, emerging and midsized companies will follow.

Supporting Patient-Centric Marketing Decisions

Talking Medicines was founded in 2013 to help drive more effective medicines by creating new ways to capture the voice of the patient to support patient-centric marketing decisions based on intelligence. Our goal is to help people take the right medicines that have the best chance of working for them. We also want people to understand why a medicine is being prescribed and to be able to take more control in the management of their health conditions. We believe that adherence and compliance will be natural outcomes from people being informed and educated about medication.

Engagement between patients and the industry is of significant value from the start of the drug discovery cycle through to patients actually taking the regulated medications. Understanding the real patient experience in taking a medicine similar to another being developed can help in a multitude of areas. We capture information in a regulatory-compliant manner on the behaviors and attitudes of patients over time. This information is at the medicine-level and leverages metrics that provide curated digital insights both above and below medicine brands. We gain this information through a digital window into aggregated views of how patients talk about and use individual medicines once they leave the pharmacy.

We help clients identify barriers to access and use of their medicines, as well as opportunities for growth. Our curated data can also be used to educate healthcare providers about target patient populations and how people are using specific medicines. Pharmaceutical companies can also test and evaluate patient-support programs to ensure that they are designed effectively. In turn, they will learn how medicines are working from patients, and whether patients have any general or specific benefits or issues with a certain drug.

We believe that adherence and compliance will be natural outcomes from people being informed and educated about medication.

The Value Of Using Multiple Sources

The approach of Talking Medicines is to gather patient voices from a number of different sources and then cleanse and structure the information in a meaningful way. Our conversational data is derived from social media sites and forums where people discuss their experiences with diseases and medicines. We blend this information with data gathered directly from people using our connected devices, one being our Medsmart® App, as well as through patient surveys.

With data blended from so many different sources, we are able to provide a unique perspective. We are experienced in patient engagement and medicines, and it is this expertise combined with our data processing knowledge that sets us apart from others. In addition, by getting close to people through their connected devices and learning in detail about the experiences they are having with the medicines they are taking, we are able to identify opportunities to provide greater solutions to our pharmaceutical customers, as well as assistance to patients with regard to managing their diseases.

Compliance, Transparency, And Quality Are Foundational

The collection of valuable data that can be used by pharmaceutical companies requires a commitment to ethics, transparency, quality, and compliance. From our founding, Talking Medicines has embraced the regulatory framework in order to ensure that our pharmaceutical customers are comfortable with the data we provide. Our data collection, storage, and access systems have been designed to function in a compliant manner. We remain in constant communication with regulatory authorities and industry associations to ensure that we stay ahead of future regulatory developments. As we expand globally, we are also mindful of how we need to work within local regulations, regulators, and other organizations that interact closely with patients.

With respect to gathering data directly from connected devices, we are transparent from the outset and clear about what data will be collected and how it will be used. We take steps to ensure that data are not associated with a specific person at any point. Data are collected and evaluated in the aggregate only to identify patterns and trends.

Conversational data from social media sites is collected by Talking Medicines’ proprietary machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms. Because there is significant noise within this data, our models are trained to differentiate the patient voice from professional, journalistic, and other nonrelevant voices. These data map the landscape in which markers can be set to predict and monitor marketing trends over time. The patient-centric tools allow deeper analysis for medicines of interest by wrapping science and compliance around the voice of the patient.

Data are stored in a secure database and, through partnering with Microsoft, we have garnered additional technical support. Data can only be accessed by approved users. Customers access their specific data results through tailored, interactive dashboards with comprehensive security protocols.

To address the challenges that may be associated with a platform that successfully gathers and curates the patient voice, we have established a brilliant team with extensive expertise. Young people with an entrepreneurial spirit and an interesting blend of marketing, data processing, and life science backgrounds work closely with experts in software engineering, data science, and artificial intelligence/machine learning. These groups are supported by talented individuals at the more senior level who help ensure that Talking Medicines continues to be oriented in the right direction as we expand internationally.

Conversational Data

Talking Medicines’ conversational data service focuses on metrics that help pharmaceutical companies understand and track brand value at a medicine pack level and how it changes over time. Our metrics have been developed to filter against a dictionary of medicine terms, by language, that disregard professional postings to isolate the true voice of the patient. We can benchmark the strength of the customer’s patient voice at a medicine level over time, the intent of patients to recommend your medicine to others, and positive/negative feelings about your brand in contextual analysis.

