Just as any other industry, pharma business is also primarily a ‘value delivery system.’ Its each and every employee need to understand and internalize this basic philosophy of the business. This organizational mindset needs to be created by the very top – setting examples for others to embody the same. The top could encompass the promoters themselves, or the professional CEOs – truly heading the organization and not working under the shadow of the promoters, or even the Board of Directors of professionally managed companies.
Although, this mindset should prevail pan organization, pharma sales and marketing functions are usually responsible to deliver a well-thought out set of brand values and associated services to doctors, patients and other stakeholders, effectively.
Against the above backdrop, I shall explore in this article whether it is happening in the pharma industry. If yes, is the ‘value delivery system’ is tuned to a self-serving mode, wherever it is happening? If so, to what extent it is denting the reputation and image of not just of the companies concerned, but of the drug industry as a whole. Before I proceed further, let me elaborate on what exactly I mean by the ‘value delivery system (VDS).’
Value Delivery System (VDS):
Creating more and more customers and retaining them, as long as possible, is the core purpose of any business, as was articulated by the management guru Peter Drucker, decades ago. Thus, like others, pharma organizations, as well, require making it happen in a sustainable way for business excellence.
The entire organization – starting from product and service development activities, right up to the frontline sales and marketing, should always be engaged in delighting the customers with the values they expect – driven by this mindset. It is worth noting that value expectations of pharma customers, are expressed in various ways. These need to be properly captured, analyzed, interpreted, packaged and effectively delivered during each company- customer contact, such as, while interacting with doctors, patients, hospitals and Government.
Thus, the term ‘Value Delivery System (VDS), encompasses an integrated chain of processes within an organization. From this perspective, it should get ingrained in the culture of a pharma company – without any broken links – between the functional areas and the integrated value delivery process.
Who is deciding what patients would value in pharma?
In the real world, ‘customers point of view’ or ‘what the patients would value’ in a product, is decided by the pharma companies – derived generally from the published clinical trial results of the products. Accordingly, these are woven around the brand features and benefits.
The value delivery system of the company packages these in a way that it thinks would generate increased prescription demand and delivers to all concerned. These values, which are overall financial business performance-centric, are mostly ‘self-serving’, and was working very well to meet the internal objectives, until recently.
How to ascertain value for patients in pharma marketing?
One way to ascertain these factors is to ask patients directly. But this process has certain limitations. This was once aptly articulated by Steve Jobs in an interview, where he said: ‘I think really great products come from melding two points of view -the technology point of view and the customer point of view. You need both. You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.’
Taking a cue from it, I reckon, drug companies need continuously generate and analyze enough relevant data, from multiple sources, for an in-depth understanding of what patients will value. Making these values an integral part of the product and services, in a creative way, pharma should aim at delighting the customers through effective delivery.
The article titled, “Reclaim The Glory Of Value,” published in the eyeforpharma on January 08, 2019 also reiterated that such ‘value’ must always be defined by the customer. ‘And true value can only be achieved by understanding the world of the patient and solving the issues most critical to them.’
The external impact of product centric value assessment:
This financial result focused value delivery system got exposed to the stakeholders, since sometime. Overall business performance, though generally slowed down, some companies did produce extraordinary results, even after remaining tuned-in to the self-serving mode. Nevertheless, what got dented most is the pharma industry reputation, with a long-term impact.
Although, the survey capturing fast declining reputation of the drug industry, was done in the United States, it is apparently no different in other countries. Consequently, the quality of general public’s trust in pharma started getting murkier. Strong headwinds are now limiting the pace of progress of the industry, with many governments, including India, taking stringent policy measures to protect the patient interest.
The only way is to ‘reverse the pyramid’:
The only way for the pharma industry, in general, is to take a fresh look at their business approach, which still remains a value delivering machine. The companies need to think afresh while arriving at the ‘value for the patients’, by reversing the business pyramid – positioning the patients’ core values at the top, and delivering them to all concerned with well-crafted content, on the most effective platforms.
Tuning VDS in sync with patients’ core values, is fundamental:
It has been well established today the delivering values built around the quality, efficacy and safety of a brand can no longer ensure the best clinical outcomes for patients. This holds good even when the conventional sales and marketing activities are carried out through a large sales force and backed by huge financial resources. The main reason being, the pharma value delivery system is not delivering the core value that modern day patients expect.
