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The Stem Celebrates 10 Years

icoder | 06.09.23

Ten years ago, The Stem was born as a new breed of consultancy serving customer engagement innovators in biopharma and Health.

Our concept was simple: to enable our clients to partner with the world’s leading independent talent to help them navigate fast-moving changes in customer engagement.

Back then, we anticipated two parallel mega-trends: 

  1. The evolution of bio-pharmaceutical customer engagement, fueled by shifts in technology and patient/customer behavior.
  2. Changes in the nature of work leading to a growing independent talent force capable of working effectively in a distributed fashion.

We called ourselves a “networked consultancy” to capture the essence of a business model which would provide clients with high quality consulting services, delivered through teams of seasoned independent talent, drawn from a global network.

Our vision was to “Harness the collective wisdom of independent talent to improve health experiences”.

We wanted clients to work directly with world-class experts, and we wanted our independent consultants to be able to work on innovative projects that would change the nature of Health customer engagement.

This month, we celebrate our 10 year anniversary and I couldn’t be more proud of what we have accomplished.

After 10 years, we have:

  • Delivered over 500 projects.
  • Partnered with over 37 clients.
  • Engaged with over 250 consultants.
  • Worked in over 35 countries, across 6 continents.


The Stem Celebrates 10 Years

None of this would have been possible without our clients and network consultants.

I am truly grateful to our clients for believing in the strength of our model, the expertise of our talent, and trusting us to work on their most challenging customer engagement projects. 
And, I am humbled by our consultants. Your talent, dedication, innovation, versatility and camaraderie never cease to amaze me, and we owe our success to you.

Gregg Fisher
Founder & Managing Partner, The Stem


About the Stem

Founded by Gregg Fisher in 2013, The Stem is a global management consulting firm specializing in customer engagement strategy and operations in the health & life sciences sectors. The Stem’s unique “networked model” draws on a senior leadership team and the industry’s most seasoned independent talent, offering clients a nimble, cost-effective and refreshing alternative to traditional consultancies, without sacrificing control.

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The Stem Celebrates 10 Years

Harnessing the Value of AI In Customer Engagement

Mark Violi | 05.17.23

Gregg Fisher, The Stem’s Founder and Managing Partner, recently had the chance to interview both clients and practitioners on the state of Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning as it applies to customer engagement in BioPharma. Ganes Kesari, one of The Stem’s thought leaders on AI/ML, joined in the conversations.

We identified 4 promising use cases for AI/ML in customer engagement, and 4 critical success factors for execution, and captured these learnings in this article which was recently published in Pharmaceutical Executive. Special thanks to Tom Gaschler and  Eduardo Cornejo for contributing.

Read the article on PharmaExec

Harnessing the Value of AI In Customer Engagement - Use Cases Harnessing the Value of AI In Customer Engagement - Critical Success Factors



Gregg Fisher, Managing Partner,, The Stem

Ganes Kesari, Chief Decision Scientist, Innovation Titan; Consultant, The Stem

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Harnessing the Value of AI In Pharmaceutical Customer Engagement

If you build it, will they come? Seven Steps To Driving Enrollment in Next-Generation Patient Support Programs

Mark Violi | 02.17.23

Originally published at Pharmaceutical Commerce

Leading brand and commercial organizations are making significant investments in building next generation patient support programs. These programs integrate modern digital, data and behavior science techniques to differentiate brands in a competitive environment, while improving adherence and supporting patient outcomes. But, too often, these programs struggle to realize their promise because of underwhelming enrollment.

Potential solutions to the enrollment challenge are influenced by many factors, including therapeutic area, lifecycle stage, competitive outlook, country-specific market constraints, and corporate culture. Whilst no silver bullet exists, our experience has inspired us to define 7 critical success factors for driving enrollment in next generation PSPs.


The 7 Critical Success Factors for Driving Enrollment in Next Generation PSPs

1. PSPs must deliver compelling value and address a real unmet need

HCPs only recommend PSPs if they see clear potential for it to make positive, tangible differences to the way they care for patients, and the way patients care for themselves. The same goes for patients. Unless PSPs help them improve the way they live with their condition, they are unlikely to enroll or stay engaged.  Too often, assumptions are made about unmet need and little regard is given to options currently available to address the issue.

PSP teams should consider two questions: ‘Is this a burning need that, without addressing, the patient will have limited success with therapy?’, and ‘Is there any existing support that our PSP would be competing against?’ Recognize that your competition includes drug companies as well as other content and service providers.

In-depth research will help you to understand the scope and shape of the problem faced by individuals, be they the patient, carer, nurse provider or consulting physician. It makes no sense to create a PSP for a problem or inconvenience that does not exist, or one for which a solution is readily available.

Action: Run co-planning sessions with patients and providers and perform competitive analysis.

2. Integrate PSP messaging into brand strategy, value messaging and communications

Pharma teams put significant effort and spend into brand strategy, value message development, marketing, and communications focused on the product launch, but similar attention is not paid to PSP messaging. If PSPs aren’t prominently factored in as part of strategic launch planning, companies are missing a golden opportunity. PSPs should be an integral part of the messaging architecture and align with value messages.

PSPs should be prominent in the creative assets and communications materials at launch or shortly thereafter to help HCPs and patients appreciate the benefits of a new therapy and the accompanying support being offered.

Action: Create a comprehensive enrollment strategy prior to launch

3. Target the right audiences with a combination of face-to-face and non-personal

Understand who, besides the physician, has responsibility for supporting patients. Promotion of any PSP should factor in communication with the wider clinical team, including nurses, nurse educators and pharmacists. 

