Healthcare providers, including many drug companies aim to create a beneficial effect on patients with their respective products and services. However, and more importantly, these benefits need to be such that recipients are able to sense, feel, and perceive as they expect – or may often go much beyond their expectations.
In this endeavor, when the perceived value of health care offerings exceeds the perceived cost of the products or services, the beneficiaries get naturally delighted. Conversely, when the perceived cost of the product weighs more than the perceived benefits, especially when it is incurred in lieu of some other essential living expenses, the patients accept the benefits grudgingly – without having any choice, or alternatives. The situation often fuels growing healthcare activism, across the globe and more involving expensive patented products.
Such expectations of many customers have increases manifold during Covid-19 pandemic, as many studies highlight. Thus, creating a win-win situation while aiming for a beneficial effect on patients, would call for in-depth understanding of the complex changes in the value delivery process. This is critical for all in the health care environment, and particularly the pharma marketers.
In today’s article, I shall dwell on some recent developments in this area, beginning with the basic need for in-depth understanding of the complex changes in the value delivery process. This process flows from ascertaining what have and have not changed in pharma industry’s new normal. The core intent is to find an answer to the key question: Should markers now need to focus much more on creating patient-perceived value of brand outcomes to business excellence?
Understanding complex changes in the value delivery process:
In today’s scenario – amid expressive customers, to get to know the needs, wants and expectations of the target audience, pharma marketers would need to listen to them carefully, and capture the same as they are – in an organized way. In-depth analysis of the data, thus captured, would help marketers chart a cutting-edge strategic pathway – converting data into actionable insights, in pursuit of excellence.
Covid-19 pandemic expanded digital media use even by older age group:
Many studies have shown, since the onset of Covid-19 pandemic, the use of digital media for various purposes, including health care products ad services, has increased among older age groups, more than ever before.
One such April 2021 Press Release of AARP Research was captioned, ‘Tech Usage Among Older Adults Skyrockets During Pandemic.’ It reported, technology enabled older adults, to better weather – the isolation of the pandemic, started using digital platforms and social media, from ordering groceries to telehealth visits to connecting with loved ones.
More specifically, in the present context, the study found, among others - ‘50+ use of smartphones increased dramatically. For instance, use for ordering groceries grew from 6% to 24%; use of personal health increased from 28% to 40% for activities like telehealth visits, ordering prescriptions, or making appointments; use of health and fitness information increased 25% to 44%; and use of financial transactions increased 37% to 53%.’
Another AARP publication on September 2021 was captioned: ‘Personal Tech and the Pandemic: Older Adults Are Upgrading for a Better Online Experience.’ It also articulated: ‘Texting, email, social media, and video chatting have become commonplace as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to remain home, separated from friends and family. More than 80% of those 50-plus said they use technology in some form to stay connected, many on a daily basis.’
I hasten to add that the above study, although was conducted in the United States, the overall trend is expected to be similar in India – of course, with varying numbers. Be that as it may, the new opportunity of listening to customers from their reach, use, interactions, and conversations through digital channels, and sieving out relevant information from the same, needs to be adequately leveraged.
This space could provide high-quality data, when used in a structured manner, for in-depth understanding of the pandemic-triggered changes in customer dynamics. No wonder, why some major pharma players’ greater focus on listening intently to healthcare customers’ conversation is assuming increasing criticality, today. This process would also help immensely while delivering value of affordable access to contemporary innovative drugs.
Increasing criticality of affordable access to contemporary innovative drugs:
Alongside the pre-Covid 19 ailments, new disease complications in the pandemic – or, now, in endemic-prone areas, would enhance manifold the criticality of the value of access to innovative drugs – for all to be up and running. This area, was well articulated in a similar context in the article, published in the Pharmaceutical Executive on September 20, 2021.
The authors reiterated, ‘Patient affordability and access enablement, along with health system sustainability and affordability, are critical factors that impact current patient access to these innovations as well as sustained future access to new innovations.’
Many pharma companies, who have both resources and knowledge to develop and supply new and innovative medicines at scale, are already talking about it, even in the new normal. But, they would now need to walk the talk with a greater sense of inclusivity that can be seen and felt by all. Let me cite a very recent example in this area from the Covid-19 perspective.
A recent example in this area from Covid-19 perspective:
An encouraging recent development about affordable access to innovative drugs was reported by The New York Times on October 27, 2021. It reported: ‘Merck has granted a royalty-free license for its promising Covid-19 pill to a United Nations-backed nonprofit in a deal that would allow the drug to be manufactured and sold cheaply in the poorest nations, where vaccines for the coronavirus are in devastatingly short supply.’
More, such examples, also involving treatment in other critical disease areas, would have a salutary effect, even on the public image of the concerned pharma innovators. The ball seems to have started rolling in this direction, as evident from the key findings of the ‘2021 Access to Medicine Index’.
‘2021 Access to Medicine Index’ elucidates the point:
The ‘2021 Access to Medicine Index’, published by the Access to Medicine Foundation, on January 26, 2021, reiterates the increasing criticality of affordable access to contemporary innovative drugs. It adds, with the resources and the knowledge to develop and supply new medicines at scale, pharma players have a responsibility to ensure these are made available to people regardless of their socioeconomic standing.
The key findings of the report include the following:
- Eight companies adopt processes to systematically address access to medicine for all new products
- Less than half of key products are covered by pharma companies’ access strategies in poorer countries.
- R&D for COVID-19 has increased, yet another pandemic risk goes unaddressed.
In sync with other experts, the report further emphasizes, ‘Pharmaceutical companies have the power to address affordability by refining their access strategies; and the ability to strengthen supply chains and support healthcare infrastructures. Considering their size, resources, pipelines, portfolios and global reach, these companies have a critical role to play in improving access to medicines.’
Why affordable access to innovative drugs is more critical in India:
The much-deliberated issue of why affordable access to innovative drugs is so critical in India, was aptly analyzed in an article, published by Brookings on March 03, 2020. The backdrop of the discussion was the W.H.O data on global health expenditures that compares out-of-pocket expenditure (OOPE) as a proportion of current health expenditure.
It revealed, India does much worse in comparison to the world average of OOPE. This was 65% for India versus the world average of around 20%, in 2016, with a similar scenario as compared to other Asian countries. It specified, Thailand and China have reduced the proportion of OOPE over time, while Sri Lanka and Bangladesh witnessed an increase over time.
The current healthcare spectrum of possibilities to address these issues haven’t changed significantly, since then. Interestingly, this is despite the increasing need of innovative drugs that’s keeping pace with the complexity in the health care environment since the onset of Covid-19 pandemic.
Thus, the criticality of affordable access to contemporary innovative drugs in the new normal, deserves an out of the box solution. Even today, OOPE continues to remain very high in India, and mostly for outdoor patient treatments. Thus, it is imperative that pharma marketers should focus more to create greater patient-perceived (not self-perceived) value of brand outcomes, in an innovative way – for business excellence in the new normal.
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.