Posts Tagged HEOR

Storytelling, Giving Back, and Legacy: How AESARA is Doing it Differently

A market access agency.

A few months ago, I was sipping my morning coffee and perusing the health economics and outcomes research (HEOR) news feed as I do twice daily for HealthEconomics.Com. I stumbled across a blurb about a market access firm devoting time, talent and treasure to disaster relief from Hurricane Irma and Maria. The company was AESARA. One of my long-time colleagues, Dr. Lynn Okamoto, was in a leadership position there; being intrigued, I delved a bit deeper.

You see, I’m always keen to showcase the extraordinary individuals who make up the HEOR, Market Access (MA) and real-world evidence (RWE) field, and in my own small way attempt to debunk the myth that we are just geeky scientists. Many of you may remember a series that HealthEconomics.Com did a few years ago called HE-Artists: Health Economists and their Artistic Passions. This series revealed the breadth of impact made by our HEOR community, and showcased many phenomenal, multi-faceted, talented individuals who make their corner of the world a better place, while also doing extraordinary work in their careers.

As I read more about AESARA, I found a group of individuals who were indeed following their passion as a digital-forward market access agency. But also, I found a leader who was intent on making change in both HEOR and in needy communities around the globe. Meet Sissi Pham, Pharm D, Chief Executive Officer and Lynn Okamoto, PharmD, Chief Business and Technology Officer of AESARA. Sissi prefers not to showcase her or the staff’s pictures on their website, but rather, to use metaphors and symbolism to highlight their individual and corporate mission.

Sissi’s symbol is the Delta glyph and Lynn’s symbol is Theta. Each staff member has a symbol, and the personal meaning of these symbols is described here. Below is my interview with Dr. Sissi Pham, with additional commentary by Dr. Lynn Okamoto.

[PP] What life experiences or events influenced you as a person and female executive in the HEOR field?

[SP] What influences me as a person, the work I do, and the mission of AESARA are all driven by being an immigrant to this country. I am Vietnamese by origin and I arrived in America with my parents and two other siblings at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. My parents built a life for their children filled with many opportunities, even though they started here with absolutely nothing. It was very impactful to watch how my parents made change happen. My parents had high expectations from all of us to make a difference and “do good”. 

Another influence was a combination of my age and a significant event with my loved one. I was turning 50 years old and simultaneously, my father was passing away with two types of cancer. These events coalesced with a personal inventory of my purpose, and questions of whether I was doing all I could to make my father proud of the sacrifice he had made for me. 

Thirdly, I wondered about my legacy, my meaning in life. I do not have children but have been fortunate enough to earn a good living.  I saw examples of successful business leaders implementing a culture of philanthropy and social giving. I was inspired by this and made the decision that my next business venture would include this approach.

 [PP] Describe what a digital-forward market access agency is and how AESARA is doing things differently?

[SP] I have always enjoyed packaging and translating HEOR science and information to be used by the sales force and medical science or health outcomes liaisons with their customers. As a discipline, we are very challenged with how to communicate efficiently and effectively to the patients, providers and payers.  There is so much technology available – beyond Excel™ and PowerPoint™ – that we are not using in the health outcomes and market access space.

So, I started AESARA in April 2016 as a health outcomes market access agency similar to the brand or commercial agency that supports the product marketing in pharma. However, we don’t just do the creative work, we are also subject matter strategists; we have the subject matter expertise to turn the data in digestible content that can be used for decision-making and patient access.

[PP] Specifically, what are you doing differently with communication tools?

[SP] If you think about Ogilvy, they deliver glossy brochures, slide decks, and other very visual content that includes simple and actionable marketing language. In the commercial sector, agencies have learned how to distill complex clinical trial information into material that communicates the message for a brand to providers. At AESARA, we are trying to do something similar with HEOR and budget impact model data, or any of the evidence necessary for value-based decisions.

I am a big follower of Nancy Duarte and the Duarte Method. We use this approach to package evidence for our clients. In addition, our Creative team specializes in graphics that are grounded in the language we (HEOR) speak.

Truthfully, the digital forward component is something that pharma has been slower to adopt. We are moving this up in adoption curve and are using interactive pieces to support the communication of all forms of evidence: dossier, infographics, and other tools with the intent of disrupting the value communication space.