Sales reps often don’t have the time to integrate PSP messaging into a sales call. So,  consider having small teams of virtual reps whose sole focus is reaching out to the wider clinic to talk about patient support. Focusing on the staff that directly engage with patients is important and can be done affordably. Depending on the number of clinics and the therapy area, one person per market can be sufficient, and will make a big difference to patient enrollment. 

While face-to-face engagement is the anchor of successful enrollment, don’t assume conversations alone will draw in and maintain patients on your PSP. Ensure influential members of care teams have the right materials and opportunities to actively engage the patient with your PSP. To raise and maintain awareness of PSPs, consider a mix of peer-to-peer educational events, KOL speakers, testimonials, webinars, and rep-generated emails. Finally, don’t assume a digital-only approach will work, as digital channels struggle to drive enrollment unless they form a part of a more integrated channel mix.

Action: Create a targeting and omni-channel enrollment plan for each PSP.

4. Simple enrollment at the point of care (PoC) creates sticky engagement

Enrolling patients at the PoC makes practical sense. This is a time when clinical teams can give influential endorsement and spend time answering any questions. Make sure all areas of the PSP are well covered, but not too onerously described, since patients forget much of what is discussed in a clinic. Providing scripted guidance, information leaflets, brochures and support materials that allow care teams to readily share the benefits of the PSPs helps secure initial patient enrollment and longer-term engagement. Reinforcing the ‘what’s in it for me?’ in follow-up materials and ongoing care team discussions keeps patients engaged.

To make the process of onboarding seamless and effective, consider innovative approaches to transactional confirmation with sign-up at clinics. Alternatively, QR codes on support materials or sample products allow people to connect directly to information on their phone and quickly fill in any required forms.  Having patients complete tasks at home, supported by reminders from the clinic and online guidance reassures the patient and extends the engagement beyond the clinic. Making the process as simple as booking a table at a restaurant or buying goods online can be the difference between patients signing up or not.

Action: Map the enrollment flows and patient experience.

5. Co-create and partner with patient influencers and advocacy groups

Many patients look to national and international patient advocacy groups for information and guidance on managing their disease/condition. These groups have access to very specific, and sometimes niche populations. They understand the lived experiences of these populations.  Genuine and compelling value can be revealed through direct engagement with patient organizations, either as part of the development of a PSP or through the co-creation of one. Shared ownership of PSPs can solve enrollment issues, as the endorsements of patient advocacy groups creates awareness and credibility with patient groups. If you are looking to run a PSP in a particularly rare or difficult-to-reach population, consider running webinars and/or providing simple brochures or tools to the relevant patient organizations. Similarly, patient online influencers can play an important role in creating patient awareness of PSPs.

Action: Research patient advocacy and influencer partnerships.

6. Monitoring helps drive the evolution of PSPs

To demonstrate that your PSP is delivering value, whether to support resource investment or to showcase your PSP to external customers, you will need to build in processes that allow you to assess and measure the success of the program rigorously and continuously. Such monitoring helps to support decisions concerning the PSP by providing insight into how many people were made aware of the program, how many were trained on it, how many received materials, what proportion of patients were offered the program and consequently signed-up. It also lets you see the percentage of patients that may have fallen out and then explore ways to recapture the attention of these audiences.

In some instances, especially if you have little experience of running PSPs, it might help to run a pilot program to identify unforeseen blockers, determine enrollment drivers, understand how scaling works, and clarify operational efficiencies.

Action: Develop a measurement plan for each PSP.

7. Curiosity, innovation and cross-functional collaboration in the internal culture creates favorable conditions for successful PSPs

Next-generation PSPs can be unfamiliar territory for many organizations, which may result in watered down programs. Innovative PSPs are best realized when teams are aligned with cross-functionally, and with a genuine curiosity to analyze the data and solve problems together. Cross-collaboration takes many forms, depending on the company, but there are a few areas we believe help deliver impactful PSPs, and these revolve around having clear research/customer engagement guidelines that generate favorable co-creation of PSPs with customers. First, ensure that there is a global infrastructure that promotes transparency and efficient knowledge-sharing between PSP teams and affiliates. Second, modernize guidelines and policies for risk assessment that acknowledge the vital role of PSPs. And lastly, explore building a natural ecosystem where PSPs are embedded into a platform-based approach. An initial unbranded offering allows outreach to the public followed by in-platform deployment of content that leads to patient conversations with doctors.

Action: Define internal barriers and plans to mitigate.


Frequently, PSPs are seen as a marketing tactic rather than as “products” requiring careful planning, promotion, and maintenance. When brand teams and commercial organizations have a limited view of PSPs, it often shows up in the limited enrollment and usage the program generates. The seven critical success factors articulated in this article can help you avoid this fate and deliver a program that brings real, differentiated value to patients and providers, which can be seen in enrollment.

It can be difficult to skillfully incorporate these critical success factors as they frequently require significant change in mindset and business practices.  Seeking the help of those with extensive experience with PSPs can help you along your journey.



Gregg Fisher, Managing Partner, The Stem –, The Stem

Gregg Fisher is Managing Partner of The Stem, a global management consulting firm specializing in customer engagement and digital transformation in Life Sciences. The Stem’s unique networked consulting model draws on the industry’s most seasoned independent talent offering clients a nimble, cost-effective, and refreshing alternative to traditional consultancies. The Stem provides specialized expertise in customer engagement insight, strategy and analytics, digital transformation and excellence, program management, and impact measurement.


