HELENA CHUNG
Patient Centricity (PaCe) Excellence Director, AstraZeneca

Why am I Proud to Work in Healthcare?

Healthcare is an area that I find so energizing because it’s personal, it’s universal and it impacts upon every single person. The great thing about working in healthcare is that there are so many areas for doing good.

I first became interested in healthcare after finishing college, when I went backpacking in Thailand. During my travels I taught English in some very rural areas, and there I saw communities that had been totally debilitated by health and environmental problems. Socioeconomic challenges were keeping them from being able to thrive. The effects were striking, and when I got back home to the USA, inspired by what I had seen, I went to Yale to study public health and international relations.

In my current role I am entirely focused on patient centricity, and it’s a position that I really love. We work to embed the patient voice in everything we do.

During this time, I became interested in the business side of health, and after graduating I got a job in pharmaceutical consulting. I was assigned to a job in China, where there had just been an outbreak of SARS. As a result of this, the Chinese were really keen to accelerate clinical research, and so they established a research collaboration with the US National Institute of Health, focusing on infectious diseases. I was working as an international consultant to facilitate this partnership on the ground, where we aimed to develop the research infrastructure by raising awareness of the obstacles that domestic pharmaceutical companies faced. It was fascinating being able to work with the Chinese Food and Drug Administration and the researchers and clinical institutions there. I spent four years there, and what was really rewarding is that I saw an immediate benefit to the both Chinese and the US research teams.

Seeing the industry in different countries has made it clear to me that healthcare is personal, and what works in one population may not work in other countries. You need to know patient preferences on a population level and an individual one, and this is key to developing the right therapies and patient services that truly meet the needs of your patients.

In my current role I am entirely focused on patient centricity, and it’s a position that I really love. We work with teams across the entire continuum of product discovery, development and commercialisation to embed the patient voice in everything we do. Having a dedicated patient centricity team is a fairly new concept for pharma, so we’re starting from a blank slate, which I find really exciting. It gives us great freedom to find ways of adding value for patients. We can’t solve every unmet need, but we can help to optimise patients’ experiences with their disease management. We can help to improve their interactions with doctors and healthcare teams, we can offer them support and we can empower them to make informed decisions about their care, articulate their experiences and ask their doctors the right questions.

I’m proud of a lot of things that we’ve done, especially in the PaCe team. But I can honestly say that it’s more of a privilege to do what I do, and I’m most proud of the patients who advocate for themselves on a daily basis.

I think that pharma will make great progress if we can find a way to quantify the value of these human-to-human interactions and measure true outcomes for patients at an individual level. Historically, pharma are innovation-led, science-based companies. We use scientific processes and methodology to gather data to submit to regulators for approval so we can make our products available to those who need them. But we need to recognise that healthcare is messier than just data. We measure days on treatment and efficacy based on a pre-set clinical endpoint, but that’s not patient-centric. We need to ask ourselves, what does a positive outcome look like for each and every patient and how can we improve this?

The challenge is connecting the science to the patient, making it meaningful and relevant to them. We need to work out how to consolidate the messy, qualitative patient experience and combine that with the strength of the quantitative data. By doing this we can get a holistic picture of the patient. I think in the future pharma will become more outcome-based, and I am hopeful that things are starting to move in that direction.

I’m proud of a lot of things that we’ve done, especially in the PaCe team. But I can honestly say that it’s more of a privilege to do what I do, and I’m most proud of the patients who advocate for themselves on a daily basis.