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.