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The Architecture of Global, Scalable, Next-Generation Patient Support Programs

Mark Violi | 08.15.22

Originally published at PharmaExec

Patient support programs (PSPs) have an opportunity for growth and innovation.

Conditions are ripe for a renaissance in patient support programs (PSPs). Brands are under pressure to demonstrate value by delivering outcomes to justify pricing and grow revenues, and patients support programs offer a path to deliver this value through adherence, persistence, and patient satisfaction.

The pharmaceutical patient support vendor landscape is burgeoning with new-to-world tools offering cross-channel-consumer experiences which integrate behavior change principles, advanced data, and digital technologies. Furthermore, many of these providers can shorten development cycles to three-to-four months from 18 months or more, by leveraging re-usable components and ways of working. Think: social/peer support, smart messaging, content management, machine learning, rapid journey design, agile code development, accelerated review cycles, rapid design, and testing. Finally, innovations in data science and real-world data offer firms the ability to directly measure the outcomes impact of patient interventions, a feat which was elusive even a decade ago.


The Challenges

As with much of digital transformation in pharmaceuticals, we witness pockets of PSP innovation in specific markets and only a small number of leading pharmaceutical companies who are building scalable fourth generation patient support experiences and realizing tangible benefits.1 Many Pharmaceutical companies are offering primarily second or third generation programs, and struggle to scale the isolated third or fourth generation innovations they have.

We observe several barriers that explain the current situation:

  1. Lack of executive belief in return on investment. While patient engagement managers recognize the missed opportunities, their senior leaders at the global and market levels are frequently not convinced of the ROI of PSP programs beyond supporting drug access. Faced with the choice of prioritizing a promotional effort or a support effort, many leaders will focus on promotion, and be satisfied with the status quo in their PSPs. This occurs even though the body of evidence supporting the return on modern PSP interventions is large and rapidly growing.2
  2. Lack of global empowered patient engagement teams to support program scaling. While large pharma companies have begun to build global patient engagement functions, in our experience many of these groups are underfunded and lack a clear institutional mandate to elevate patient service quality and efficiency.
  3. Lack of a global vision and strategy for next generation and scaling. While local efforts are essential to experimentation and demonstrating impact, only through coordinated global/regional and local efforts can organizations hope to scale next-generation patient support experiences.
  4. Perceived cost. Coupled with the lack of belief in ROI, comes a belief that advanced PSP programs are expensive and not affordable. This leads executives to view PSPs as a one-off marketing expense rather than investments in commercial capabilities that will deliver desirable returns. This mind-set in exacerbated by the fact that leaders often do not have visibility into the redundant legacy PSP investments made in different markets that collectively are more expensive than designing next-generation programs at scale. It also ignores the opportunity cost (measured in missed revenue) of deferring investments that would elevate adherence beyond their legacy programs, which often struggle to produce compelling results.



To overcome these barriers and realize the promise of patient engagement, we recommend pharma patient engagement teams (global and local) together with brand champions and senior leadership sponsors consider the following actions:

  1. Establish the business justification and centralize insights: through analysis, education, business case building. Proactively analyze business questions like “what are the benefits of achieving better outcomes?”, and “what is the cost of not doing so?”. Elevate the organization’s PSP knowledge by aggregating insights related to PSP performance across the organization, sharing best practices, learnings, and impact metrics. With unified commercial oversight of PSP impact, it becomes easier to develop compelling business cases that generate broad stakeholder buy-in.
  2. Seek out pilot partners. Many local market or brand teams recognize the need to improve an existing or create a new patient support program, but lack the knowledge, resources, or buy-in to plan and execute. By joining forces, the patient engagement team can provide much needed assistance in gathering patient insights, setting patient experience strategy, developing the business case, and even contributing supportive funds for execution to realize the benefits of scaling beyond the pilot markets.
  3. Design a patient engagement vision and idealized experience, with patients. Start by gathering insights. Co-design, which involves partnering with patients and HCPs is a preferred practice that enables understanding patient’s authentic needs, the leverage points to focus on and the idealized patient experience. Using input from the co-design process, the enhanced patient experience can be articulated in detail.3 This blueprint can then be used to define an implementation approach and budget.
  4. Plan implementation with scale in mind, including modular components and vendors. To improve scalability, maximize re-use of PSP components and increase speed to market of PSPs, careful thought must be given to the components and vendors that are used. The design of a cohesive digital experience for patients may involve multiple vendors, each serving different enrollment, experience, and human support functions. A detailed understanding of the vendor landscape makes it clear which vendor capabilities are the most important to apply to the desired patient experience. For example, certain vendors excel in drug reminder programs, others excel in private social network building, and still others excel in peer-to-peer coaching programs. Careful consideration of the PSP implementation architecture will ensure the various program pieces together properly, that multiple markets will be able to reuse the components and avoid expensive duplication of effort.
  5. Make the case for scale. When seeking funding, tailor the presentation to different stakeholders. To local colleagues, demonstrate how revenue lift will be achieved with assumptions derived from real world benchmarks. Program enrollees. Expected lift in days on therapy, break-even point, ROI. For global colleagues, quantify the savings or cost deferral of building a scalable solution.
  6. Implement in increments, and measure. Despite the best business case, funding may not be available to implement the full solution right away. Executives will seek evidence of program impact before releasing additional funds. Given this reality, careful thought should be given to what is the minimum viable product to launch with and what do subsequent releases look like. As pilot programs are deployed careful attention must be paid to measurement and optimization so refinements can be made before the program is further scaled.

