Disease prevention from the patient perspective

Published on October 09, 2017

Dr. Anne C. Beal, Sanofi’s Chief Patient Officer, talks about the concept of prevention in the healthcare system and provides some insight on the role that patients play in disease prevention.

Dr. Anne C. BealThroughout your career as a pediatrician and medical researcher you’ve had the opportunity to observe patient needs first hand. Has this experience influenced the way that you approach this subject as Sanofi’s Chief Patient Officer?

Anne Beal: When I first joined Sanofi, I wanted to bring a focus on patients and operationalize the concept of patient centricity in the company. Based on my previous work, I knew that this meant finding ways to improve patient outcomes in a meaningful way and maintaining a clear line of sight on how our activities as a company will impact the patients themselves.

As life expectancy continues to grow, people are living longer but also finding themselves needing more medical care. From this “patient centric” standpoint, can you tell us how their needs have evolved?

A.B.: One hundred years ago, the common causes of death and illness were related to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis. Today, we are dealing with chronic diseases and the conversation has switched over from cure to management. The old, infectious disease framework – get an injection and feel better – no longer works with conditions that patients have today. One of the main differences in this chronic disease framework is that patients and their families now play a much bigger role in managing their conditions. For example, heart disease, blood pressure, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, and even many cancers require significant patient self-management and monitoring.

Now that patients are expected to manage and monitor their conditions, what tools are available to help them do so effectively?

A.B.: There are so many different tools, but if I had to narrow it down to one, I would say the internet. Patients can get so much information on their own, identify conditions and be proactive. This growth of information is the single largest opportunity that exists because it allows patients to go out and learn and not just rely on the medical system. That said, it also provides the basis for a conversation with physicians and healthcare professionals, who are crucial in helping patients understand and interpret all the information out there. I find the advent of this knowledge very exciting because it leads to empowered, informed and engaged patients. It has changed the tone of conversation between patients and their healthcare providers and has made it more of a partnership.

Are there any drawbacks to having all this information at our fingertips?

A.B.: All this information will never replace the opportunity to have a real conversation with a medical professional. People need to understand that anything you read out there is a generality and if your doctor knows you and knows your family history and risk factors they can place that information within the context of who you are. The other challenge is that with all this information, people may think they have a condition that they don’t; which can create unnecessary anxiety. That said, very rarely is knowledge and information a bad thing.

Speaking of chronic diseases, studies now show that 387 million people were diagnosed with diabetes in 2015, a figure that is expected to increase by 50% by 2035. How can we approach this issue from a prevention perspective?

A.B.: People tend to think about prevention as simply stopping something from happening; but it’s a continuum. It starts from preventing the onset of a condition, to identifying a condition early once a patient already has it, and then working to stop the disease from progressing. The good news is that certain preventative measures are universal. For example, healthy changes in your exercise routine and eating habits impact a variety of chronic diseases including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and even cancer. But the challenge is that this requires a lifestyle change, which can be difficult. It takes so much more than just knowledge to change behavior. As a medical community, we need to look at chronic disease prevention as a population or a community issue. This means promoting exercise by creating more walkable cities or facilitating exercise by developing safe bike lanes.

At the same time, technology and connectedness will play an increasingly important role. We can now look up a neighborhood’s walkability score when searching for a new home; we can map out the closest farmer’s market when shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables; and we can look up a product while we’re shopping in the supermarket to verify its ingredients before we make that purchase. All this technology – whether through apps, the internet or different types of connectivity – will be crucial in helping people make healthy choices for themselves.


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