Patient Centred Design – Is the Pharma industry playing catch up? | PDD


December 8 2016
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Patient Centred Design – Is the Pharma industry playing catch up?

Playing catch-up

The consumer goods sector (FMCG, apparel, automotive, electronics) has always had greater freedom to explore design research in comparison to the Pharma industry, which is significantly more restricted. One of the problems with a stricter and more constrained set of rules is that it can curb innovation by creating limitations in the approach Pharma companies take during the development process and justification for when Patient Centred Design comes into debate. Often regulatory walls can slow the development of a new products and services and directly affect the time taken to introduce a new product to market.

There is a clear separation between how Pharma and consumer goods are perceived by patients; largely due to the fact that Pharma supplies treatment for illnesses which tend to have negative connotations, whereas consumer goods are generally perceived with positive connotations and there is a reward feedback for the consumer. Even though the products are potentially worlds apart, their development path will almost always converge at some point – with the patient/consumer’s needs. The more involved the patient can be during the development stages of Pharma products, the more the barriers between Pharma and Consumer goods sectors will be broken down. This can lead to an increased positive experience for the patient. The Pharma company will also be seen as a service providing partner, which is a major goal for a lot of companies in the Healthcare industry.

Image credit: PDD

Planting the seeds for the future.

Pharma companies need to collaborate with universities and colleges to ensure that Patient Centred Design is an important topic in design, engineering and science curriculums. By investing in education, the future talent pool feeding into the Pharma industry will comprise of people who are accustomed to the importance of Patient Centred Design; and thereby making it an integral part of the product development cycle rather than implementing it retrospectively.

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Legal compliance and getting Regulatory bodies on board

In Europe and the U.S, initial structures have been put in place to include patient involvement in the regulatory process. The centre for drug evaluation and research – FDA, has introduced a Patient Engagement Advisory Committee (PEAC) to ensure patient needs and experiences are considered during the development of medical technology. The FDA is looking to the public to nominate a diverse group of panellists with experience in some of these areas:

  • Primary care patient experience
  • Healthcare needs of patient groups in the US
  • The work of patient and health professional organizations
  • Clinical research
  • Methodologies for eliciting patient preferences
  • Patient reported outcomes methodology
  • Strategies for communicating benefits, risks and clinical outcomes to patients and research subjects.

Knowing that the FDA are identifying Patient Centred Design as a priority, while also engaging in discussions with the industry on improved research methodologies will potentially encourage the Pharma industry to work more autonomously in this area.

Breaking the mould

While the Pharma industry is in the early stages of forging Patient Centred Design compared to the consumer goods sector, further levels of leadership are required. The Pharma industry cannot just be seen to ‘tick the boxes’ but will need to be seen as market leaders and drivers. The first to pioneer successfully Patient Centred Design in Pharma will inevitably become the leader of the pack. As the old dancing man metaphor depicts – at first people stop, stare and question but soon enough, the method to the madness is seen and the floodgates open. Check out the video here.

To finish

These approaches to Patient Centred Design can be seen as more long term solutions. The implementation will take desire and commitment from many parties across the Pharma industry, regulatory bodies and most importantly – the patient.


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Posted by Ronan
Consultant – Product Design Engineer

Languages spoken: English and a little French.
The last thing that inspired me: The documentary series Planet Earth II.
My dream project: Developing a commercial spaceline similar to SpaceX and Virgin Galactic.
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