Last week I traveled to Philadelphia to participate in the Patients as Partners US 2019 conference.
It was an honor and a privilege to be invited. But also, at times, incredibly frustrating. And that is because I am highly skeptical when it comes to the rhetoric surrounding Patients as Partners.
Like most events of this ilk, there were lots of people from industry, regulators, a few clinicians and perhaps a researcher or two along with a tiny handful of patients. Self described as ‘the only conference in the US that demonstrates how to involve patients throughout the entire medicines development life cycle to drive greater efficiencies in clinical research‘, the sessions had titles like ‘What does a patient-focused clinical trial really look like?’ Patient centricity, patient engagement and the ‘democratization of patient data ownership’; all were topics of discussion.
Per usual, though patients were the purported focus, there was far more talking about us than speaking with us.
This confounds me. I mean, with three phase I clinical trials under my belt, I am a bit like an astronaut who’s made multiple moon shots. And, rather than asking me, the astronaut, what space is like, the non-astronauts are up there on stage describing my experience. Talk about out of body.
It reminds me of the time someone asked my (then) husband and I about how the labor for our son had gone. My husband, the person who hadn’t given birth, responded ‘easy.’ I, who had struggled mightily to birth a ten pound four ounce baby vaginally, demurred. I was the authority on my own experience, not a by-stander.
When it comes to clinical trials, I have an equally hard time listening to the non-experts opine.
The fact that I and other patients were even invited to this conference (and in some cases to take the mic) remains groundbreaking. However, patient engagement and patient centricity and patient involvement from the ground up would seem to imply that patients should play a far greater role. Put patients on your planning committee. Take us out of the audience and put more of us up on the stage. Involving us every step of the way–‘the entire life cycle’–might just result in ‘greater efficiencies.’ Because some of the most useful data is anecdotal–data you will only capture if you give patients an opportunity to speak and–you listen.