Pharma needs to be patient centric but not treat patients as customers

The global Pharma industry is under serious pressure from a large number of innovator molecules facing patent expiration, a thin pipeline of new drugs, regulatory challenges and pricing pressures. As a result organizations are focusing on newer commercial models, adjusting cost base, strengthening value of medicine, adopting patient centric approach and paying greater emphasis on Pharmerging markets for future growth.  Some of these shifts are new and radical to Pharma industry and Pharma is looking towards other industries for guidance and ideas. Adopting Patient centric approach/philosophy falls under such category of change.

Over the last few years, there have been discussions and few initiatives by Pharma towards patient centricity. The good part is that some of these initiatives have worked well and have helped organizations to take the overall patient experience to the next level. Use of digital channels to reach out to patients, platforms facilitating interactions between patients and physicians and patient’s targeted programs are some broad areas under which all the initiatives can be grouped. Let us look at some of the initiatives:

Pharmaceutical companies have experience with physician-centric models where they can be said to have physician market knowledge. Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) usually fulfill the role of championing the voice of physicians within Pharma. Unfortunately, however, Pharma is lacking when it comes to Patient-centric champions who understand what consumers think and want. Eyeforpharma.com

  • Didget from Bayer: The new Didget bllod glucose monitoring system rewards kids for consistent testing with fun games they can play online or through their Nintendo DS.  The bottom line is “Test, Play and Win”, because being rewarded for testing is a simple win
  • Paitentslikeme.com: PatientsLikeMe is committed to putting patients first. They do this by providing a better, more effective way for patients to share their real-world health experiences in order to help themselves, other patients like them and organizations that focus on their conditions. Companies like Biogen, Merck, and Novartis etc are partners to this initiative
  • J&J Health Channel: A YouTube channel by J&J focusing more on sharing patient experiences and helping in advancing health and well being of others around the world. They have weekly focus areas and range from obesity to serious conditions like leukemia etc
  • Myalli.com: GSK’s Alli is a FDA approved weight loss aid. GSK has brought concepts of compliance, affordability, patient experience, discussions and education under one initiative called as MyAlli.

If we review all the above initiatives closely, the common themes are around compliance and persistency along with defining results in patient terms. We will witness more innovations in this area in the coming years as more and more Pharma companies adopt this approach. But with this enthusiasm comes a word of caution for Pharma Organizations.

Pharma should not treat patients as customers. There is a very fine line dividing a patient from customer as we understand. There are some inherent difference between a customer and a patient:

Patient

Customer

Does not undergo the complete purchasing cycle. i.e. traditional   marketing concepts and theory does not work Undergoes the complete purchasing cycle. i.e. Traditional marketing   concepts and theory works
Does not enjoy his/her current status i.e.  People don’t seek out medication without a   reason. Something is wrong and patients want to solve it and get back to normal.   It’s not an enjoyable state Enjoys his/her current status to a large extent i.e. likes to be   pampered
Collects information, but cannot take decision i.e. The patient   cannot make decisions, there are external factors ( HCP, Insurance etc) that   make decisions Collects information to make a decision i.e. this is called informed   decision making

Pharma Co. needs to appreciate the fact that the fundamental premise to their business does not mandate patients to be drivers of sales. Some examples in the market by Pharma Co. do indicate dilution of this premise.

In response to a generic competition; one large Pharma in one of the APAC markets ran a campaign focused towards patients, asking them to question physician on prescribing generics.  Termed as an awareness campaign, this surely seems to miss this objective by miles. It can be debated that the above example also falls under the ambit of patient centricity, but that can only be for the sake of argument and nothing beyond that.

The “empowered and informed patient” movement encourages patients to become informed and to take greater control over their medical care; but providing information, access and independence — so often successful in other consumer settings — do not necessarily drive better care or experience for patients. Walking this tight rope and creating patient centric programs and initiatives is surely a challenge that Pharma organizations are facing.

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