Recommendations one and two will help you shape the environment in your company for PSP innovation. Recommendations three to six will help you build a patient experience strategy that is aligned to patient needs, has scale and speed to market built-in from the start, and is more likely to get funded.



Good architects know the importance of the adage: “measure twice, cut once.”

The opportunity for patient support innovation is large and growing. The business need is there, the patient need is there, the vendor landscape is there. What’s needed are more innovative programs that get funded. We hope the planning recommendations will inform and inspire bold patient engagement leaders and enable their patient support programs to deliver high quality patient experiences efficiently at scale.



Gregg Fisher, Managing Partner, The Stem –, The Stem

Jonathan Olsen, Independent Consultant, Patient Engagement Technology Expert, Member, The Stem



  1. Based on an analysis of publicly accessible patient support programs globally. Source: The Stem
  2. As cited in the Journal of Managed Care and Specialty Pharmacy, Abbvie Care’s 2019 study of its Patients Support Program for Humira demonstrated 29% improvement in adherence for PSP enrollees, 22% lower discontinuation, 35% lower disease-related medical costs, and 48.9 additional days on therapy. See also, BMJ Heart for impact of medication management apps on adherence.
  3. Ideally this work is done within input from patients from multiple markets with different profiles so the result is a scalable strategy with experience components that will serve small markets as well as large.
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Architecture of Global, Scalable, Next-Generation Patient Support Programs

Medical Affairs Digitization

Mark Violi | 09.16.21

Originally published at PharmaExec

The COVID pandemic gave a boost to digital medical affairs initiatives. For leading medical affairs teams, it was an accelerant to a process that started long before COVID. The crisis served to fuel changes to customer engagement mindsets, processes, and systems that had been in the works for years.

For many other teams, COVID created a sense of urgency that wasn’t there before and prompted increased experimentation with digital technologies such as virtual meetings, digital congress activity and remote MSL engagement. While these activities were important in priming a digital engagement mindset and behaviors, they are not a substitute for the systematic transformation of leading organizations required to create lasting change.

This article looks at some of the barriers we have seen at different stages of Medical Affairs digitization and opportunities to close the gap between promise and progress. We look at obstacles in both planning and implementation.


Planning opportunities

Visualize what “good” (experiences) look like

Medical affairs teams are traditionally staffed with science, medical information, and health outcomes experts, but not digital transformation experts. To engineer high-quality customer experiences common in the consumer world, med affairs teams must internalize what “good” looks like to their customers, and what it means to their responsibilities. Important actions to prime teams for better customer experiences include:

  • Showcase case studies of exceptional experiences outside of pharma and highlighting what makes them good, and expose best practice customers experiences from pharma digital medical affairs leaders
  • Educate on digital concepts such as “human-centered design”, “customer journeys”, “content marketing”, “ecosystems”, “personalization” and “omni-channel marketing”
  • Embed customer journey and service design techniques into tactical planning
  • Work in cross-functional teams to map out content and service experiences around key customer moments and needs
  • Expose the organization to new tools and innovations in customer experience


Develop a cohesive plan & put first things first

Many teams are seduced by new vendor technologies exposed at tradeshows. They end up making investments in tools without a proper customer engagement plan in place. What’s needed is a cohesive plan of action to guide investments. A good plan:

  • Selects the customer “moments” and the therapeutic areas that will be prioritized (informed by customer research and business needs)
  • Chooses tactics best aligned to those moments, considering from the full palette of opportunities, such as virtual congress interactions, medical information services, digital opinion leader activation, remote MSL engagement, disease education ecosystems, and digital health tools
  • Defines project outcomes in terms of how the experience will change for customers
  • Maps out delivery into “crawl”, “walk”, “run” releases, with a focus on high-impact, high feasibility experiences first
  • Defines the expected impact on the business


Sustain the “burning platform”

With the pandemic waning in some areas, sustaining digital transformation momentum is paramount. Change agents should continue to highlight the benefits of closing the gap in virtual interactions desired by health care providers, including live webcasts, virtual two-way peer to peer discussions and on-demand content.1

To sustain momentum, be sure to:

  • Monitor and communicate shifting customer preferences for medical affairs interactions, including channel and content topic and format preferences
  • Define and track performance metrics and goals tied to quality and volume of engagement to quantify the benefits of changes over the status quo
  • Measure satisfaction trends around Medical Affairs customer-centricity
  • Benchmark digital activities of comparative organizations


Implementation opportunities

Navigate internal silos and restrictions

Customers do not care about functional departments when interacting with biopharmaceutical companies; they care that they get the information or support they require. Yet, when designing customer experiences, departmental silosoften get in the way of a seamless experience. Sometimes Medical Affairs teams are limited by a restrictive vision of their responsibilities which prevents necessary participation in planning end-to-end experiences or designing content in multiple formats or standing up new channels. Additionally, Medical affairs teams often struggle interpreting restrictions around proactive versus reactive communications in the context of multi-channel engagement.

