Providing Unique Patient Experience – A New Brand Differentiator

“Pharma industry, including the patients in India are so different from other countries. Thus, any strategic shift from conventional pharma brand marketing approach – going beyond doctors, won’t be necessary.”

The above mindset is interesting and may well hold good in a static business environment. But, will it remain so when ‘information enabled’ consumer behavior is fast-changing?

“Shall cross the bridge when we come to it” – is another common viewpoint of pharma marketers.

Many might have also noted that such outlooks are not of just a few industry greenhorns. A wide spectrum of, mostly industry-inbred marketers – including some die-hard trainers too, subscribe to it – very strongly.

Consequently, the age-old pharma marketing mold remains intact. Not much effort is seen around to reap a rich harvest out of the new challenge of change, proactively. The Juggernaut keeps moving, unhindered, despite several storm signals.

Against this backdrop, let me discuss some recent well-researched studies in the related field. This is basically to understand how some global pharma companies are taking note of the new expectations of patients and taking pragmatic and proactive measures to create a unique ‘patient experience’ with their drugs.

Simultaneously, I shall try to explore briefly how these drug companies are shaping themselves up to derive the first-mover advantage, honing a cutting edge in the market place. This is quite unlike what we generally experience in India.

As I look around:

When I look around with a modest data mining, I get increasingly convinced that the quality of mind of pharma marketers in India needs to undergo a significant change in the forthcoming years. This is because, slowly but surely, value creation to provide unique ‘patient experience’ in a disease treatment process, will become a critical differentiator in the pharma marketing ball game. Taking prime mover advantage, by shaping up the change proactively for excellence, and not by following the process reactively for survival, would separate the men from the boys in India, as well.

Patient experience – a key differentiator:

A recent report titled, “2017 Digital Trends in Healthcare and Pharma”, was published by Econsultancy in association with Adobe. This study is based on a sample of 497 respondents working in the healthcare and pharma sector who were among more than 14,000 digital marketing and eCommerce professionals from all sectors. The participants were from countries across EMEA, North America and Asia Pacific, including India.

Regarding the emerging scenario, the paper focuses mainly on the following areas:

  • Pharma companies will sharpen focus on the customer experience to differentiate themselves from their competitors.
  • ‘The internet of things (IoT)’ – the rapidly growing Internet based network of interconnected everyday use computing devices that are able to exchange data using embedded sensors, has opened new vistas of opportunity in the pharma business. Drug players consider it as the most exciting prospect for 2020.
  • Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) have started filling critical gaps in pharma and healthcare technologies and systems. Their uses now range from training doctors in operating techniques to gamifying patient treatment plans. Over 26 percent of respondents in the study see the potential in VR and AR as the most exciting prospect for 2020.

Commensurate digital transformation of pharma industry is, therefore, essential.

Prompts a shift from marketing drugs to marketing outcomes:

The above study also well underscores a major shift – from ‘marketing drugs and treatments’ – to ‘marketing outcome-based approaches and tools’, both for prevention and treatment of illnesses. This shift has already begun, though many Indian pharma marketers prefer clinging on to their belief – ‘Indian pharma market and the patients are different.’

If it still continues, there could possibly be a significant business impact in the longer-term future.

Global companies have sensed this change:

Realizing that providing a unique experience to patients during the treatment process will be a key differentiator, some global companies have already started acting. In this article I shall highlight only one recent example that was reported in March 01, 2018.

Reuters in an article on that day titled, “Big pharma, big data: why drugmakers want your health records,” reported this new trend. It wrote, pharma players are now racing to scoop up patient health records and strike deals with technology companies as big data analytics start to unlock a trove of information about how medicines perform in the real world. This is critical, I reckon, to provide a unique treatment experience to the patients.

A recent example:

Vindicating the point that with effective leverage of this powerful tool, drug manufacturers can offer unique value of their medicines to patients, on February 15, 2018, by a Media Release, Roche announced, it will ‘acquire Flatiron Health to accelerate industry-wide development and delivery of breakthrough medicines for patients with cancer.’ Roche acquired Flatiron Health for USD 1.9 billion.

New York based Flatiron Health – a privately held healthcare technology and services company is a market leader in oncology-specific electronic health record (EHR) software, besides the curation and development of real-world evidence for cancer research.

“There’s an opportunity for us to have a strategic advantage by bringing together diagnostics and pharma with the data management. This triangle is almost impossible for anybody else to copy,” said Roche’s Chief Executive Severin Schwan, as reported in a December interview. He also believes, “data is the next frontier for drugmakers.”


Several global pharma companies have now recognized that providing unique patient experience will ultimately be one of the key differentiators in the pharma marketing ballgame.

Alongside, especially in many developed countries, the drug price regulators are focusing more on outcomes-based treatment. Health insurance companies too, have started looking for ‘value-based pricing,’ even for innovative patented medicines.

Accordingly, going beyond the product marketing, many drug companies plan to focus more on outcomes-based marketing. In tandem, they are trying to give shape to a new form of patient expectation in the disease prevention and treatment value chain, together with managing patient expectations.

Such initiatives necessitate increasing use advanced data analytics by the pharma marketers to track overall ‘patient experience’ – against various parameters of a drug’s effectiveness, safety and side-effects. This would also help immensely in the customized content development for ‘outcomes-based marketing’ with a win-win intent.

Providing unique ‘patient experience’ is emerging as a new normal and a critical brand differentiator in the global marketing arena. It will, therefore, be interesting to track how long the current belief – ‘Pharma industry and the patients in India are so different from other countries’, can hold its root on the ground, firmly. Or perhaps will continue till it becomes a necessity for the very survival of the business.

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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