Nov 7, 2016
When I began working as a pharmaceutical sales representative in the early 1990s, I had little knowledge of our industry beyond my experience as a consumer and outside observer growing up in Illinois. However, the time I spent with doctors and care providers on the front lines, as well as the opportunity to learn from leading scientists and innovators, instilled in me a common principle about our healthcare system: everything we do centers around the patient. It was my ‘aha’ moment and I’m glad it came early in my career.
Healthcare is complex. What used to be highly personal – doctors primarily visiting and treating patients at home – has increasingly become impersonal. While medical invention continues to change how we treat life-threatening diseases, our nation’s healthcare system has been slow to embrace patient-focused quality. Whereas patient outcomes used to always be a one-to-one proposition, the shared purpose of our healthcare system – to help the patient get and stay healthy – is often overshadowed.
I also have realized the power of the marketplace to directly extend and save lives. In 2005, I joined Astellas as vice president of health systems, a position that put me squarely in the midst of understanding how the marketplace achieves the delicate balance of ensuring patients have access to the medicines they need, incentivizing new inventions, and bringing together the best minds in healthcare to solve problems for the patient. What made my job much easier was that Astellas’ culture and daily operations had been structured to keep the patient top of mind.
Today, the stakes have never been higher to create a “patients-first marketplace,” a combination of focusing our collective efforts on the patient while embracing market forces and transitioning to a system that prioritizes high-quality outcomes. It’s a timely opportunity to rethink how our healthcare system collectively fights disease.
Every day, we’re seeing new medicines being developed that help us treat diseases like cancer, diabetes, hypertension, macular degeneration, and many other costly and debilitating conditions. Imagine what’s possible with a patients-first marketplace if we fully integrate these tools and inventions in every decision that begins and ends with the patient. Physicians, hospitals, biopharmaceutical companies, and public and private payers are all connected by individual patients and exist to serve them.
The pace of scientific advancement is on our side, but it’s becoming more expensive to discover and develop new treatments at a time when reimbursement structures are changing. Innovation is often scrutinized instead of rewarded. These colliding forces cloud the ultimate solution to our nation’s rising healthcare costs: Treating and curing disease. This is only possible if we put the patient first.
As a company, we recognize that the patient experience extends well beyond medicine. This past month, Astellas announced the winners of the C3 Prize, an initiative that brought forward dozens of creative submissions from innovators who are working to improve the patient experience in cancer care. The grand prize grant went to an emerging company that specializes in virtual reality modules that help patients manage anxiety before, during and after treatment. It’s a reminder that every patient experience is a highly personal mission that goes well beyond a treatment regimen.
Equally important, we can all do a better job listening to patients. At Astellas, we are doing so in new and different ways, including soliciting feedback from patient advocacy leaders to help inform the types of questions we need to be asking patients at different stages of our clinical development program. We also recently announced the creation of a new department in the Americas that formally builds on efforts to ensure that the voice of the patient is incorporated across all facets of our company. In other words, we can’t assume we know what matters most to a patient. We need to ask the right questions, listen, and act accordingly.
The marketplace that made it possible to deliver the best healthcare is now our best mechanism to help realize its full potential. Everyone has a unique role to play, but a system-wide focus on the patient will help all stakeholders come together under one overarching goal and sense of shared purpose. We’ll be coming together at a time when we’re rewriting our perceived limits of medical science – and bringing previously unforeseen therapies to patients.
It’s what motivates and inspires everyone at Astellas. More than 20 years since pursuing a career in healthcare, it’s what continues to motivate and inspire me.