Since, the dawn of the year 2020, the human population living in different countries, across the world are facing ‘lockdowns in different forms. Although essential, it severely restricts normal daily essential and other important activities of all. A large number of populations in India, is also experiencing the same – for nearly 4 months, almost at a trot, as on date.
The fear of getting infected by COVID-19, fueled by uncertainty about a comprehensive way to surely avert infection and apprehension about what happens if someone gets infected, have been haunting many for several months. Moreover, the possible impact of several related essential measures, such as, social distancing and wearing a mask mostly while being outdoors, on both life and livelihood, is profound. It has already started causing an unprecedented – both physical and mental stress on many individuals, besides the economy of the nation.
Living amid ‘lockdown’ conditions is not just an unpleasant experience for all, it’s almost a ‘prison like’, experience for a vast number of people – particularly, both young and old with comorbidly. “It’s very similar to being trapped in a bunker with no access outside,” as expressed by a person with similar issues, which, may be construed as a universal feeling of common individuals. Interestingly, this was quoted in an article - ‘What patients need right now’, published in the Reuters Events Pharmaon July 07, 2020. The article also highlighted that many other fellow sufferers, especially non-Covid-19 patients, are enduring pandemic enforced isolation without much hope. “They are staying in limbo until help is available and adapting to the worsening of their health conditions,” the article added.
Further, as captured in the McKinsey article – ‘COVID-19 and commercial pharma: Navigating an uneven recovery,’ published on April 21, 2020 – not just patients, health care professionals including doctors, are also facing unprecedented challenges. Especially, because of the need to address fundamental changes in the treatment of patients with conditions other than COVID-19. This is happening across medical specialties and therapeutic areas, besides of course in advising and treating patients with suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19.
In some instances, some doctors do also worry about their financial security, as practices and health systems face unprecedented financial issues, the above article emphasized. However, at the same time, many of them are now rapidly adjusting how they deliver care, such as through increased use of telemedicine in different forms and ways, the survey found. Which is why, the support they need from pharma companies is also changing.
Taking cognizance of these critical developments, pharma players would require rewriting their playbook for business operations and for its urgent implementation. This article will focus on this important area of pharma business, by leveraging the art of turning a problem or a challenge into an opportunity.
Leveraging the art of turning a challenge into an opportunity:
Turning a problem or challenge into an opportunity in managing business operations, isn’t a cup of tea of all managers, across domains. More so, when it’s caused by an unprecedented disruptive change, such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
The first and the foremost prerequisite from a manager is a mindset to make it happen – driven by uncluttered thinking, with a clear focus on what needs to be achieved, how and when – step by step. Each element of a change has to be analyzed in-depth – supported by credible data, with possible barriers envisaged on the way. In tandem, weighing the chances of success in these initiatives based on data – and not gut feeling, within a predetermined timeframe will be critical. The net outcome of this process will help pharma players acquire a differentiated competitive edge for excellence, amid today’s all-pervasive quandary.
Under this backdrop, leveraging the art of turning a problem or challenge into an opportunity – in an organized manner, for a successful outcome of the present and future pharma business, appears to be a crying need.
The points to ponder:
Effectively moving in this direction will call for – at its very onset, a careful and unbiased data-based assessment of several critical areas, which will include:
- Whether customer engagement platforms, medium, processes and also the core content of communication of pre Covid-19 days remain equally relevant today, and will remain so in the foreseeable future, for productive business outcomes.
- Mapping changes with the extent for each, in all touchpoints of disease treatment processes is important – involving both patients and doctors, and simultaneously capturing their new preferences in those areas.
- Arriving at what strategic and tactical changes the new normal calls for, to effectively engage with especially, non-Covid patient treating doctors and non-Covid infected patients, for other disease areas.
- How doctors are delivering care, particularly to these patients today?
Accordingly, the pathway for required changes has to be charted out in detail, specifying the end point of each, on a time-bound and ongoing basis. The good news is, several pharma players have already taken several praiseworthy initiatives to combat this crisis.
What pharma companies have done so far:
So far, many pharma companies – both global and local, have taken some commendable steps to address the immediate fallouts of the crisis. These include,
- Repurposing old medicines – starting from hydroxychloroquine, remdesivir to dexamethasoneand probably beyond. All these drugs are currently being used for the treatment of Covide-19, although conclusive scientific evidences are still awaited – for most of such repurposed drugs.