To overcome this issue, medical affairs change agents must:

  • Embrace digital customer experience as a key part of its responsibilities, especially as it relates to disease education, off-label medical information, and content that supports optimal patient care
  • Take steps to update legal and regulatory guidelines related to digital content
  • Work cross-functionally across Medical Information, MSLs, and IT to plan and execute seamless experiences.
  • Empower leaders with expertise in omni-channel customer experience


Don’t forget change management

Digital transformations are large scale change initiatives, yet many organizations treat them as a series of one-off projects and add-on responsibilities to already busy teams. As a result, the projects don’t get the traction they should. To maximize adoption, recommendations include:

  • Assess the organization’s capacity to change, recognizing that change is disruptive
  • Identify sponsors across multiple parts of the organization and ensure they understand their role and have the relevant skills3
  • Establish governance within Medical Affairs and across other departments to communicate, align and create momentum around projects
  • Ensure projects are properly resourced in terms of time, capacity, and financial resources
  • Consider a program management office to accelerate execution
  • Monitor and address resistance with frequent check-ins


Nurture a culture of customer-centric innovation

The Medical Affairs function is arguably more important now than ever as companies launch more specialized and complex products requiring education and translation of medical information into practical insights to support clinical decision-making and demonstrate value. In this environment customers will expect medical affairs teams to be purveyors of high-quality content and services which are delivered through personalized, virtual interactions in a variety of live and on-demand formats.



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Medical Affairs Digitization

Design Sprints: A secret weapon for accelerating digital transformation and people development in life sciences

Mark Violi | 09.16.21

Imagine this scenario…

You are a senior leader of a patient services hub at a large biotech company specializing in rare diseases medicines. You have recently received the innovation funds you requested from your CEO to pursue a reimagined patient support experience that leverages AI and data to enhance patient engagement and outcomes.

This is a BIG challenge but represents a critical opportunity to further differentiate the company and prepare for impending competition as the company enters new markets. 

Your challenge is how to:

  • Design a compelling new patient experience that leverages data and technology to enhance patient support that is innovative & future proofed
  • Align management, patient services, IT, medical and legal/regulatory around a shared vision & action steps
  • Make decisions quickly to ensure ideas are robustly validated without slowing down roll-out
  • Deliver in the short term while still building for the long term

How would you approach this challenge?

If you are a life sciences patient engagement, customer experience, or digital transformation leader you probably recognize the challenges and complexity of this sort of project.

Commonly cited questions we hear about large-scale change transformation initiatives include:

  • How do we enable our people to feel safe to fail and learn fast?
  • How can we break down silos to align stakeholders around shared goals?
  • How do we keep the customer needs front and center while managing complexity?
  • How should we give people the confidence to proceed on innovative ideas, and shorten project execution lead times?


Introducing the Design Sprint 2.0 

The Design Sprint has been described as the “greatest hits” of business strategy, innovation, behavior science, design thinking, and more—packaged into a battle-tested process that any team can use. Design Sprints are not just for designers or tech companies. They’re for any company and team who have to work through difficult, impactful, potentially lucrative, but costly problems.

We have found the Design Sprint to be a powerful tool when cross functional teams need to rapidly solve a BIG challenge, create new products, or improve existing ones.

Often, we see a team misaligned on the problem or diverging from business strategy. A Design Sprint provides clarity and alignment on what problem needs to be solved. It makes sure that the customer needs are at the forefront and are validated with the customer. And, in a world where speed wins, a Design Sprint delivers bite sized progress, so that teams achieve momentum, avoiding the trap of perfection over action.

The Design Sprint 2.0 provides a structured process that guides team/s from problem to solution resulting in a validated prototype or experiment to execute following the sprint. It offers powerful benefits:

  • Speed. Accelerates ideation to execution condensing what can be multiple meetings over weeks and months into days. Getting started is more important than being right.
  • Team Synergy. Boosts participants’ creative problem solving. Combine the benefits of group work: diverse opinions and expertise, with the benefits of individual work: highly detailed solutions to problems.
  • De-risk Innovation: By prototyping, testing & validating concepts with customers before building a full product you de-risk your project and improve the quality of solutions. Giving the team confidence in the solution before spending a lot of time & money.

You’ll find companies such as Lego, IBM, Philips & Google using Design Sprints as part of their business practices to get products and services to market faster.


How does a Design Sprint work?

The Design Sprint 2.0 framework is a step-by-step process for answering crucial questions through prototyping and testing ideas with customers. Originally created by Jake Knapp when he was at Google Ventures as a 5-day process, we now use the Design Sprint 2.0 that runs over 4-days. (plus shorter versions such as our Strategy Sprints)

Over 4-days the project team is guided to initially agree where the best opportunity is to get started, uncover multiple ideas, & develop a prototype to test with customers. You start with something vague, and finish with real feedback and something extremely tangible in just four days.

Typically the Design Sprint is run in-person from Monday-Thursday but since 2020 we have also been running remote or virtual sprints. We spread the sprint over 2 weeks breaking the 2 days into 4 half day online sessions.

A bonus with the Design Sprint 2.0 is that the full sprint team only must attend 2 days, which is good news when schedules are already full.

  1. Day One – Define the Challenge & Produce Solutions
  2. Day Two – Vote on Solutions & Develop Storyboards
  3. Day Three – Build the Prototype
  4. Day Four – Customer testing


Applying a Design Sprint

So let’s go back to your BIG challenge. How could you leverage the Design Sprint in this use case? Our first suggestion would be for you and other critical stakeholders to align on the Patient Hub future vision, identify the biggest hurdles to achieving it, and what key milestones need to be achieved over the next 12 months.

You would run a 2-day Product Strategy Sprint to help the leadership team

  • Agree on a clear purpose defining what will make the future patient HUB experience unique
  • Align on critical strengths
 and limitations in the first 12 months
  • Understand patients biggest pain points, ideate & prioritise solutions
  • Sign-off a roadmap with critical milestones to implement the product strategy

This will ensure that you and your stakeholders are aligned on the product vision, and what is realistic in the first 12 months. Following the Product Strategy Sprint, you would run the first Design Sprint with the relevant stakeholders for the first product feature in the roadmap.

