Patient Advocacy – Views and Opinions at #ASH15

ASH 2015 Convention Hall

ASH 2015 Convention Hall

Twenty thousand people congregated in Orlando Dec 5th-8th for the annual American Society of Hematology meeting. A good number of them were patient advocates, from organizations all around the world. ASH did recognize these organizations and did give them a designated space on the exhibit floor, but did not give them free entry to the poster sessions, for instance, a practice that was criticized by some.

The Advocacy – Industry Relationship

Genentech slide

Slide at the Genentech dinner talk

The buzz at the meeting was that industry was becoming more and more amenable to partnering with these advocacy groups and to committing to try to understand the patient experience. The lunches and dinners and panel discussions that I attended were full of patient advocates who were conversing with the executives from pharmaceutical companies, answering their questions and themselves posing questions about the role of the patient in corporate decisions and strategy. At the Takeda Oncology Patient Advocate and Industry panel discussion, Fatima Scipione, Senior Director, Patient Advocacy for Takeda stated with conviction, “Patient impact is in everything we do.” Gail Sperling, Senior Manager, Information Resource Center at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, followed through with this concept by adding, “Pharma really values the patient voice because they realize how important it is.”

At the Genentech dinner talk, industry and executives discusses how collaboration between advocates
and industry leaders benefits everyone. They talked about a patient-designed clinical trial that they had worked on and explained that how having patients participating from the outset really helped the overall trial outcomes.

Will this continue? Will it evolve? Hopefully it will and hopefully it will result in a clearer understanding by industry and providers of the patient’s crucial role in his own healthcare. There was a comment at the Takeda Patient Advocacy and Industry panel discussion that struck me –  “The relationship between patient advocacy and industry should be genuine and sustainable”. Let’s hope that this becomes the case.

How Can We Reach More Patients?

With Advocates Andrew Schorr and Cindy Chmielewski

With Advocates Andrew Schorr and Cindy Chmielewski

The patient advocates that attend ASH and other “Patients Included” medical meetings are extremely sophisticated in their knowledge of medical information and social media. They are confident individuals that are extremely web-savvy. They are members of various organizations and support groups for patients, and they have a “voice” online that is strong and respected. Other patients who are online listen to these POLs (Patient Opinion Leaders) and pay attention to what they say. And that is wonderful and so very helpful for them.

My question is this – How can patient advocacy organizations and POLs reach the patients that are NOT online? How can we go to patients that are not as tech-savvy or web-savvy and offer to help them find information about their illness, find help in support groups and get, perhaps, better care for themselves?

These patients would be the ones that are NOT being treated by a major cancer center. Nor would they belong to a patient community or support group. How can we reach them and introduce them to the strong online voices that we have in the patient advocacy community? Perhaps the older patients do not go online and are not savvy with social media or online patient support groups, but someone in their family surely is – their spouse, their children?

Should we reach out to families everywhere to ask them to advocate for their loved ones with cancer? Should we send out fliers to senior centers? Go through community organizations? All of the above? I don’t quite know the answer but I really would like to reach these patients. If you have an idea, please comment below. I would love to hear your thoughts on this!