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50 Most Admired Companies of the Year 2021

‘Our Proprietary Knowledge Base Grows Richer with Each New Program, and the Insights Ever More Valuable for Enhancing Healthcare Strategies’: Zoe Barker, CEO of Patient Connect

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“We are integrated into hundreds of software systems to connect technically through programmed digital alerts. In this way, we can address the unmet clinical needs of patients, support HCPs to make the best decisions for their patients, and ultimately save lives.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation that was already underway in the Pharma industry. Once the mainstay of pharmaceutical detailing, digital interventions have replaced the old world of one-to-one communication, both in-premise and online. The game has shifted from competing for time to competing for digital space and visual attention.

Likewise, in healthcare, it appears that many patient visits will continue to be performed remotely, and the use of electronic systems for managing patients and their data is becoming ubiquitous. The challenge of interoperability between systems is also being addressed such that it will become easier to follow a patient digitally along their healthcare journey.

In light of the foregoing, we’re pleased to present Patient Connect — delivering evidence-based clinical messages at the point of care. The company’s programs and data provide unmatched insight and clarity, enabling measurement of clinical and commercial outcomes and informing the advancement of healthcare. 

Patient Connect was founded in 2004 and is headquartered in Guildford, England.

To highlight and further understand what Patient Connect stands for and seeks to explore in this segment, I sat down with Zoe Barker, who serves as the company’s Chief Executive Officer.

Below is an excerpt.

Q. Tell us what inspired the creation of Patient Connect.

The inspiration for Patient Connect was the revelation that up to 70 percent of patients don’t take their prescribed medicine. This translates to an enormous burden of €125 billion on healthcare systems in Europe and 200,000 premature deaths that could be avoided every year. Our vision was to create a healthier world, and with this, we set out our mission to understand what patients are struggling with and find a way to address these issues at scale so that we could move the needle. Starting in the UK, we assembled a network of community pharmacists and a technology-enabled model which allowed us to connect digitally with Healthcare Professionals (HCPs) to prompt patient communications. From here, we expanded geographically and across healthcare sectors to build a vast international network, both pharmacists and physicians, in both primary and secondary care. We are integrated into hundreds of software systems to connect technically through programmed digital alerts. In this way, we can address the unmet clinical needs of patients, support HCPs to make the best decisions for their patients, and ultimately save lives.

Q. How do your digital messaging programs facilitate patient engagement, drive behavioural change and empower healthcare professionals to optimise care?

Today, we span 14 countries and can reach a million HCPs representing 500 million patients. We work through the software systems they use every day, serving up timely, targeted messaging as part of the standard workflow for caring for a patient.

From research on what patients are struggling with, we identify their unmet clinical needs and create an effective editorial plan which lays out what needs to be addressed. We then message the HCP at the critical time point when they have the patient in front of them and make crucial decisions about their healthcare. Provision of the right information at the right time is empowering. HCPs welcome the support we provide to help them optimise care. Pharma appreciates the opportunity to communicate with HCPs at the point of care. Patients receive advice and guidance in an environment of trust and are encouraged to make behavioural changes to improve their health.

There are numerous different systems available to HCPs in each country, providing access to decision-support information, electronic diagnostic and prescribing systems, and storage facilities of patient data. We are agnostic to the individual systems, operating through a technical interface to build business rules into the software. Clinical, medicinal, and biochemical parameters alone, or in combination, trigger a highly targeted digital outreach to HCPs, at scale. Our algorithms, which pick up real-time, dynamic data stored in the systems, are developed using intelligence from our experiential knowledge base, which sits on the outcomes from the hundreds of successful programs we have run over the years.

Q. “Our programs and data provide unmatched insight and clarity, enabling measurement of clinical and commercial outcomes and informing the advancement of healthcare.” Would you like to elaborate on this a bit more?

Importantly, we measure the impact of all our programs, using data analytics to furnish clinical or commercial outcomes and demonstrate the efficacy of our campaigns. Over the years, we have built up a vast knowledge base of information, affording valuable insights into where the problems are, what should be done, and what a customer can expect to achieve. Using AI-based techniques, we interrogate the information to determine the criteria for optimal outcomes and build these into the design of our programs.

Q. Can you provide us with one or two success stories describing the challenges your clients faced and how your solutions helped them overcome these challenges?

Let me give you a couple of examples to explain how our solution empowers healthcare.

We worked with 100,000 cancer patients who were in severe pain and being prescribed strong opioid painkillers. While effective at controlling pain, these painkillers often cause debilitating nausea. Surprisingly, only three percent of these patients were being co-prescribed. So we ran a digital campaign through pharmacy, advising patients they should either ask their doctor to prescribe an anti-emetic or buy one over the counter. A simple message but highly effective. We measured a 14 percent increase in compliance with opiate therapy as a direct result of the campaign, and helping cancer patients manage pain helps keep them out of hospital.

In another case, we ran a campaign for patients suffering from severe asthma. Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases, yet many patients remain poorly controlled and at risk of asthma attacks, which impact quality of life and, at worse, can be fatal. Add to this the fact that some of the long-term treatments can have debilitating side effects, and you can understand why identifying appropriate referral of patients to a specialist centre is one of the major challenges in current clinical practice. We were able to engage tens of thousands of pharmacists and GPs in our quest to optimise these patients' care. The pharmacists empowered the patients to speak with their doctors, and GPs were prompted to refer at-risk patients to specialist asthma centres to initiate appropriate treatment. We supported 1.5 million patient engagements over the course of the campaign, preventing an estimated 350,000 asthma attacks.

Q. Will Patient Connect be expanding, bringing on any new products or services that we should be aware of?

Expanding the network is an enduring goal. Our vision is to optimise care for patients across the care pathway and the world. We are currently onboarding more specialists in more disease areas and more countries. We will be opening up in several new geographies before the end of the year, with others on the roadmap for 2022.

Our rare diseases work is gaining momentum as pharma companies bring products to market to tackle rare and ultra-rare conditions. There are hundreds of rare diseases and 350 million people across the world affected. About 80 percent are related to gene deficiencies. The challenge is to find these patients, refer them to the right specialist, get them genotyped and diagnosed as soon as possible so they can receive the right treatment. Our solution highlights patients with rare diseases in the general population to move them swiftly and effectively through the care system to the best care…before it's too late.

Q. Where do you stand as a company in the current market landscape? And what are you doing to stay ahead of the curve?

The uniqueness of Patient Connect stems from our deep-seated clinical expertise and experience of effective healthcare communications, together with our know-how of digital systems, legislation, and the art of the possible across multiple geographies. Our proprietary knowledge base grows richer with each new program, and the insights ever more valuable for enhancing healthcare strategies.

Besides, fortunately for us, we are well ahead in the digital game, so our challenge will be not so much transformative as evolutionary as we continue to leverage emerging digital opportunities to optimise patient care.

A Relentless Reliable Leader

After qualifying, Zoe Barker practiced commercial and corporate law for global enterprises before co-founding Patient Connect. Zoe's legal knowledge and business acumen has been fundamental in building Patient Connect’s world-leading HCP network and has ensured that the company remains at the forefront of digital healthcare solutions and data.

“We will be opening up in several new geographies before the end of the year, with others on the roadmap for 2022.”

“The uniqueness of Patient Connect stems from our deep-seated clinical expertise and experience of effective healthcare communications, together with our know-how of digital systems, legislation, and the art of the possible across multiple geographies.”