Philadelphia Medicine Spring 2020 - 28

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FEATURE

The Importance of Listening to
Patients, Particularly in Oncology
By: Mary Dominiecki, Vice President, Oncology, THE PLANNING SHOP

W

e see it time and time again in the treatment of cancer. When
commissioning market research, pharma companies focus
so much effort on oncologists. It makes sense - oncologists
are their primary target when trying to grow a brand as they are the
ones who will prescribe the product. But oncologists prescribe based
largely on efficacy, encouraging patients to take products that they
believe may provide better results. This translates into hope for the
patients - hope for more time with their families, hope for more
birthdays and graduations, hope for more tomorrows. But hope is
just part of the patient's journey. Patients have many other thoughts
and feelings along the road, some of which they hide and do not
share with their physicians. For pharma to grow a brand and make
it successful for doctors and patients alike, it's not enough to simply
do market research with oncologists. It is critical to understand what
is happening with patients as well.

We're not saying that patients do not report serious side effects
to their health care team - of course they do. But do they tell their
oncologist how the treatment is really affecting them?
* Do they say that they are so fatigued that they do not go out
with friends?
* That they are so self-conscious that someone might notice that
they have lost all their body hair and therefore they choose to
stay home.
* Do they state that they live in fear that their nails are going to
fall out, or that they worry about every ache and pain and what
it might mean to them?
* Including thoughts about whether their cancer has returned.
Has their cancer progressed? Is it growing?
No. Not always.
Patients keep so many things to themselves. Everything around
them tells them they are in a battle that only the strong survive.
Therefore, they are afraid to show any weakness. Everyone around
them is trying to be helpful by telling them they are strong; they are
an inspiration. This is all well-meaning, but it contributes to patients
not feeling safe enough to share what they are really going through.

Holding back
Through market research, we've learned that cancer patients are
taught that the most important thing in their life is fighting cancer.
They go through hours of doctor visits - oncologists, radiation
oncologists, surgeons (sometimes multiple surgeons), and other
specialists (cardiologists, pulmonologists, GYN ONCs). They sit in
waiting room after waiting room feeling alone and worried about
the toll that treatment takes on them. They spend hours in infusion
chairs and on the phone trying to coordinate tests and appointments.
They experience many inconveniences and side effects - which they
may complain about to a nurse or family member or friend - but
they do not often voice these complaints to their oncologist. They
frequently hold it all in for fear of complaining too much and being
taken off the medication that is providing them with hope for their
future. They also live in fear of being labeled as a difficult patient,
believing they might not get the most efficacious treatment if they
are complaining about side effects.

28 Philadelphia Medicine : Spring 2020

Patients are also acutely aware of what their cancer diagnosis is
doing to their loved ones or close friends. When they try to share,
the strain and stress they are putting on their loved ones - who are
powerless to make things better - is often visibly apparent. The more
they share about the difficulties they are experiencing - due to the
cancer or due to the associated treatment - the more pain they think
they'll cause. So again, they tend to hold back.

Complete market research for treatment success
In the context of market research for treatment success and brand
growth, physicians are extremely important. We need to know what
physicians think and we want to understand how they make decisions,
consciously and subconsciously. We've always been good at talking
to physicians to find out how they decide on efficacious care, what
the logistics of diagnosis, testing, and treatment look like, and how
patients move through the system. But when we ask physicians what
patients go through mentally and physically - what patients truly
think and feel about the drugs and the treatments - it becomes more
difficult to get a clear picture. As pharmaceutical market researchers,
when we ask physicians about the side effects of products, we are
only getting their side of the story - only part of the story - because


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Philadelphia Medicine Spring 2020

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https://www.nxtbook.com/hoffmann/PCMS_Philadelphia_Medicine/PhiladelphiaMedicine_Winter2017x
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