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How Medical Affairs Teams Can Advocate for Patient-Centric Healthcare

Patient-centric healthcare offers opportunities to improve care, lower costs, and boost patient satisfaction. To date, efforts to integrate patient-centered approaches into clinical trial best practices have been piecemeal at best.

 

Medical affairs (MA) teams have the skills, perspective, and access to data to improve patient-centered best practices. MA teams can identify communication gaps, analyze data, and provide the leadership necessary to create a patient-centric approach that addresses key goals.

The Rise of Patient-Centric Healthcare

Patient-centered care has been a topic of conversation in healthcare for nearly twenty years. In a 2012 article at Health Affairs, James Rickert listed some of the fundamental tenets of patient-centered care:

  • A patient’s experience of how well their providers met their needs correlates strongly with patient satisfaction as to outcomes of care. Seeking patient feedback is thus essential to creating patient-centered processes.
  • Provider-patient relationships have a profound impact both on treatment outcomes and patient satisfaction.
  • Effective communication, empathy, and a partnership between provider and patient can improve outcomes, increase patient satisfaction, and lower costs.

Then as now, many measures of patient outcomes in healthcare are not well-correlated to patients’ experiences. In a recent Health Affairs article, Eleanor M. Perfetto and a team of authors provide the example of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). They note that RA patients commonly list pain and fatigue among their top concerns. Medical measurements of RA improvement, however, use “an array of biomarkers” that are not correlated with the pain, fatigue, or lack of functional ability the patient may or may not experience. In some cases, the outcomes that matter most to patients, such as being able to continue a job or hobby, aren’t accounted for in clinical data at all.

“The current environment, characterized by a haphazard approach to deciding what to measure for which diseases, results in confusion, missed opportunities, inefficiencies, and frustrations,” write Perfetto, et al.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic created hardships, it also repositioned many participants in the healthcare industry for a transformation to a patient-centered model. Health systems are rapidly embracing the need to abandon outdated systems-centered mindsets in favor of approaches that integrate patients’ participation and perspectives into treatment, according to a University of Chicago study.

“Health system CEOs have the right priorities for creating this ‘win-win-win’ scenario, but what remains to be seen is whether they’re taking the actions necessary to realize the potential of patient-centered care,” writes Jiban Khuntia, one of the authors of the study. MA teams have an opportunity to drive these efforts.

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Medical Affairs and Patient-Centered Care

Patient-centered care makes patients the central participants in care and treatment planning. Yet patients and their families are not left to make critical decisions alone. “While person-centered planning is respectful and responsive to the needs of the individual, it also occurs within the professional responsibilities of providers and care teams,” notes the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) guide on person- and family-centered care and support.

Over the past two decades, efforts to center patients in healthcare have been both advanced and complicated by rapidly-changing technologies. Data on patient-centered approaches reveals that the patient-centric approach may offer a way to address costs, care delivery, and outcomes all at once, write Marc A. Cohen and fellow authors at Health Affairs.

To achieve this goal, Cohen, et al. recommend three strategies for person-centered care:

  • Set metrics and KPIs and report progress.
  • Lead with equity.
  • Focus on primary care.

Medical affairs teams are equipped to set, measure, and report on patient-centric care metrics. MA’s access to and skill in integrating information also gives MA teams an advantage in leading and influencing leadership.

The pandemic increased pressure on MA teams to boost transparency and improve collaboration. To meet these goals, medical affairs teams must find new sources of information and change the way they communicate and share knowledge.

Traditionally, medical affairs teams concerned themselves with scientific knowledge and communication with scientific professionals — not with patients directly. When MA teams reviewed patient-facing communications like promotional materials, they did so with an eye to the scientific and regulatory questions related to the materials, not to patients’ experience of them.

The pandemic radically changed MA teams’ role in healthcare communications, write Romik Ghosh and fellow researchers in a 2021 article in Pharmaceutical Medicine. Today, MA teams are positioned to communicate effectively with patients and are also equipped to advance patient-centric healthcare approaches in clinical trials. By doing so, medical affairs can fulfill its own goal to leverage relevant data sources and boost collaboration. One way to do that among MA teams, scientific professionals, and patients is with Anju’s Medical Affairs Suite.

“As stewards of real-world knowledge within our organization, Medical Affairs has an increasingly strategic role, not only in defining the best way to generate evidence, but also the smartest ways to access and utilize it,” write Charlotte Kremer and Judith Nelissen, of the Medical Affairs Professional Society and Astellas Pharma, respectively. MA teams bring several essential competencies to the project of integrating patients’ perspectives and goals into their overall treatment.

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How MA Teams Can Advocate for Patients

In a 2020 article in Drug Discovery Today, Rebecca Ashkenazy proposes that medical affairs teams already interact with patients in ways that can boost patient-centered approaches to care. Ashkenazy focuses on five avenues of MA-patient communication:

  • Strategic leadership.
  • Medical communications.
  • Evidence generation.
  • Patient engagement.
  • Experience of patient care.

By understanding these as valid and useful intersections between medical affairs and patients’ experience, MA teams can create a framework for patient advocacy. This framework “could help clarify medical affairs competencies and behaviors necessary to optimize associated effort,” Ashkenazy writes.

All five of these elements can benefit from cutting-edge data analytics, including the use of artificial intelligence. “Medical affairs generate much data, but are not effectively able to use these data to generate insights on the identity of stakeholders or their needs,” write Alexander Bedenkov and researchers in a 2021 article in Pharmaceutical Medicine. AI-enabled tools that offer human-friendly access through natural language searches and similar interfaces can help MA teams make sense of the data they have. Better data analysis can lead to better understanding of patients’ needs and improved communication.

MA teams can also advance the use of patient-centric best practices within research and development (R&D) efforts, including clinical trials. “While isolated best practices of patient engagement exist [in biopharmaceutical research], they remain relatively ad hoc and not fully embedded” in the daily work of R&D, write Oleks Gorbenko and fellow researchers in a 2022 article in Research Involvement and Engagement.

As the research, data, and communications hub, medical affairs is uniquely suited to gather information about current R&D patient engagement efforts. MA teams are also qualified to seek information from patients and to integrate that information into more comprehensive and useful patient-centering practices.

“An increasingly vocal patient” drives the need for better data analysis in medical affairs, along with other factors, write Daniel Furtner and fellow researchers in Pharmaceutical Medicine. Patients are more willing than ever to share information with providers and clinical trial teams. Meanwhile, MA teams are well-positioned to collect and analyze this information. MA teams also provide the informed perspective necessary to advocate for effective patient-centric healthcare approaches.

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