Drug development, clinical research, and other life-sciences fields are likely forever changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not surprisingly, the healthcare field also has drastically shifted for patients, including their interactions with providers and their trust in life-science professionals.
With its survey “Digital adoption in healthcare: Reaction or revolution?” Accenture polled nearly 1,800 Americans on their experiences interacting with the healthcare industry, and how their perception of those interactions is changing. Brad Michel (managing director and life sciences lead for North America with Accenture) spoke with Outsourcing-Pharma about the interesting findings of the survey and what they might mean for the future of healthcare and research.
OSP: Could you please share some of the reasons why you conducted this study?
BM: The past 18 months through the COVID pandemic have thrust health-related issues into the spotlight and created unprecedented challenges for humanity. Accenture conducted this survey of consumers and patients to assess their attitudes toward the healthcare system in terms of access, equity, service experience, digital technology, adoption, and trust.
OSP: How were respondents identified and selected?
BM: YouGov conducted the survey, and respondents were invited to participate on a voluntary and anonymized basis. Controls were set to ensure a nationally representative sample in terms of gender, age, income, education, and ethnicity/race; in addition, survey participants were given the option to opt out of any question they felt uncomfortable answering.
OSP: Did you have any expectations on what you were going to find?
BM: 2020 took us beyond our tested limits and challenged us all both professionally and personally, yet the life sciences and biopharma industry-led and responded with purpose, innovation, and agility—delivering a vaccine in just ten months. It was a milestone for our industry and our impact on the globe.
At the same time, we continue to observe the rising cost of patient care, complicated by a growing health equity gap and issues related to access. We were interested to see how these factors ultimately impacted patient behaviors and key issues like the adoption of digital technologies, experience, and trust.
OSP: Could you please share some of what you feel are highlights of the report around clinical research, drug development, and consumer perception of/trust in pharma firms?
BM: Although 15% of respondents say they trust pharmaceutical companies more now than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic, trust remains low. We found several underlying issues that ultimately impact trust.
Nearly 60% of respondents reported that they have experienced an affordability issue with medical care or medications. We also found these affordability barriers have a potential effect on health outcomes.
When people cannot afford the medical care or medications they need, they often delay (39%) or decline (29%) treatment or medication or skip an appointment with a medical provider (30%). When it comes to medications, they may decide to ration their prescription (24%) or treat their condition with an over-the-counter medication (43%).
We then asked what would increase trust in the pharmaceutical industry. We found the most important factors to increase trust were reduced medication and treatment costs (41%), more transparency into pricing (39%), clearer communication about the effectiveness of medications and their side effects (34%), more transparency in the research and drug development process (34%), and increased patient diversity in clinical trials (18%).
In short, pharmaceutical companies can increase trust when they make treatments more affordable and more transparent, redefine economic relationships with customers, demonstrate value, and share in outcome-based risk.
OSP: As you mention, 34% of respondents indicated a desire for greater transparency in research and drug development, in order to increase their trust in pharma firms. Could you please provide any detail about this response, and how you expect companies might take that number to heart?
BM: During COVID-19, we saw vaccines developed in an unprecedented short timeframe; while this was an incredibly positive event for humanity, it also shined a light on an R&D process that is generally not top of mind for most people. It raised natural questions about whether corners had been cut, and whether the vaccines were safe. The industry has an opportunity to capitalize on this newfound public awareness to increase trust, transparency, and confidence.
The industry can act by being transparent about the science and the R&D process, and by providing clear communication about the effectiveness of medications and their side effects. This needs to happen in plain language, that is easy to understand and easy for the public to access. For example, we already see pharma companies working to publish clinical trial results in plain language.
OSP: Also, 18% of respondents said increased trial diversity would boost their trust—can you share any additional details about those respondents, and how this information might be used by pharma firms and research partners reading this?
BM: We see health equity (broadly) and increasing representation and diversity in clinical trials as an area of rapidly increasing importance to pharma executives. People naturally want to know that therapies have been tested and shown to be safe and effective on patients like themselves.
Further, it is important that all communities have more equal opportunity to participate in clinical trials and the leading science that comes with them. One way we see pharma companies addressing this is by increasing their investments in virtual, hybrid, or decentralized clinical trials, which provides the opportunity to increase access for clinical trial participation too hard to reach and underrepresented populations.
OSP: COVID-19 clearly had an impact on healthcare providers, patients, pharma firms, etc. Could you share some of the notable ways COVID’s impact shows up in the responses of this survey?
BM: The increase in virtual care due to the COVID-19 pandemic has increased patient awareness of their rights and the value of sharing personal health data. For example, patients feel they should have the right to approve the collection and usage of their personal health information (PHI) for any purposes beyond their treatment (64%), that data privacy and security are important (54%), and that their personal health information is valuable to the healthcare system to advance research.
At the same time, people also now have a greater willingness to share their personal health data with pharmaceutical companies if there are rewards, such as improving their health and increasing their medications’ effectiveness (44%), or to gather evidence about their medication and treatment efficacy (37%).
OSP: Anything to add?
BM: One other key finding from our research is that, unsurprisingly, not every healthcare experience is good, and the negative experiences can have serious consequences on health outcomes. People want the emotional support that they feel when a provider listens and shows empathy.
The US healthcare system broadly has an immense opportunity to provide a better customer experience by using technology to be more efficient or to deliver useful information such as transparency into pricing. The task of humanizing healthcare does not solely fall on the shoulders of providers.
All players—from pharma companies to tech companies to insurance providers—should work in unison to improve care experiences, and to make healthcare experiences simpler, more coordinated, more empathetic, and, ultimately, more effective for people.