We can benchmark the strength of the customer’s patient voice at a medicine level over time, the intent of patients to recommend your medicine to others, and positive/negative feelings about your brand in contextual analysis.

Direct Connections

Through high-grade data insights from connected devices, we are able to develop Real World Persona data. For example: users of our Medsmart® app scan the barcodes on their prescription and over-the-counter medicines to receive free support in managing their own online medicine cabinets. They can also set up profiles, understand ingredients, manage allergies, set up reminders, and access educational support.

In return for the services provided by the app, users exchange insights on their patterns of behavior. These Medsmart® data give rich patient insight based on cohorts of users, shining light on what happens once a medicine is prescribed. Information gathered includes the age, gender, and location of people taking a medicine, what other medicines they are taking with it, and why they are taking it. Additional insights into adherence, switching, and feelings are also obtained.

Taking the UK as our launch market, there has been great success in engaging with people of all ages taking different medicines for different diseases downloading and using the Medsmart® app. They recognize that we are collecting data for good purposes while they are benefiting from additional support, which can lead to increased adherence and patient compliance.

Our digital focus groups provide a means for asking specific questions of a cohort of patients or healthcare consumers who have opted in to be asked questions by Talking Medicines. We can isolate those taking a specific medicine (or medicines) of interest and provide aggregated results regarding the effectiveness of existing or proposed support programs and thus enable patient-centric decision-making. These tools are now being deployed internationally to complement the global conversational data.

In The Context Of The Covid-19 Pandemic

Since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, Talking Medicines has seen a higher level of engagement, with people increasingly concerned about existing health conditions. We have also been purposefully listening to the discussion about the pandemic and conducting bimonthly surveys to determine how it is perceived and the impacts it is having over time.

In one respect, the pandemic is bringing two different worlds together — those of COVID-19 vaccine developers and the people who need the vaccine. Opinions about the pharmaceutical industry are slowly changing as people are gaining a greater understanding of the complexity of therapy and vaccine development and the truth about the cost and time such efforts entail. We are also seeing a greater recognition of the positive impacts that medicines have on people’s lives. Pharmaceutical companies, meanwhile, are realizing the importance of working with patients and the mutual benefits this relationship brings to both sides of the table.

Going Global

This increased understanding is driving greater interest by pharmaceutical companies in gaining access to the patient voice. Talking Medicines has recently been recognized with numerous awards, and this growing recognition is enabling us to expand beyond the UK into Europe. We are expanding globally, currently engaged in looking at the voice of the patient around cardiovascular medicines in the United States.

Indeed, according to Deloitte, “Greater data connectivity; interoperable and open, secure platforms; and increasing consumer engagement are key elements that are expected to shape the future of health. By 2040, the consumer — rather than health plans or providers — will determine when, where, and with whom he or she engages for care or to sustain well-being. Life science companies should consider how to earn the trust of these empowered consumers. Taking the time to understand the perspective across the patient journey is central to supporting healthy behaviors, achieving better health outcomes, and improving the patient experience.”1

Pharmaceutical companies need marketing intelligence in order to be able to measure their performance and identify strategies for improvement. At Talking Medicines, we have created a gold standard platform to which life science companies turn when seeking insights made possible through the patient voice. Our systems cleanse and structure information from millions of conversations and direct patient-use data to provide curated insights about the patient voice that can serve as metrics for evaluating — and therefore enabling the improvement of — patient experiences and health outcomes.

Over the longer term, we hope to be able to seamlessly communicate in both directions with patients in a compliant manner. We also want to bring in more molecular and genomic data sets to expand the level of insights Talking Medicines can provide. As the patient-centric data source, we ultimately want to help patients to not only get the right medications at the right times, but also understand how those medications work and why they are taking them.

In addition, rather than reacting to patients once they are feeling unwell, we hope to one day get into the realm of prediction within our data service for clients. More sophisticated modeling of how diseases develop will enable the identification of interventions that can be made earlier on, allowing individuals to remain healthy or at least positively and proactively manage their treatments and diseases. Ultimately, we can, therefore, become embedded in the journey of personalized medicines.


1. Myers, Ryan, Margaret Anderson and Casey Korba. “Striving to become more patient-centric in life sciences: What it really takes to optimize patient trust and health outcomes,” Deloitte Center for Health Solutions. 30 Jan. 2020. Web.

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