[PP] Lynn Okamoto’s focus is technology. Tell us more about what you are trying to accomplish.

[LO] Our HEOR, RWE and Market Access field is document-heavy, often relying upon old systems for collaborating and sharing. We are creating systems to be used internally by clients that allow them to be more productive, more efficient, and more quickly identify where evidence needs to be updated, then share final documents globally in real-time. This allows people to get the information they need for better decision-making. We are focusing on streamlining and strengthening these linkages across people and documents.

[PP] Let’s circle back to what intrigued me initially about AESARA – your Foundation. What is the mission and what have you accomplished so far?

[SP] Our Foundation is in its early days, being just 3 years old. I wanted to build a company that could sustain a Foundation over time. It’s a commitment we’ve made as a company. We haven’t clearly defined exactly what we support. It’s not targeted yet. We aren’t quite there yet. But we do know – and all of our employees support this – that we have an interest in giving back.

As I continue to formulate the Foundation purpose, I keep coming back to our strengths. We have world-class talent on the business side, including skilled health economists, as well as operations, technology, and finance capabilities. How can we leverage this, pro bono, to improve healthcare?

We began to do this in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.  We focused our efforts on Loíza, Puerto Rico with 25 volunteers consisting of AESARA employees and family members.  In addition to hands-on disaster assistance efforts like painting and tiling homes and roof installation, we used our in-house consulting skills to help problem-solve for this community to help prepare for the next disaster. We helped develop a plan to upgrade their current urgent care center, as well as figure out ways to establish emergency shelters and use these effectively in between emergency use.  Moreover, we contribute to a collective funding across multiple agencies to maximize the disaster relief efforts.

[LO] Everyone we hire at AESARA values the Foundation and its focus. Today, many of employees represent a generation that wants to find a way to give back.  Joining a company who values that is very important to them, and these are the kind of individuals we want to hire.

[PP] Let’s close with a look into the future. What do you wish was different in our HEOR field in 10 years?

[SP] I hope the HEOR & Market Access data we generate is on par with the clinical evidence, that the customers understand it, and use it to make decisions.

If you’d like to know more about AESARA, visit

If you’d like to have your organization or leadership featured in Profiles from the HEOR C-Suite, contact Dr. Patti Peeples, CEO of HealthEconomics.Com

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Value Communication is Not Fit for Purpose in Biopharma

Value communication (VC) is essential for a successful market access strategy that aims to bring interventions to patients. It is no longer enough to simply show that an intervention is effective. VC must also focus on health economics and outcomes research (HEOR), market access, regulatory decision making, epidemiology and real-world evidence (RWE) while aligning with the interests of the stakeholder.

In a recent blog for Pharma Intelligence, Don Creighton, head of US Market Access for ICON and now Managing Director, Life Sciences Practice with Huron, bemoaned the state of VC, saying, “…companies fall short in communicating their value message consistently to all comers.”1 “All comers” refers not only to payers but also to patients, providers, advocacy groups, government bodies and society as a whole.

At the heart of communicating value messages are the people doing it. It is key to attract and retain top talent who understand the science of value demonstration, while using training to promote technical and soft skill sets that support the effective communication of VC to different audiences. Little research has been done in either the HEOR or the medical communications industry to investigate the drivers and barriers in VC as well as training needs. HealthEconomics.Com’s Value Communications survey (contribute your opinion here) identified barriers and gaps in VC that may render this industry function currently not fit for purpose.

Dr. Patti Peeples, CEO of HealthEconomics.Com, commented on this deficiency, saying: “The value communications process in our industry is not fit for purpose, because we do not have sufficient understanding of the needs, techniques, or effectiveness of these VC tools. It’s imperative that we investigate this from the perspective of the developers, the communicators, and the recipients of value evidence, and build in learning systems to measure how well we are achieving our VC objectives”.

A survey to identify key challenges and opportunities in value communication

To better understand the challenges and opportunities in communicating value, HealthEconomics.Com conducted an online survey of 139 individuals involved in developing, communicating or assessing the clinical, economic and humanistic value of pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

The Value Communication Survey represented a wide variety of companies, countries, and job functions as they relate to evidence development and communication.

