Moving Beyond The Pill: No Longer An Option

Many of us would prefer to live, as long as possible, in the comfort zones of old paradigms, hoping to succeed in the same way as we had succeeded in the past. But the wheel of time keeps moving, triggering a significant shift in various paradigms. This includes even the health care space. Most of these changes, as they tend to attain a critical mass, capture the imagination of some in the pharma industry – escaping the attention of many.

One such area of a shifting paradigm is increasing patient preference to get actively engaged in their health care. More specifically, such preferences span across the entire chain of any disease management process – from diagnosis to treatment, often including continuous monitoring, whenever required.

Thus, the creation of well-differentiated value-added patient engagement services, based on credible research data of statistical significance, craftily bundled around the pill, will assume paramount importance. More importantly, such value offerings should lead to demonstrable improvement in treatment outcomes.

This, I reckon, would be the new recipe for pharma marketing excellence in the coming years. In this article, I shall focus on this fast-evolving landscape.

Dawns a new realization:

Early realization of this change is working as an impetus for some global pharma majors to redraw their strategic business models, making appropriate course corrections, which are mostly fundamental in nature.

The article titled ‘How Pharma Can Offer More than Pills’, published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) on July 23, 2015 identifies the following two realizations as the impetus behind moving beyond the pill initiatives:

  • Medicines alone are often not enough for patients to achieve optimal clinical outcomes.
  • As pharmaceutical pipelines dry up, beyond-the-pill businesses can be valuable new sources of revenues.

Joseph Jimenez, the global CEO of Novartis, appears to be one of the first and foremost to recognize this requirement when he said in 2014 that: “Creating value by embedding products into a holistic offering with the aim to improve patient outcomes and provide tangible competitive advantages.” Jimenez said at that time, “Beyond-the-pill is a logical and inevitable path forward for all.”

As this new realization gets effectively translated into cutting-edge business strategies, “Medicines could accordingly reach market with a label that includes an ‘around the pill’ solution such as a wearable or another tracking device”, as the above HBR article foresees.

Shifting success requirements:

Going forward, delivering only the value of a pill won’t be quite enough to make the sales revenue and profit trend moving north, registering a steep gradient.

As more patients want to experience differential values in the entire disease treatment process through greater participation and engagement, business success requirements of pharma players call for a major shift, accordingly. This would involve moving away from the traditional model – from increasing sales through a growing number of treatments, to boosting revenue through patient-centric well-differentiated value offerings. I repeat, the entire process should ultimately lead to quantifiable improvement in treatment outcomes.

Direct ‘patient engagement’ is easier said than done:

Direct patient engagement is easier said than done. It is not just something that is ready to happen at any given point of time. Pharma companies will require to first equip much greater number of patients, through various means, to become actively engaged in health care, as they step into this direction.

It is envisaged that most of these direct patient engagement endeavors of pharma will be on various digital platforms. The process would require accurately identifying the target groups, what exactly they consider of immense value for such engagement –  and finally effectively delivering those value offerings in innovative and customized ways to them, for improved treatment outcomes.

‘Patient engagement’ should be measurable:

The level of such engagement needs to be continuously measured through ‘patient activation’ tools to establish cost-efficient improved outcomes. Researchers have established that patients with a lower ‘activation score’ ultimately incur higher costs.

An interesting article on ‘patient activation’ describes this terminology as ‘the skills and confidence that equip patients to become actively engaged in their health care.’ It says that health care delivery systems are now turning to ‘patient activation’ as yet another tool to help them and their patients improve outcomes and influence costs. To establish this point, the paper examined the relationship between ‘patient activation levels’ and billed care costs.

In this analysis of 33,163 patients, the researchers found that patients with the ‘lowest activation levels’ had predicted average costs that were 8 percent higher in the base year and 21 percent higher in the first half of the next year than the costs for patients with the highest activation levels. Both are significant differences.

Following an analogous approach, Novartis has been able to demonstrate better disease outcomes with its cardiovascular drug Entresto, as reported in the Financial Times dated April 14, 2017. Ably supported by remote monitoring and coaching programs for patients with advanced heart failure, Novartis has reportedly been able to establish that its customized disease treatment solution brings down hospitalization and cardiovascular death rate by around 20 percent.

Greater pharma accountability needed for treatment cost versus outcomes:

The authors of this paper, further established ‘patient activation’ as a significant predictor of cost even after adjustment for a commonly used “risk score” specifically designed to predict future costs. This trend, when reaches the decisive moment, is likely to assign greater accountability for costs and outcomes, even to the pharma players.

While moving into this direction:

Accurately knowing patients’ ability and willingness to manage their health will be a critical piece of information for the drug companies. This would prompt the pharma marketers to be highly proficient in generating a huge pool of credible data on target patient groups in various relevant areas, including expectations, aspirations, preferences and treatment related behavior. Thereafter, strategic game plan for business excellence should be based on in-depth analysis of this huge database, created on an ongoing basis.

If any skill gap exists in generating and analyzing the data meaningfully, pharma companies may wish to collaborate with external expertise in this area. A few excellent examples in this area have already started being reported, such as

Astra Zeneca’s partnering with Vida Health to offer free health coaching services to heart attack sufferers, or Sanofi partnering with Verily (previously known as Google Life Sciences) to develop new services for patients to manage diabetes better.

With similar initiatives, pharma players can effectively demonstrate to their stakeholders, details of better health outcomes that their patient-centric disease treatment solutions are offering – eventually taking their brands to a new trajectory of more inclusive success.

Conclusion:

Those days are not too far when many patients, especially with chronic diseases, such as hypertension, arthritis or diabetes, would prefer to buy a comprehensive disease management solution to lead a better quality of life, instead of just buying a pill – and quite often for lifelong.

In a new paradigm, with changing ‘value expectations’ of many patients in the entire treatment process, ‘value creation’ and ‘value delivery’ mechanisms of drug companies are likely to change accordingly. One of the key barriers to this shift is mostly the traditional business culture of most pharma players. Another significant one is its slow pace of moving into the digitized world, as compared to other science and technology driven industries.

Moving ‘beyond the pill’ would necessitate a basic shift in the mindset – from selling a pill to selling better health outcomes. In this endeavor, pharma CEOs require leading from the front. Instilling courage within the organization to ensure this fundamental strategic shift in the company’s business model taking place on the ground, is their prime responsibility. Thus, stepping into this new paradigm with requisite wherewithal, sooner, would no longer be just for business excellence, but for its long-term survival too.

By: Tapan J. Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

 

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