In the initial days of the first quarter of 2020, no one could fathom that just within the next 4 months over two million fellow citizens will get infected by an unknown virus, recording over 45,500 deaths. Many authorities may wish to project or analyze these Covid-19 numbers in so many different ways. Nevertheless, the fact remains, currently, in passing each day India is recording the highest count of fresh Covid-19 cases in the world, alongside the most daily deaths from the virus.
In the early days of Covid19 in India, many expected a remedial pathway to emerge soon – conventional or unconventional. Accordingly, Indian citizens across the country responded to the call of some national leaders by observing some – even unconventional measures, such as:
- On March 22, 2014, to “boost morale” of doctors and public workers, as urged by the Indian Prime Minister, many people banged pots and pans on balconies across India.
- On April 05, 2020, again responding to the Prime Minister’s passionate call, a large number of Indians turned off lights, lighted candles and Diyas hoping to dispel COVID-19 darkness.
- On May 02, 2020, as organized by the Government, the country’s armed forces engaged in a nationwide exercise to express gratitude to doctors, paramedics, sanitation staff and other front-line workers involved in fighting the Coronavirus pandemic.
Gradually, the stark reality sank in, as the old normal faded out in the horizon. Public expectations arguably started shifting from heavenly interventions, as it were, to science-based measures. It has now been generally accepted that there is no alternative to social distancing and wearing a mask at the public places. These should continue, till the ‘silver bullet’ – vaccines arrive. More so, when going for herd immunity “cannot be a strategic choice or option,” given the size of India’s population, as the Government said.
Billions of people have now started hoping for the ‘silver bullet’ to come soon. This sky-high expectation continues to be fueled by media hype – based primarily by the Press Releases of the concerned companies. In the midst of these, comes a word of caution from the apex health body of the world. As recent as August 03, 2020, the World Health Organization (W.H.O) announced, ‘despite strong hopes for a vaccine, there might never be a “silver bullet” for COVID-19, and the road to normality would be long.’
To add some degree of certainty in this humongous – primarily scientific and logistical challenge to save lives, – pharma and biotech industry, as usual, are coming to the forefront. Billions of eyeballs are now glued on to them – following every bit of what they are saying – as the devastating impact of this health catastrophe is profound. Besides individual health, the fall-out of the pandemic is intimately intertwined with livelihoods, nation’s economy, social fabric and adjusting to the new way of living, including new mechanisms for most transactions.
Obviously, this would create a new normal – quite different from the old one – and naturally would include pharma business, as well. In this scenario, patients will assume a much different status, especially in the disease treatment process. More patients would likely to prefer their individual health-goals directed holistic care, which calls for a holistic disease treatment solution. The process needs to be contactless as far as practicable, less time intensive and above all cost effective
In this article, let me focus on this area. I reckon, many pharma players are also evaluating the impact of this shift to achieve business excellence in the new normal.
The current treatment approach and the pharma focus:
A recent paper, published in the JAMA Cardiology on the April 2016, made some interesting observations in this area. Citing cardiology disease area as an example, the authors noted the following, among other points:
- Physicians’ decision-making process generally ‘concentrates on disease-specific outcomes, following practice guidelines for specific conditions.’
- Value-based purchasing also largely focus on individual diseases.
- However, disease-centered framework is ill-suited for persons with multiple chronic conditions, including older adults and the majority of adult health care users of all ages.
- Disease-centered decision-making results in treatment burden when patients must adhere to multiple guidelines and harm when guideline recommendations conflict.
- Furthermore, disease-centered recommendations may not address what matters most to these patients – varying health priorities.
The shortcomings of this approach from the patients’ perspectives, besides adding greater value for patients, prompt a need for change. From the current disease-oriented treatment approach, and pharma’s business-related focus in sync with this system.
Habit of visiting specialists at the very beginning complicates the process:
The disease-oriented treatment approach, as it is today, isn’t a legacy issue. In the good old days, General Practitioners (GP) used to examine their patients thoroughly – covering the entire body. Thereafter, depending on the specific areas of need, expert interventions used to be recommended.
