Every year, a vast number of people worldwide die prematurely from non-communicable diseases. As the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) make clear, more needs to be done in this space. In our latest podcast, Ideas to Innovation, we speak with Dr. Grace Lomax, the clinical director at Patient Connect, part of Clarivate™. Grace tells us about her experience as a physician and discusses healthcare literacy and education at the point of care.
In 2017, the same year the SDGs came into effect, the United Nations found that less than half of the global population was covered by essential health services. Inadequate health services can have devastating consequences, especially when it comes to non-communicable diseases (NCD), such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers and diabetes, which is the leading cause of death globally.
According to the World Health Organization, 80% of premature deaths by certain NCDs could likely be avoided if patients and healthcare professionals alike had the right information at the right time to make better decisions.
Better access to physicians and better funding of health systems in general are therefore among the many targets listed under SDG 3: Good health and wellbeing. Also listed as a target is reducing premature deaths from non-communicable diseases by one third by 2030.
Supporting patients at the point of care
Making significant strides towards patient access, education and engagement is the mission of Patient Connect.
Dr. Grace Lomax, who co-founded Patient Connect with her sister in 2008, came up with the idea for the solution when she started asking patients in her clinic what information they wanted when and how. She realized the importance of empowering patients with the awareness, education and support they need to understand and manage conditions.
“There are only so many leaflets you can stick into a wall rack, and this was compounded by a culture within the medical community of telling patients what we thought they needed to know, rather than listening to what patients would like to know and explaining choice and risk and the likelihood of a treatment working or not.”
Patient Connect has since grown into a solution that works with life science companies to identify and support patients at the point of care and the point of dispensing.
Learn more about the story behind Patient Connect and the ambitious goals Grace has for the solution in the coming years by listening to our latest Ideas to Innovation podcast today.
You can also listen to the recent podcast episodes, including Dr. Gali Halevi discussing the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on global scientific research, or listen to our on-demand webinar about clinical trials: Optimizing clinical trials for a fast-changing landscape.
The following portion of our podcast transcript has been edited for clarity.
Neville Hobson [Host]: You founded Patient Connect together with your sister Zoe Barker in 2008. In December 2021, your company was acquired by Clarivate. Can you tell us about how you started this venture 14 years ago now, and what galvanized you to do something like setting up a business called Patient Connect?
Dr. Grace Lomax: Yes, happily. I worked as a hospital doctor for several years and then as a GP for several years, and it became very apparent that there was not enough information for patients to help them to better understand their illnesses, better understand their treatment [and] what to do with their medications. Starting in 2008, [Patient Connect] nearly predates the internet. Patients would find information from leaflets and wall racks in waiting rooms. Of course, there’s only so many leaflets you can stick into a wall rack, and this was compounded by a culture within the medical community of telling patients what we thought they needed to know, rather than listening to what patients would like to know and explaining choice and risk and the likelihood of a treatment working or not. There was a culture of [paternalism] rather than collaboration.
I ran a survey with patients to better understand what they wanted to know and who from and when, and how they’d like to receive the information. We got some really surprising answers back from that. We found, for example, that 63% of patients worry that they will become addicted to their medication if they keep taking it. That’s all medications, not just the two classes of drug, opioids and benzodiazepines, that cause addiction. [The survey found] two-thirds of the population worry that if they stay in a medicine, they’ll either develop tolerance to it or addiction to it or will need ever higher doses for it to work. Understanding what the patients want to know is an imperative to being able to support them in their unmet needs.
Neville: It sounds [like] what you’re saying, Grace, is that there was a gap in the market. Did you get a lot of resistance to what you were doing?
Grace: Surprisingly, no, we received [a] huge level of collaboration. We worked with 67 professors [and] another 120 consultant physicians to create information that addresses those questions that the patients wanted answered. We came at it from a different place rather than, here is asthma, a page on asthma. It was answering the questions that the patients want answered around asthma or the treatments for asthma or any of the other treatments.
With this huge team of key opinion leaders and consultants, we [made information available to] 95% of patients who present. We chose the most common diseases within each therapy area, so that there was more information available and answering the questions that the patients [wanted] answered. We also threaded into it information that they needed to know. What side effects should you contact a doctor about immediately, or what are the risks of a procedure and the likelihood of success? Information they need to know and information they want to know.
Neville: Why do you think the promotion of wellbeing is critical to sustainable development? It’s an important connection I think to make in the context of what’s actually happening. Why do you think that is?
Grace: I think wellbeing in [relation to] sustainability is around improving the health of people. It isn’t just around happiness levels, as the burden of disease is vast and debilitating for many. As we progress through life, we develop chronic diseases. The average 65-year-old has three different chronic diseases. The average one — that means half of them have more than three. The burden of disease is cumulative and is widespread. If we can improve that for patients, we can improve the quality of their lives and reduce the limitations around their lives.