If we imagine that the first challenge is to identify what interventions would have the most value for patients based on what conditions, then the patient support specialist & data scientists would be key players in the sprint with access to patients and patient advocacy groups during the sprint.

Pre-work would involve collating relevant patient needs across the patient journey, available data sources & content and potential data sources and content, and available Artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing technologies.

An outcome goal for the design sprint will be to have a prioritized intervention plan based on specific patient needs or actions, that will then need to be validated further via a time blocked experiment.

Within 4 days the team will have the first actionable step they can take. Often there is concern that medical or regulatory teams will derail an idea before it is validated or executed. In this scenario they would be brought into the sprint at critical moments so they can have input and understand the next steps. You and your team are not yet looking to jump into a build project but to validate ideas first.

By running design sprints like this it allows approval teams to feel comfortable with micro steps that are demonstrating customer value and allows teams to find execution solutions that work based on regulations.

Following the first Design Sprint you would move to a time-boxed experiment and would then follow-up with a shorter iteration sprint which will allow the team to confirm what assumptions have been validated or disproved to continue to take the next steps.

This approach stops teams from jumping too far ahead before they have validated critical elements, and stops siloed teams working at cross purposes, not aligned to strategy.  And critically the business achieves agile progress through robust experiments, without wasting time and money on unproven solutions.


Concluding Thoughts

As you can see the Design Sprint is a smart approach when faced with a complex challenge. It’s not limited to AI or Machine learning. It could equally be applied to other customer engagement challenges requiring cross functional teams to decide and execute together such as improving customer experiences, leveraging omnichannel and streamlining internal processes.

Rather than spending months having circular conversations, based on assumptions, the Design Sprint process allows the team to align on the first best steps; ensuring decisions are customer centric, feasible to execute and aligned to strategy.

In consultation with a partner who understands the challenges facing life science CX transformation leads you can accelerate your digital customer engagement strategies to impact patient lives, while adopting new ways of working.

So next time you have an important and complex customer engagement project to manage, ask yourself if using the Design Sprint process is the secret weapon you need to make innovative, validated progress within a week.

Feel free to contact Gregg Fisher or Tania Rowland at The Stem to discuss your next digital CX project.



Gregg Fisher, Managing Partner, The Stem, a global management consulting firm specializing in customer engagement and digital transformation in Life Sciences. The Stem’s unique networked consulting model draws on the industry’s most seasoned independent talent offering clients a nimble, cost-effective, and refreshing alternative to traditional consultancies. The Stem provides specialized expertise in customer engagement insight, strategy and analytics, digital transformation and excellence, program management, and impact measurement.

Tania Rowland, Innovation, and change consultant at The Stem. She leverages the Design Sprint to help cross functional teams collaborate, co-design & experiment to de-risk complex digital projects. Her approach helps individuals & teams learn skills today needed for the future of work.

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Design Sprints

Digital Health Gold Rush–Implications for Pharma

Mark Violi | 09.16.21

By: Gregg Fisher and Barnaby Poulton, The Stem

In March 2020 our own experience of engaging with the rest of the world profoundly changed.  This is as true in medicine as everywhere else – the big question is now how much of what has been so rapidly adopted will be retained in future years. And what does this mean for pharma?

5 years advancement in digital adoption by physicians in as many days is not far from the truth.  Digital hesitancy, risk aversion, lack of the right tools. These barriers were removed overnight because they needed to be.  The usual time taken from idea to implementation and the distance to benefits realization dissolved. Bureaucracy – cited recently as the leading barrier to adoption1 – was alleviated. Education and training of users, a historical challenge to digital solution uptake, took place on the job. Necessity became the driver of invention.

This forced adoption has left a positive legacy:

  1. Mindsets of Clinicians
    A representative marker of change is seen in the US where 83% of surveyed US Physicians are now more comfortable using digital health technologies than prior to Covid2. Similarly, UK clinicians surveyed by the British Medical Association where 88% stated they wanted to stay with remote consultations in the future. Clinicians are now moving the focus towards sustaining this change, examining digitized care delivery to glean the best of it to carry forwards. Beyond a simple channel shift, clinicians are learning to refine the timing and nature of their interactions with patients. 

  2. Experience of Patients
    Given historical trends towards consumerisation of care delivery its perhaps not surprising that most patients have welcomed the use of 21st century technology in the delivery of care. Typical of this is one survey where 94% of people who sampled telehealth for the first time during the pandemic reported ease and convenience and where open to other modes of virtual care, such as remote monitoring3.

  3. Efficiency of Service Delivery
    Efficiency viewed from a system perspective has been a key driver towards digital health adoption. Reduced reliance on physical premises, throughput of care delivery, requirements for patients to be more self-reliant were all accelerated during the pandemic.   Covid has of course also created a large backlog of care not delivered. Here the role of Digital Health solutions to support remote diagnosis and care delivery will feature heavily in provider recovery plans around the world.

  4. Personalized Medicine
    Covid has driven accelerated adoption of digital health technology by patients, care givers and clinicians, further opening the door to personalized medicine, where data generated by patients can be used to provide a much more granular view of their health.  This comes with the challenge for clinical teams of processing large amounts of new data remotely captured from patients. Ecosystems of tools are now being used, notably in diabetes and asthma management of patient solution sets (apps, wearables, connected devices) and clinician dashboards to prioritize interventions and support individualized treatment plans.

