Human Centricity in Pharma – Beyond Altruism: a Strategic Imperative

By / April 17, 2017

Illustration of chess pieces

By Michelle McCune with Elina Lawrie and Mathieu Ranger

The days of big blockbuster drugs are coming to an end. In the last thirty years, the estimated percentage of pharmaceutical companies’ value that can be attributed to physical products has decreased from 90% to 25%. Expiring patents, rising R&D costs, decreasing R&D productivity, fierce generic competition, and public policy changes are eroding pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies’ profit margins.

To remain competitive, a shift needs to be made. Some argue that approaches focused on the human experience are the best way forward. Industry buzzwords such as Patient Centricity and People Powered Health describe a model where decision-making is shared between multiple stakeholders. Whereas in the past, pharmaceutical marketing focused on the needs of the physician, today we might define “the customer” as not only the doctor, but her nurses and other clinicians, non-clinical staff such as administrators, and of course the patient and family caregiver too. More than ever, organizations are recognizing the importance of addressing the needs of, and maintaining relationships with, a broader set of stakeholders.

Change is happening whether we like it or not, and organizations who do not put customers at the forefront of their business strategy risk falling behind.

It is hard to disagree with the idea that adopting a more holistic, service-minded approach in healthcare will significantly improve the patient experience. When we consider the human needs of the people we ultimately serve, our organizations are better able to address pain points, satisfy unmet needs, engage stakeholders, deliver better outcomes, and become a meaningful part of a stakeholder’s choice set.

Of course, adopting a human-centric lens requires a shift in thinking, as well as significant time and dollar investment. While human centricity may align unequivocally with our professional and personal desires to “do better for our stakeholders,” it is not always so easy to articulate its underlying business value. Can adopting a more human-centric approach go beyond altruism and also drive a measurable return on investment for the business? When it’s delivered in a strategic and purposeful way, we believe the answer is yes.

Change is happening whether we like it or not, and organizations who do not put customers at the forefront of their business strategy risk falling behind. Those who think “beyond the pill” will be able to deliver value across the full breadth of the patient experience. Looking upstream, companies may consider value-driving activities such as more efficient diagnosis and even disease prevention. Looking downstream, opportunities abound in the areas of patient monitoring and treatment adherence.

While the future may seem uncertain, with their global reach, decades of disease-state knowledge, and expertise in managing public and private stakeholder relationships, pharmaceutical companies are well positioned to take on a leadership role. By investing in profound, lasting operational changes that put real human needs at the center, pharmaceutical companies can shed their image as traditional drug-makers to instead be looked upon as trusted partners in the delivery of complete, integrated healthcare solutions.


We believe that the players willing to invest effort, time, and money into reshaping entrenched systems and attitudes will lead in the marketplace. With that in mind, we created this four-part series on Human-Centered Healthcare. In Human-Centered Healthcare we break down various patient-centric strategies and present a rationale for adopting a more human-centered healthcare approach within the pharmaceutical industry

Human-Centered Healthcare Part Two: Six Ways to Win With Human Centricity

Human-Centered Healthcare Part Three: Designing Effective Self-Monitoring Solutions for Patients with Complex Diseases

Human-Centered Healthcare Part Four: How to Engage a Human-Centered Culture Within Your Organization