Click to view a larger image.

Outsourcing was lower than expected among respondents

Surprisingly, 38.4% of all respondents did not outsource any of their work in VC, which is lower than average compared with HEOR research outsourcing. It is possible that this survey’s outsourcing rate is low because of factors like high outsourcing costs for tool development, increased in-house ability, or lack of outsourcing availability. This could be an area for further research.

(a) Customer groups were defined as customers who respondents had developed tools for either frequently or sometimes. Click to view a larger image.

The increasing need for VC tools mirrors the recently enacted 21st Century Cures Act on the use of RWE and patient experience data (PED) and the FDA RWE Framework released in December 2018.3,4 There is an increasing need for individualized VC tools for a diverse group of stakeholders, ranging from providers to private/public payers to patients.

More than 80% of respondents were interested in additional training in VC tool development and usage.

Among respondents, training was most needed in three main areas: writing skills, technical data and customer centricity.

Click to view a larger image.

Interestingly, a number of respondents identified social media and direct email marketing as commonly-used methods of value communication. This was confirmed by a 2016 Deloitte Review highlighting how companies are providing patients with digital engagement services.5 This goes beyond patients with a Capgemini Consulting survey of 866 providers finding that nearly half preferred digital communication including email and web portals.6 It will be key for any training to address this emerging area.

What is the perspective of value communication recipients?

Comments from individuals on the receiving end of value communication (e.g., payers, advocacy groups) focused on technical content, asking for improvement in health outcomes, trial result extrapolation and RWE. A Human Research Ethics Committee member from an association asked for “[clearer] health outcomes [to be] presented” while a manager of economics at an HTA agency wanted, “extrapolation beyond trial results [including] indications, setting, country, [and] length of follow up.”

It will be key for value communication personnel to be well-trained on the technical side of clinical and HEOR/RWE methodologies, in addition to the soft skills needed to deliver this information.

Respondents found tools like models and analyses most effective in value communication. Several also mentioned their preference for the web and webpage links.

What’s Next?

To conclude, evidence-based data is powerful in giving us ways to address the barriers in value communication identified by this survey, especially through training designed specifically to upskill value developers and communicators on the technical and soft skills of value communication.

As pharmaceuticals move away from volume to more value-based strategies, it is also developing into a digital environment with multichannel communication strategies. Value communication has to keep up. Developing the technical, writing and customer-centric knowledge of employees will provide a high return on investment, ensuring that patients have access to the products they need.

Further research remains to be done on value communication, including better defining product lifecycle-specific value communication tools and identifying the type of evaluation metrics that would be useful in measuring value communication effectiveness and ROI.

Dr. Peeples will be speaking more on this topic at two upcoming conferences:

Keynote Speaker, “The Value of a Drug – What it Means, Why it Matters, and How to Communicate it,” at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20, at the 18th Annual International Publication Planning Meeting.

Workshop Leader, “ Building your Clinical Value Story/Value Dossier”,
at 9:25 a.m. and 10:15 a.m., April 17, 2019 at 15th Annual International Society of Medical Publications Professionals (ISMPP) .

If you are involved in evidence development, translation, or communication, and have any feedback about this topic or would like Dr. Peeples to speak to your group, please reach out to

[1] Looney, W. Repositioning Market Access: A Function Fit For Purpose In A New Era Of Costly Cures. Pharma Intelligence (2018). Available at:

[2] ISR Reports. Benchmarking the Pharma Industry’s HEOR Function. (2017). Available at:

[3] 114th Congress. 21st Century Cures Act, Public Law No: 114-255. (2015).

[4] FDA. Framework for FDA’s Real-World Evidence Program. (2018). Available at:

[5] Lush, M., Rosner, D., Zant, C. & Notte, S. Patient engagement strategies in a digital environment: Life sciences companies respond to changing patient expectations. Deloitte Review Issue 18 (2016). Available at:

[6] Rose, W., Hasan, S., Saitta, J. A. & Kim, C. Tracking the Shift From Volume to Value in Healthcare. Capgemini Consulting (2017). Available at: the Shift From Volume to Value in Healthcare.pdf.

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