Many patients of the new generation value empowerment and desire greater involvement in their end-to-end disease treatment process. For example, when they want understanding and help on how to manage the high treatment cost to survive from a life-threatening illness, some companies try to compare the ‘cost of treatment’ with the ‘cost of life’, which is an undiluted self-serving value.
It may sound absurd, but I have witnessed the top echelons of pharma companies saying so. This can possibly happen only when they feel contended with a smaller patient base fetching higher profit due to high drug prices, though unaffordable to most patients. But this model is not sustainable. It would further damage already dented pharma reputation, drawing more ire from stakeholders, including the government.
Thus, tuning VDS in sync with patients’ core values is fundamental in the emerging scenario. The question that follows what then are the core values of the new generation patients?
Two ‘core values’ that patients generally expect:
In my personal view, there are the following two ‘core values’ that consumers of medicines would generally expect during their end-to-end disease treatment process. However, the signals of such expectations – direct or indirect, may come in different ways and forms that need to be properly captured by the pharma companies, with the careful application mind:
- Value of unique product and service offerings: The need for this value arises right in the beginning, when patients are in search of a solution for prevention, cure, or management of a disease. It is, primarily, the difference felt by the customers between the product and service offerings of one pharma company from the other. While finalizing the choice for the resolution of the problem, patients may take into account one more important factor. This usually covers the quality of their interaction with the doctors, including the pharma companies, though their respective patient engagement platforms, if any.
- Value of a unique patient experience: After making the final choice, patients would value to feel a unique experience during the entire span of the treatment process. The quality of a brand, its effectiveness, safety, affordability and accessibility, among others, would be the individual components of the whole experience. What would matter most is the residual impact, created by the sum total of each of these components. And this value may be termed as – the unique patient experience.
Effectively delivered, the wholesome impact of patients’ treatment experience will be a lot more than the sum total of each the individual components, as mentioned above. Conversely, any hurdle faced by patients even with one component of this value chain, can potentially create a bad patient experience. This may adversely affect both patients and the concerned pharma company, in tangible terms, which I shall discuss below. Thus, the perceived value of ‘unique patient experience’ is very high, and can’t be wished away, any longer.
Tangible gain of pharma for doing so, or vice versa:
Let me illustrate this point with an example – drawing from the above core values and a self-serving value delivery system.
As we know, non-adherence to medication is one of the important reasons for poor clinical outcomes, besides progression of the ailment – further compounding the disease burden. Ample research studies indicate that ‘high cost of drugs is the biggest barrier to medication adherence,’ or, at least, one of the major causes of non-adherence.
Patients pay for non-adherence by their deteriorating health conditions. Alongside, pharma companies also pay a high price in terms of lost sales and profit, besides dent in reputation – for this single factor. Another research report estimated an annual revenue loss of USD 637 billion for non-adherence to medications for the treatment of chronic conditions. The same report highlighted, globally, revenue loss has increased from USD 564 billion in 2012 to USD 637 billion in 2015, with US-based revenue losses increasing from USD 188 billion in 2012 to USD 250 billion in 2015. Otherwise, this could have been a significant tangible gain for pharma.
Pharma business, just as any other industry, is a value delivery system. This system needs to be optimized, both for tangible financial gains and also for building company reputation. Creating increasingly satisfied patients, including other stakeholders, should be the prime drivers for this optimization process.
Two core values – built on signals, suggestions and indications coming from the bottom of a conventional business pyramid – the patients, need to be effectively captured, analyzed, packaged and then delivered through the VDS. In no way, these values are to be based on what the top of the pyramid thinks, based on only clinical trial results. Such values are usually self-serving in nature, the long-term impact of which is not quite favorable, either. Reversing the pyramid, patients should be allowed to play a pivotal role for the company in the core value creation of a brand, in innovative ways, for subsequent delivery on appropriate platforms.
This will create a win-win situation, both for business growth and also in delighting most patients with access to high quality and affordable novel treatments, for a healthy life. However,considering today’s reality where most pharma companies’ ‘Value Delivery Systems’ are still tuned to a self-serving mode, a serious introspection by individual companies seems to be an urgent need. More proactive players in this game, will emerge as winners with better business performance, in tandem with improved corporate image and reputation.
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.