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Why Doesn’t Big Pharma Care About Patients?

25th May, 2016

Category: Communication & Marketing Strategies

In the third part of our series on why pharma companies are lagging behind in the Middle East, we focus on poor patient engagement.

Across industries, top marketing campaigns have always been directed to the end customer; for example Coca Cola with their names on cans, or Sephora allowing ease of purchase through their intuitive digital app. Pharma struggles – why are all sales efforts directed towards physicians, when a better understanding of the patient alongside an engagement strategy is likely to yield to better results?

Global picture of patient engagement in pharma

Globally, there have been a stream of initiatives that pharma companies has been involved in to gain patient insight. In the US, Novartis has partnered with PatientLikeMe, a patient experience website, to form a community for organ transplant recipients. This has provided them with information on patient experience of the condition and to use this information for designing clinical trials.

Social media and medical technology has been at the forefront of patient engagement, particularly in providing patients with the tools to self-monitor and change their behavior accordingly.

However, face-to-face engagement is also a key tool. UCB working with patients with Parkinson’s revealed the gap in current understanding, assessment and management of the condition. The result of this is an easy assessment tool created by UCB aimed at more adequately gauging the wellbeing of patients with Parkinson’s.

In Uganda, Merck has teamed up with the Ministry of Health to raise awareness of diabetes and cancer. Using a combination of SMS and face-to-face communication, the team provided increased screening, free cancer education and advice on prevention.

As can be seen been, patient engagement takes on various forms but essentially the information gained can be leveraged by pharma companies moving towards patient centricity.

Patient engagement in the Middle East

In the Middle East, patient engagement is still poorly used by pharma companies. Focus for most companies based in the region is centred on traditional methods of growing the business; marketing and sales.

However, as the healthcare sector continues to grow, pharma companies need to engage with patients in order to understand service utilization, perception of drugs and patient experience of services in order to know where resources need to be invested in and to better understand their customer needs.

The one area that pharma companies in the region have started engaging with patients is through awareness projects. This is much needed particularly in combating cultural perceptions of certain conditions and to increase the number of people getting medical support.


Lundbeck launched the Dementia Awareness Project in the Middle East, which has been shortlisted for the 2015 eyeforpharma Barcelona Awards in the “Most Impactful Emerging or Global Initiative Category”. The project addresses the cultural perception in the region that Alzheimer’s is a consequence of growing old.

Lundbeck relied on a multichannel program to get the message across to physicians, key opinion leaders and caregivers. Depending on the stakeholder, this included multimedia programs, posters, social media, a website and data to help make the initiative as extensive and as effective as possible.

Two years on, there has been an increase in memory clinics being opened in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt. For Lundbeck, this has translated into significant market growth in units (25% in Egypt, 30% in Saudi Arabia and 47% in the UAE) within the dementia market in the Middle East.

Areas for improvement

Health education is highly important but pharma companies in the Middle East need to start evolving to use patient engagement through more interactive means. This includes gaining patient feedback on their experiences and service utilization. The benefit of this is that information can be used to build more patient-centric services and to offer products and services that are more tailored to the needs of the patients.

Are there any other initiatives that you think would help benefit the pharma community? What about particularly successful initiatives that have taken place already? Feel free to share your opinions and thoughts in the comments below.

Please visit Post 1 and Post 2 to view other articles in the series