Earlier experiences with HIV/AIDS activists in the 1990s taught Yale highlighted the importance of ethically sharing patient stories and building trust. At that time, HIV/AIDS activists pushed the FDA to hold patient-focused drug development meetings, demonstrating the power of organized patient voices in engaging regulators. Overall, the experience helped underscore the importance of patient engagement in drug development, helping inspire her to embed those learnings in BI’s culture.
Now, Yale oversees core initiatives and strategies to embed patient perspectives throughout the organization and drive a culture centered around the patient experience. Her early focus working with HIV/AIDS patients remains the “inspiration for the work that I do today,” Yale said. “I championed the need for a position to liaise with HIV/AIDS activists, fostering relationships between the HIV/AIDS community and Boehringer Ingelheim (BI). The success of this approach influenced other companies to create similar positions/teams.”
Championing patient perspectives: From ambassadors to excellence centersIn her role, Yale has created and nurtured programs like the Patient Ambassador Program to drive patient centricity throughout the organization. This initiative empowers more than 90 employees from across company departments to champion patient perspectives. Ambassadors receive training on patient engagement so they can integrate these learnings into their teams’ programs and processes.
About 13 years ago, recognizing the need to connect with patients beyond just the HIV/AIDS community, Yale worked with peers to lay the foundations of “Patient Advocacy Relations.” “We recognized the need to liaise with patient organizations across the various therapeutic areas where BI was working,” Yale said.
Later, her team established Patient Centricity & Engagement, a ‘Center of Excellence’ focused on advancing its patient-centric culture and the science of patient insights at BI. “This CoE emerged from the work a previous manager and I were doing to better understand and expand patient engagement,” she noted.
“I believe we’ve been successful in fostering a patient-centric culture at BI over the years. This has been achieved through numerous programs, initiatives, and methods designed to foster a patient-centric mindset across the organization,” she added.
The Patient Ambassador Program and beyond
“The Patient Ambassador Program gives employees the tools and connectivity to be champions for patient centricity, and has been an important program at BI,” Yale said. “I’ve been proud to discuss it in various forums as one of the ways we’ve reached more employees.”
Another initiative Yale created are “Patient Minutes” — short presentations highlighting patient stories or insights that take place at the start of leadership and team meetings. As Yale explained, such meetings “take place at the start of all our high-level leadership meetings and many team meetings across the company. The goal is to highlight a patient’s story or insights we’ve gathered in order to ground employees in why we do what we do.”
Another initiative under Yale’s leadership is the “Promise Tree,” a visualization tool designed to remind Boehringer Ingelheim employees of their ultimate goal: enhancing patient lives. Starting with a simple idea of allowing employees to acknowledge individuals they know with diseases, participants would write the first name of the person, along with the disease they are living with, on a leaf. They then place this leaf on a communal tree. Ultimately, each leaf represents a promise from the employee to that person, pledging their continued contribution to the overall health and well-being of patients. Over the years, such promise trees have evolved into forests.
Learning from patients
When reflecting on her career, Yale noted, “There have been countless times when I was humbled by what I learned from patients.” This passion drives Yale’s patient-focused vision for BI. “Our mission has always been centered around the patient. Each initiative or program we undertake aims to enhance that commitment,” she said.
As Yale points out, there have been recent stark reminders of remaining health challenges. “The pandemic has shown us the glaring gaps in healthcare and at BI we are committed to bridging those gaps for more equitable care,” she said.
Part of Yale’s commitment means ensuring health equity for diverse patients. “It’s important to note BI’s ongoing efforts around health equity,” she emphasized. “We recognize patients come from various walks of life and have been impacted by social determinants of health in unique ways. At BI we’re actively working to reduce health inequities and ensure our efforts benefit more people.”
Filed Under: Drug Discovery and Development, Infectious Disease, Women in Pharma and Biotech