Sunday, 24 April 2016

Patient Groups - Hard Work and Lots of Questions

Last week I attended the CADTH symposium in Ottawa as a member of the Sjogren's Society of Canada.

You might wonder exactly what CADTH is and why I would want to attend. The Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH) is an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides public healthcare decision-makers with evidence about the appropriate use of drugs and medical devices. Patient input is used in deliberations and decisions.

It is becoming much more important in health care to have the patient, caregiver and public point of view and we see organizations making changes because of this.  Sarah Berglas of CADTH pointed out that 5 yrs ago they asked clinical experts what was important to patients. Now they are asking patients for this information.

To make it easier for patient groups to take part CADTH provides templates and sample submissions on their website to help them.

One of CADTH's aims is meaningful involvement of patients and patient groups in the drug review process.

I heard two important comments about patient submissions:

"Patient experience brings the disease to life" -- Fiona Miller
“The review team has often never met a patient with the disease” -- Frank Gavin

At one of the panels at CADTH, Zal Press of Patient Commando suggested that out of 1682 patient groups, only about 18 have the capacity to make submissions to CADTH to be considered by the Common Drug Review.

Questions that came up: 

How much thought is being given to the cost in terms of time and energy that it takes the patient group to do this?

How can patient groups running on a shoestring with few resources do a drug submission effectively?

Is this small number of groups who make submissions a good representation of the voice of patients and the public generally?

What about the idea of independent financial support for patient groups?
Are we asking too much of patient groups? We invest in clinical evidence, why not patient evidence?

Just the facts? 

Dr Ahmed Bayoumi, who is a member of the Common Drug Expert Committee, asked in the panel whether patient groups have the agency to speak for their patients. 

Dr Bayoumi said with patient submissions the decisions made are better decisions - that statement left patients in the room with questions. How do we know that our submissions really have an impact and can possibly change a decision?

Barry Stein of the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada said he is disappointed that patient experience is most often used to enrich, rather than change, reimbursement and coverage decisions.

Are patient groups working so hard on submissions for drug after drug, just so that the decisions made in meeting can be “better”?

What about the reality that qualitative research and experiential results are heavily discounted in favour of ‘real' evidence from trials and quantitative research?

How often do we call patient experience evidence? Why do we not call it patient evidence? -- Frank Gavin

What terms do we use to describe patient input? Information is a neutral term, but patient information is not seen as data -- Frank Gavin

The panel talked about evidence vs advocacy. We are dichotomizing this form of evidence. How do we incorporate it?

Gail Attara said that understanding the patient perspective is important. "Is a fifth medication for a condition needed?" She answered Yes, if you are a patient for whom the first four didn't work. Also that the patient's individual goals and decisions may not always follow evidence.

Sarah Berglas: Need to work with patients to capture big ideas on acceptability of treatment, "how life is lived, not just survival"

Those of us attending the panel discussion got concrete advice on making our submissions  to the Common Drug Review have more impact and be more useful.

1.     Discussing unmet needs and quality of life is very relevant
2.      Be very specific about therapy, side effects and challenges e.g. efficacy decreases over time.
3.      Include numbers if we have them
4.      Include strong quotes that "hook into people's brains" and illustrate the authentic voice of the patient.

Advice to patient groups on submissions: Be specific in what you include and pick powerful direct quotes. Sarah Berglas, Patient Engagement Officer, CADTH

Ducks in a row
Advice for patient groups from Gail Attara from

If patient groups could make submissions in person it would be more satisfying. Why can't patients comment on draft reports like other experts?

Patient group submissions are heavy on quotes, testimony and voice. Patients have the feeling that lived experience can’t compete with clinical data when the end result is up to the funders. Some patient groups wonder how much of  a difference their input makes.
There is a need to develop patient capacity.

I'm always conscious that patients have no strong networks to enable us to stay in touch and connect in between events like CADTH.

HTA provides the facts: ethics judges the facts. All who are affected need to be heard. Are patient values represented in HTA?
There is limited operational (action-oriented) guidance to assist HTA with the evaluation of ethical issues.

Even at the Plenary we heard this question: How do patient groups organize so they can feed into changes within the health care system?

A slide from Dr Ahmed Bayoumi's presentation