- Indian generic drug manufacturers either have started or increased production of most these drugs.
- Covid-19 vaccine development started almost immediately, including the homegrown ones.
As the above McKinsey article – ‘COVID-19 and commercial pharma: Navigating an uneven recovery,’ also reconfirms, now most pharma companies are largely focusing on ‘the immediate crisis, including by facilitating access to medicine; supporting HCP, institution, and patient needs in new ways; safeguarding employees; and enabling employees to operate in a new environment.’
The areas where pharma needs to focus more amid immediate crisis:
Another, responsibility of pharma to help tide over the immediate crisis, is to ensure that critical drugs, such as remdesivir, do not go in short supply. And also, avoiding unnecessary hype on a COVID-19 vaccine, which a global CEO termed as a grave disservice‘ to the public.
Nearer home, it also happened – not by any pharma company, but by the country’s premier, state-run medical research organization – the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). The head of the ICMR has announced that India is planning to launch the Covid-19 vaccine by August 15, 2020. This was later retracted under heavy adverse criticism.
Future focus areas need to be in sync with the changing customer behavior:
While converting several challenges into opportunities in sync with the future requirements of their business operations, drug companies should try to derive the first mover advantages. For this purpose, creative use of almost real-time data will be vital. In this endeavor, I reiterate, one of the top priorities will be to ensure that all touchpoints of the consumer engagement process take into account the changing customer behavior, as captured by data.
To have a productive value delivery system in the new normal, cerebral use of modern technology-based tools and platforms could provide a sharp cutting edge. A similar process may be adopted – even a stage earlier – during the differential value creation process of the business. Nevertheless, the name of the game for the future, would still remain delighting the customers at all the touch points, especially while navigating through strong headwinds.
Another major impact area of pharma business:
The onslaught of Covid-19 pandemic has also resulted in some significant behavioral changes among many health care consumers. These spans across several areas, as I wrote earlier. For example, a number of surveys have revealed that fewer number of non-Covid-19 patients are now visiting doctors’ clinics.
The study quoted by the above McKinsey article highlights some important points in this regard, such as:
- Among surveyed HCPs, 82 percent report declines in patient volumes, with more than half describing the declines as “significant”.
- 40 percent of the surveyed patients reported having a doctor cancel an appointment, while an additional 30 percent or so canceled the appointments themselves.
- Half of surveyed physicians worry that their patients will not be able to receive timely care for new or existing conditions, particularly those that are not COVID-19 related.
- The overall reduction in volume is widespread, but variation exists. For example, the number of oncology-related visits have declined far less than those related to cardiology or dermatology, perhaps reflecting patient or physician perceptions of urgency.
- Such data represent a snapshot of a time still early in the trajectory of this crisis, but the HCPs surveyed expect the trends to continue—and to accelerate, potentially.
Another challenge is surfacing, the talent gap to squarely deal with the crisis.
The problem of talent gap, an opportunity?
While preparing a company to succeed amid new challenges of the new normal, pharma leadership will notice some critical talent gaps in important areas of business. This is indeed a problem or a challenge. But can this also be converted into a new opportunity? … I guess, this is an opportunity of reskilling the company to meet with the future challenges, to move ahead at a faster pace.
In pursuit of this goal, top pharma decision makers may wish to evaluate a well-balanced mix of two approaches:
- Reskilling competent existing employees for the new world.
- Hiring new and ready – suitable talents, for immediate results.
Reuters reported last Friday, with over 1 million Covid-19 cases, ‘India joins U.S., Brazil in the grim Coronavirus club.’ As on July 19, 2020 morning, the recorded Coronavirus cases in the country reached 10,77,874 with 26,828 deaths. According to the Indian Medical Association (IMA), the spike in the number of Covid-19 cases in India has resulted in the community spread of the Coronavirus disease. It further added: “This is now an exponential growth. Every day the number of cases is increasing by more than around 30,000. This is really a bad situation for the country.” The pace of climb continues going north.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister of India has also urged all concerned to convert Covid-19 related challenges into opportunities. He said, it’s time to initiate reforms in several areas of governance by all the Indian State Governments.