Power to the Patients: Takeaways from the "New Health Report"

Industry Insights from Paul Meade, M. Sc, MPH

A recent report suggested that patients can have a significant influence on the success or failure of new drugs. The “New Health Report,” conducted by Richard Day Research and published by Quintiles, a large multinational contract research organization (CRO) to the pharmaceutical industry, surveyed executives from biopharmaceutical companies and from healthcare companies, as well as a number of patients. They found that patients are gradually moving into a position of influence over the success of a new medicine, a position long held by the medical community.

There is an old saying in the art of negotiating– “whoever believes he has the power, has the power.” This interesting paradox can be seen in government. The politicians believe they have the power, and so they wield it readily to control the people; whereas the people do not believe they have the power, and are thus subjugated to the will of the government. In reality, it is the opposite. The government derives its power from the people, and the people of the land have the real power. But in most cases, the government believes it has the power, as so it does.

In medicine, physicians have always held a position of power over the interventions of diseases. They make life and death decisions armed with a wealth of knowledge obtained from many years of academic studies and practical experience. And as such, they were empowered to administer medicines based on sound judgment of an optimal outcome. To this end, the pharmaceutical industry has always respected this position of power and knowledge that physicians held to determine the successes and failures of pharmaceutical products. What this new report is attempting to suggest is that the true power rests with the patients. Indeed it does–it always has!

Granted, throughout history, the power and wisdom of physicians has always been revered by patients and society, as a whole. But with educated consumers armed with access to medical knowledge through the ubiquitous internet, there is a shift of power occurring that brings the equation more into balance. Many patient-doctor interactions are becoming a collaborative decision-making process attempting to balance clinical and economic outcomes. Both patient and provider have a power base that should be mutually respected when it comes to medical decisions.

Will patients swing the pendulum all the way to the other side? It is doubtful we will see this in the next decade. But beyond that time frame, it is possible. I believe the future of healthcare will be one where there is a collaborative process between both patient and provider, each playing an active role in the decisions of health that balance cost and quality to achieve optimal health outcomes. So do the patients have the power? Yes, but is should be used wisely and judiciously in the spirit of cooperation to achieve the maximum benefit to protect one’s health.

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