MSD rolled out the first module of the PFMD training course in early 2020. Jan Nissen, Vice President of Patient Innovation & Enterprise Communications for MSD, says the company is achieving culture change organically rather than imposing a new approach from the top

The PFMD Patient Engagement Training has been introduced at some of the biggest life sciences companies in the world. This reflects a growing trend across the sector, with a greater focus on patient involvement at every stage of medicines development. 

Some organisations have taken a top-down approach, making training mandatory for staff. Others have opted for a soft launch, bringing employees along at their own pace. MSD has been working on patient engagement for several years, introducing the training in 2020. Jan Nissen, Vice President of Patient Innovation & Enterprise Communications, explains how the company is rolling out the training and why it prefers to encourage staff to embrace the modules without making it a requirement for all. 

How have you delivered the training in MSD?  

The first 45-minute module was rolled out in early 2020, with the 15-minute training introduced in the summer. We prioritise the course for anyone working in patient engagement or advocacy. That includes anyone at the country level working in communications, policy, or patient engagement roles. We also encourage other colleagues, such as people in R&D and leaders in our commercial operations, to take the course. People whose roles are not actively involved in patient engagement prefer a shorter course. 

How does the training initiative support capacity building in Patient Engagement in your organisation?

It gives a common understanding of the importance of the patient to the drug development process. Many people at the company don’t really think about the patient’s perspective because the industry has been primarily rooted in thinking about the physician’s perspective. There has been a tendency for physicians to speak on behalf of the patient, but we know that their feedback is not always the same as asking patients directly. The training illuminates the need to engage with patients and careers. 

How have colleagues responded to the training? 

The response has been very positive.  We’ve been collecting comments from people who have begun the course and found that the training has been received well, particularly by those who have a more cursory involvement with patient engagement. It opens their eyes to the changing landscape and the importance of patient engagement.  

Has the training supported their patient engagement work in practice?

For some, the training supports their work on a daily basis. For others, it’s just a good mindset to adopt. Many colleagues say it makes them eager to learn more about what the company is doing to incorporate patient perspectives. That, to me, is a great outcome. 

Our employees might also be patients or have been patients in the past. They really appreciate this trend towards patient engagement as they have personally experienced the importance of being heard in the course of their treatment and care. That really resonates with people.

Why is it important to deliver the training to people who do not work directly in patient engagement roles? 

It’s important because it helps provide motivation and a sense of purpose about what the company is doing. At MSD, we say medicine is for the people and not for the profits. When we remember that, the profits have always followed. Our colleagues know that is a key feature of the history of the company. This training makes it more visible to them. Practically speaking, it reminds us to ask what we are doing to help support the patient.

How has company leadership supported the training?  

We have a Chief Patient Officer – Dr Julie Gerberding – who is an active supporter of patient engagement, including this training course. We also find that at a local level, country leadership has been supportive of training. 

Our leadership is also very supportive of what we call capacity building of patient groups to help them understand how the industry works, how drug development works. That is already happening in many parts of the world, so the patient engagement training is one of several ways to increase capacity in the industry, in patient groups and for others in the healthcare ecosystem. 

Is it difficult to convince colleagues to embark on the training given competing demands for their time?  

We are a regulated industry so there are huge training obligations for our people, making it very challenging to add more training requirements. We have listed the patient engagement training as optional but still found there’s a willingness to take the course. We’re relying more on word of mouth than depending on senior leadership or making it obligatory. We need to bring people along with us, to change culture organically. It’s not a case of pushing it down from the top. 

What plans do you have to further expand the reach of the training? 

We will roll out the Level two module in 2021. This content is particularly designed for those whose job involves patient engagement more directly. We’ll focus on rolling it out to that group and continue to build momentum around the 15-minute module.

There are other complementary initiatives that add momentum to our patient engagement work. We recently held our first annual Patient Week – a global company event where we feature stories of patients, as well as panels with patients and caregivers. It’s an opportunity to talk about practical examples of how we incorporate patient perspectives in our work. Nearly 10,000 people across 60 countries within the company participated and this event had a powerful impact on promoting a culture of patient engagement at MSD.