So, will the changes brought on by Covid endure? All indicators point to yes. We will not revert to pre-Covid models of care delivery.

The scope and acceleration of digital health adoption brought about by the pandemic transforms Pharma’s historical go-to-market model and creates new leverage points which savvy brands can use to improve patient outcomes, compliance and generate evidence of impact.

Implications for Pharmaceutical Leaders

The immediate imperative for Pharma is to figure out how to engage in a new digitally enabled care environment:

  1. Understand New Care Pathways
    All care pathways have changed in some way: It’s critical to understand how care is delivered in your therapy area, the solutions that are now in place, how the funding flows that support this changed.  Understanding is key but so is seeking opportunity to co-create new pathways, delivering value to all stakeholders and capturing patient insights that weren’t available before to enhance the value you provide to stakeholders.

  2. Take Advantage of New Ways to Engage with Patients
    Patients are engaging with HCPs and providers in new ways. This changes how they may consume information from pharma, their expectations of channels and of content.  The delays in care provision need to be quantified: what is the implication for you? How can you help? What now is the balance between self-care vs provider-driven care and how digital solutions enable this?

  3. Explore New Ways to Engage with Clinicians
    Many clinicians are now accustomed to working remotely and much more used to engaging with and supporting each other using technology tools from virtual team meetings to back-chat channels to get fast second opinions. How can you fit into this evolved working practice? What tool sets are needed now?  How can you support their growth in delivering digitally enabled care?

  4. The Role of Digital Health in the Pharma Tool-Kit
    Digital Health solutions have gone from side-show to center stage for many franchise teams.  Choosing the right solutions that deliver value to patient, clinician and payor means not simply jumping on the digital bandwagon.  The right approach to developing solutions is critical – ranging from home-grown in house to start-up acquisitions, partial investments to building  accelerators. The approach must fit the business objectives and where the companies own internal capabilities lie.

Immediate investments that Pharmaceutical managers should consider to drive digital health adoption in their companies include conducting a digital health opportunity assessment, developing training materials for internal teams, designing your strategic framework derived from business priorities and scoping and building the right capabilities.







Gregg Fisher, Managing Partner, The Stem –

Barnaby Poulton, Digital Health Strategist, The Stem –

The Stem is a global management consulting firm specializing in customer engagement digital strategy in Life Sciences. The Stem’s unique networked consulting model draws on the industry’s most seasoned independent talent offering clients a nimble, cost-effective and refreshing alternative to traditional consultancies. The Stem provides specialized expertise in customer engagement insight, strategy and analytics, digital transformation and excellence, program management, and impact measurement.

For more information, please visit:

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Digital Health Gold Rush

Scaling Up Services: Interview with The Stem Founder, Gregg Fisher

icoder | 12.30.19

The Stem Founder, Gregg Fisher, was recently featured in the Scaling Up Services podcast. He was interviewed by host Bruce Eckfeldt about Gregg’s career trajectory and the founding of The Stem.

In 2013, Gregg witnessed a number of trends playing out in the agency and consulting markets, as well as a growth in the independent consulting field, with incredibly talented professionals from major consulting houses, agencies and clients, who had decided to become solo entrepreneurs.

Listen below to learn more about the trends leading to emergence of The Stem, and the company’s business model.

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The Stem Ranks For Third Year in a Row in INC. 5000 List of America’s Fastest Growing Companies

icoder | 11.16.19

The Stem, an award winning, ‘networked consultancy’, announced today that it was named to the Inc. 5000 list for the third year in a row.


‘Networked Consulting’ Model Delivers Results For Health Clients

The Stem’s 82% percent growth over the past three years reflects the continued success of its ‘networked consulting model’ which marries the depth and control of a traditional consulting firm with the precision and flexibility of a talent network.

The Stem has created a global network of hundreds of senior-level independent consultants across four continents with expertise in the areas of customer engagement and digital transformation.

With the networked model, The Stem’s clients benefit from consistent, on-demand access to senior teams of talent, averaging 15+ years of experience, across over 20 specialty disciplines that are precisely matched to the needs of clients. Clients are able to enjoy these benefits without sacrificing control or accountability, and at a price point that is lower than traditional “Big 6” consulting firms or large agencies.

“We are honored to be included for a third year in the INC 5000,” said Gregg Fisher, The Stem’s CEO and Founder. “Our inclusion is continued validation of our unique model and of the special talents of each consultant in The Stem network. Our consultants are the leading experts in their fields globally, and deliver exceptional service to our clients every day.”


Growth Fueled Health & Life Sciences Sector

The Stem’s clients are leaders in the Health and Life Sciences sector who are transforming their approach to engaging their customers, due to a result of changes in customer channel behavior, emerging technologies, and regulatory changes.

Stem consultants, who act as an extension of client teams, help to expertly navigate these changes by crafting insightful engagement strategies, providing advanced insight and analytics, as well as supporting the implementation of omni-channel programs and customer engagement practices.


Founder Re-imagined Professional Services Model

Prior to founding The Stem in 2013, former marketing executive, Gregg Fisher, witnessed a situation which has continued to this day— many marketing and customer experience professionals were leaving the corporate world for consulting gigs. As a result, firms were facing talent shortages in digital and customer engagement, and becoming increasingly dissatisfied with traditional agency and consulting offerings. Fisher set out to offer clients a powerful and refreshing alternative to traditional consultancies by tapping into the growing number of talented independent consultants in the professional services sector.


