Patient Engagement. A personal, organisational and cross-industry priority that needs to drive what we do in healthcare, more than ever before.

COVID-19 vaccines have been developed and delivered in record time without ever compromising on safety. While they are our most effective asset to fight the global pandemic, they have also inspired a broad societal conversation about how diagnostics, vaccines and medicines are discovered, developed, regulated and distributed. Understandably citizens have been asking questions: How do we know they are safe? How do we know they are effective? Will they work against new variants of COVID-19?  

Perhaps now more than ever, there is an onus on industry and across all stakeholders in healthcare, to listen carefully to people’s concerns, engage and explain the science behind new vaccines and treatments, how they are developed, tested and used. This moment in time also represents a unique opportunity to extend the conversation to the future of Europe’s healthcare, to identifying issues and co-creating solutions, above all with patients.   

Europe is at a critical moment: health has never been so high on the agenda from bio-preparedness to health system resilience, from the EU pharmaceutical strategy to the incentive framework supporting the development of orphan and paediatric medicines. Our vision is for a healthier future for Europe, a future with better outcomes for patients across Europe based on prevention, innovation that can address unmet medical needs and access to new treatments. Realising these ambitions means engaging and working with patients at every stage. 

Over the last three years, EFPIA has worked to ensure that the voice of patient organisations is heard across the life-cycle of a medicine, at every decision-making point including through vehicles for regular dialogue such as the EFPIA Patient Think Tank or via public-private partnerships, such as IMI. We have co-created a number of collaborative projects in areas of common interest such as the use of health-data (#DatasavesLives), how to increase patient engagement in Health Technology Assessment (in partnership with EPF, EUPATI and HTAi) and by piloting a patient-friendly clinical trial finder platform (Trials@Home). 

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged us in many ways and it has instigated a reflection on our healthcare in many areas. We are committed to continuing to listen to patients experiences and shared learnings to enable us to build back better from the crisis and meet the needs of patients, citizens and society as a whole. 

Discussing the impact of the COVID-19 with the EFPIA Patient Think Tank, we asked members to describe the pandemic in a few words. Not surprisingly challenging, devastating and disruptive featured prominently, but importantly the pandemic was seen an opportunity for change. 

The discussions with patient organisations and other partners highlighted some key areas: 

When our health is in danger, we turn to medical innovation for answers. Without the hope afforded by new vaccines and therapeutics to fight COVID-19, our only defence was complete lockdown. Creating a research and development eco-system that can deliver medical innovation for patients must be a priority for Europe. 

The pandemic underlined that no one sector has all the answers. The crisis triggered unprecedented collaboration between patients, industry, governments, hospitals, and civil society. We need to build on the relationships and partnerships forged during the crisis to tackle other healthcare challenges. 

Patient organisations played a crucial role supporting and representing their communities during such a challenging time. They need support, financial stability and long-term, strategic partnerships to be able to continue to provide a strong voice for patients and their families. 

The freshly published Connecting Healthcare Guide is outstanding collection of best-practice examples for collaboration between patient organisations and industry. It is a testament to all the ongoing efforts and an inspiration to all of us moving forward. 

Our collective response to the pandemic, in particular our resilience, has been the focus of much debate around Europe. Working together to tackle not only existing healthcare challenges but also to be better prepared for future pandemics and the threat of AMR is crucial. 

Last but not least, this pandemic has affected us all in one way or another. It did not recognize borders and our response has to be equally global based on empathy, solidarity and inclusiveness.  

No doubt, there will be many more reflections over the coming months on the lessons of the pandemic and on the future of healthcare in Europe. As we actively participate in these discussions, we are committed to ensuring that we continue to engage with the patient community to build towards a healthier Europe, together. 

Nathalie Moll

Nathalie Moll joined the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) as Director...
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