However, todays well-informed people, equipped with health information of all kinds, can possibly figure out the broad outline of their health problems. Accordingly, many of them directly arrange appointment with specialists. As most of them are generally not terribly wrong in figuring out the problem areas, specialists’ treatment progresses in the same direction. Other existing health issues, not being of high priority treatment areas for persons concerned, could remain ignored, till these also flare up.
Undoubtedly this approach, even if is made ‘patient-centric’, in a broader sense, by pharma players, would cost more time, more money to patients. Besides, loss of income and increase in morbidity. This is certainly an avoidable situation for all – patients, doctors and pharma companies.
Go beyond ‘patient-centricity’ encompassing ‘patient-goals directed care’:
The new focus should be directed towards ‘patient-goals directed care.’ This approach, which flows from a very old and a classic concept of Sir William Osler articulated in the 19th century. This remains as relevant today for any holistic - ‘patient-goals directed care.’ It goes way beyond much hyped ‘patient-centric’ approach.
Sir William Osler once said, “The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.” The great physician understands the patient and the context of that patient’s illness. Accordingly, I reckon, pharma players new focus needs to be in conformance to this concept. It fits in so well with changing patients’ expectations in the new normal.
As has been evaluated in many studies, although, patient-goals directed care may appear to be particularly useful for persons with multiple chronic conditions, ‘this approach works across the age and health span, making it a compelling path toward value-based care from the patient’s perspective.’
‘Each patient represents a story’ which needs to be carefully deciphered:
The article – ‘To Be a Great Physician, You Must Understand the Whole Story,’ published in the Medscape General Medicine on March 26, 2007, elucidated the point nicely. It said, each patient represents a story, which includes their diseases, their new problem, their social situation, and their beliefs. A physician needs to understand this story. Accordingly, perform a targeted physical examination based on the historical clues, order the correct diagnostic tests, and interpret them in the context of the history and physical exam. Once the appropriate data are collected, the patient’s story needs to be revisited, based on scientific data.
Revisiting process of the patients’ story includes making the correct diagnosis or diagnoses. The story must reveal the patient’s context – Who is this patient? – What is the patient’s goal? – How might the patient’s personal situation impact the treatment options? And more – as the above article highlights.
Each patient’s story’ is important for pharma companies, as well:
Patients’ disease related stories are of crucial importance to the pharma players, as well, for strategic reasons. Not just to gain insights on the disease manifestation process, but more importantly to facilitate a company’s engagement with them.
Another interesting article has brought out some more important issues in this area. The paper is titled, ‘Patient Centricity and Pharmaceutical Companies: Is It Feasible?’ It was published by the SAGE Journals on March 28, 2017, where the authors underscored, engagement with patients can only be possible, if there is credibility. Elaborating this point, the paper cited two GSK examples aimed at building trust with patients and physicians, as follows:
- Change in marketing practices: In 2011, GSK eliminated prescription sales targets in the US and introduced a new incentive model for sales and marketing practices based on value and feedback from prescribers; external speakers/ convention travel support was discontinued (2016).
- Clinical transparency: Since 2013 GSK has committed to promote transparency of clinical research and is a leading example in the pharmaceutical industry—it was the first company to grant access to anonymized patient data. The ‘All trial campaign (2013)’ commits to publishing all trial data; the GSK patient-level data access site has become a multi-sponsored portal (2014).
As of August 09, 2020 morning, the recorded Coronavirus cases in India have crossed a staggering 2 billion mark, reaching 2,153,10 with 43,452 deaths. The figure keeps climbing – faster than expected, unabated.
The business relevance for a shift from the conventional disease centered care to patient-goals directed care, require deep understanding of the top pharma leadership along with its very purpose, in the new normal. Patients deserve this now, more than ever before, as explained above.
In my view, a changing mindset to align pharma business strategy – from providing a disease-oriented care to patient-goals directed care, is expected to improve patient outcomes manifold. Nevertheless, like what the above SAGE article emphasized, the organization at its end would require defining collectively and with clarity – why is this change now? How it is to be done – step by step? And what are the results the company aims to achieve?
Consequently, it would help create a large pool of delighted and company loyal customers having strong ‘word of mouth’ advantages. Top pharma leadership’s ‘buying in’ this concept, with an appropriate organizational structure in place, would herald a new dawn of ‘Patient Value-Based Care’ – Convid-19 pandemic notwithstanding.
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.