About the INC 5000

Companies in the internationally regarded Inc. 5000 are ranked according to percentage revenue growth from 2015 to 2018. Eligible companies must have been generating revenue by March 31, 2014. They also have to be U.S.-based, privately held, for profit, and independent–not subsidiaries or divisions of other companies.


About The Stem

The Stem is a global management consulting firm specializing in customer engagement strategy and digital transformation in Health & Life Sciences. The Stem’s unique “networked model” draws on a senior leadership team and the industry’s most seasoned independent talent, offering clients a nimble, cost-effective and refreshing alternative to traditional consultancies, without sacrificing control. The Stem provides Health brands with specialized expertise in customer engagement strategy + insights, execution management, impact measurement, digital transformation + excellence.

Press Contact
Gregg Fisher
(917) 453-5368

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7 Success Factors for Global and Scalable Patient Support Programs

icoder | 10.02.19

Originally published at PM360 Online

The arrival of value-based care has increased the importance for pharmaceutical companies to demonstrate real-world outcomes. That, together with rising patient expectations and the explosion of digital health technologies—ranging from mobile to chatbots, to AI, to injectable tracking devices—has created the real opportunity for companies to design omni-channel patient support programs (PSPs) that measurably increase drug adherence, compliance, and persistence.

This is no news to pharma. For years, together with their agencies, they’ve sketched patient journeys and developed ambitious patient engagement concepts that span channels, stakeholders, and connected devices. However, hardly any of them launched at the scale originally imagined. Even in large markets, the technical, organizational, regulatory, and budgetary requirements often added up to something beyond the capability of a single market.

The need: Digitally enabled offerings that justify their investment through global scalability.

While conceptually trivial to imagine, executing them is anything but trivial for two primary reasons. First, delivering a widely deployable patient support offering requires deep product development and product management expertise. Second, it requires program management expertise to orchestrate the interplay between global and local, and across stakeholders, including IT, drug safety, medical, patient advocacy, and agencies for maximum roll-out success. Building on these prerequisites, we’ve identified seven success factors for delivering patient support offerings that are both locally effective and globally scalable.


Success Factor 1: Design for Patient Acceptance

It is a well-known fact that user-centered design is required to achieve patient acceptance of digital support solutions. Still, many offerings ignore the reality of patients who are often living with more than one disease. By focusing on a specific disease—or even a specific medication—these offerings fail to engage patients repeatedly and do not significantly impact health literacy, adherence, or persistence. In contrast, drug- and disease-agnostic support apps can achieve more than 20 interactions per patient, per week. While a small number of pharma companies will dedicate the resources to create and maintain this type of patient-centric app, a simpler solution is to layer product-specific support offerings on top of an existing app platform.


Success Factor 2: Think of Small Markets, Too

Pharma global initiatives typically focus on large markets first: EU-5, Canada, Australia, U.S., and China. As a result, the solutions that are developed do not work in small markets (which have fewer resources) and turn out more complex than necessary. From our experience, the inclusion of smaller markets drives the design process towards modular offerings that allow for flexible deployments in markets with varying levels of resources, language complexity, and regulatory needs. The benefits: Improved scalability, better ROI, easier maintenance, and lower resource requirements on a market level.


Success Factor 3: Launch Fast, Learn Fast

Tight timelines are helpful. They force everyone involved to reduce the launch scope to the viable minimum. We generally advise against making decisions prior to launch which can be better made once users are enrolled in your offering and can provide insightful feedback. Among its many benefits, this approach will cut time-to-market to three to six months and will ensure you allocate follow-up investments where they really matter. Implicitly, this brings about an important shift from a project-centric towards a product-centric paradigm: Your digital offering is a product that will need continuous management and budget to evolve—the initial release is just the start of that journey.


Success Factor 4: Pre-cook Globally

While regulations and cultural norms differ across various markets, defining a global template for the patient support offering allows significant efficiencies (both cost and time) and the production of consistent, high-quality assets. Efficiencies are found by creating an asset once and only making updates to meet local market needs, acquiring centralized approvals from global functions, such as IT/security, privacy, and other cross-market considerations, and from sourcing vendors and partners centrally, reducing overlap, and leveraging economies of scale in negotiations. Quality is driven by leveraging globally accumulated knowledge to create best-of-breed assets, acquired from best practices across all markets, and the ability to engage with best-in-class vendors on a global scale.


Success Factor 5: Minimize Local Pain (Not Cost)

Once the global template is in place, a smooth handoff to local markets is a must. To ensure local teams adopt the template, especially those with less skill or restricted capabilities, global teams should create and maintain a standard process for localization and execute in close partnership with their local market partners. Document this via a playbook that clarifies roles and responsibilities, key tasks, dependencies, milestones, and expected timelines.


Success Factor 6: Central Program Management

To build a comprehensive omnichannel PSP, many different competencies, stakeholders, vendors, and approvers will need to contribute. This takes significant program management skills and time. This is often a gap in the medical or patient support teams, who have a different skill set. Ensure that a strong program management office is set up with the correct resources and allocations to run the program.


Success Factor 7: Consistent Reporting

Define success factors and KPIs, monitor them regularly, and provide regular feedback through consistent reporting. Global and local teams must have high-quality data in order to be able to pivot and evolve the program based on emerging conditions. While data management and reporting are often an under-represented competency in PSP programs, it is critical to the long-term viability of the program.

We are now living in an age of unprecedented potential to help our patients improve the outcomes they experience through our medicines. But this Promised Land can only be realized if pharmaceutical firms learn to deploy digitally enabled PSPs at scale.

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Global and Scalable Patient Support Programs