Shocked into Reality About Authenticity

Jim Robinson photo
Jim Robinson, President and COO, Alkermes

At eye for pharma Philadelphia 2018, Jim Robinson spoke about his experience with patient centricity. It was an eye-opening journey, replete with surprises, disappointments and, ultimately, insights into how to change a culture properly.

Here are some of his lessons, followed by a link to videos of his presentation. We think you’ll glean a lot of wisdom from what he’s learned.

lady doctor with patient

Jim said you have to start within your own four walls if you want to change the patient-centricity approach and deliver on real value. He said “We do patient summits, market research, we engage with patients— WE are patients, our families are patients. We’re good at talking the talk.” But he found out, at a former company, that what they were not good at was evaluating their own performance.

He read a book called Service Fanatics, by a physician, Jim Merlino, who had been tapped by the Cleve-land Clinic to improve their patient experience. They were delivering amazing clinical care, but the patient experience was below expectations. What Dr. Merlino discovered, and wrote about in his book, was an inspiration to Jim Robinson.

So he brought in someone to look at his company’s performance from the provider side— an independent point of view. The company Jim worked for at the time thought they were on the leading edge of patient focus. The consultant, however, did not. He provided examples of how they were disconnected from the patient.

For instance, how many phone calls did it take for a patient to get an answer? Over 50! Brand numbers, medical information numbers, a long list that a patient had to drill down just to get a simple answer. The company thought that having phone numbers that lined up with their website and brand name was a killer idea— but it made no difference if it didn’t help the patient! They were also way off on how they were doing informed consent, health literacy and more. In sum, it was a humbling lesson.

Jim was even more disappointed when he asked the consultant to help them change. He refused to work with them on fixing it, because he thought that would just set him up for failure.

But Jim was determined, and kept pursuing the consultant until he relented. They eventually became the first pharma company that the consultant worked with. The ensuing exercise unearthed data that shocked people into consciousness. They needed to change their ways in order to deliver real value. But to change the culture, you can’t do it with just a commercial organization or a medical affairs organization. It has to be everyone in the entire company working from the same hymnal. They had a long way to go, but in the end it was worth the work.

Now Jim moved to Alkermes, and conducted his first patient summit there. Alkermes creates CNS therapies to treat such conditions as severe depression, schizophrenia, and opioid use disorder. Jim said his aha moment was when he spoke to a patient advocate, and threw “pharma guy” questions at him. The conversation went something like this:

Jim: “What’s important to you in terms of the patient journey?”

Advocate: “What’s the patient journey?”

Jim: “What’s important to you in terms of the treatment paradigm?”

Advocate: “What’s that?”

After about thirty minutes, it came down to this: you have to talk language the patient is familiar with, and meet goals they are passionate about. But what the patient and the company are trying to accomplish is simple: staying alive. At this point, Jim started to understand.

“Tell me more about that.”

Jim Robinson photo
Jim Robinson on Patient Centricity

And the patient wanted what we would all want— to be treated with dignity and respect. “We can smell BS,” he said. “We can smell ulterior motives, sense when people don’t really care about us.”

“It’s not only the right thing to do in terms of how we engage with our patients to deliver real value, but there’s actually a business benefit to it as well.”

“So if you’re going to be successful in delivering real patient value,” said the advocate, “engage with authenticity. You’ll be able to hear stuff you never heard before. Then you’ll be able to be a partner with us.”

When they started to walk the walk, the impact permeated the organization. For instance, the clinical development team worked on such items as informed consent, instituting a legal review for clinical trials. Jim notes that the diminishing return trend in the industry can be corrected by a focus on speed, in this case by increasing accruals, making it as easy as possible to onboard patients into clinical trials. He says “It’s not only the right thing to do in terms of how we engage with our patients to deliver real value, but there’s actually a business benefit to it as well.”

Where Jim came out was easy to express, but difficult to understand if you’re locked inside your four walls. You have to get out there and really hear the patients, then speak to them in language you can both understand.

“Engage authentically,” Jim says, “and deliver on what you say you’re going to deliver on.

Sana Health Leads MedTech Innovators

November / December 2019