Pharma industry, just as most others, has started recognizing that the business needs to be brought back to normal, despite Covid fetters. Some early evidences suggest, a new breed of pharma marketers is refusing to get confined to Covid triggered operational limits, without breaching any prescribed safety norms.
These pacesetters no longer grapple with finding right answers to the question – when and how the brand building activities can be brought back to the old normal? Truly speaking, none has its answer, as yet. Covid has the power to strike back, anytime – anywhere, in waves, when the guards are even slightly down. Moreover, as and when vaccines will come, these may not be ‘silver bullets’ for many – throughout a lifetime, at least, in the foreseeable future.
Accordingly, these forerunners are effectively leveraging the art of turning challenges into opportunities. They are conceptualizing new business models for making path-breaking progress in contemporary purpose driven branding exercises. For all pharma marketers, I reckon, this is the moment of truth, when what you do reflects what you really are, in this area. Thus, in this article. I shall deliberate, with examples, how these creative new age pharma marketers are trying to unshackle Covid fetters.
Today’s reality on the ground:
A number of global surveys on how patients’ have reacted to Covid-19 pandemic with reasons behind the same, are now available. One such study was conducted by Medisafe, during March and April, 2020. Some of its key findings are as follows:
- More than half of the respondents, especially those with comorbidities, worry about getting Covid infected while accessing to in-person treatments.
- Over 9 out of 10 respondents were practicing social distancing, as a remedial measure.
- Consequently, they are missing doctors’ appointments, and many are opting for telehealth wherever appropriate and necessary.
In many situations, such as, common and repetitive health issues, including some mental health conditions, virtual health care are more convenient. It has also been established during the pandemic that telehealth can deliver similar outcomes at a lower cost, than in-person visits. In addition, remote monitoring of some key health parameters, like heart rhythm, blood sugar, weight, respiratory rate, also help people control their chronic conditions better, and assist clinicians with diagnosis and treatment.
More doctors prefer telehealth, but the majority wants some in-person visits too:
An interesting study – ‘Want Both In-Person and Virtual Visits with Sales Reps,’ published by Bain & Company on June 02, 2020, ferreted out today’s reality, in this space. It found, prior to Covid, about three-fourths of physicians preferred face-to-face engagement with sales reps. In contrast, today more of them are asking for a reduction in Rep visit frequency and more remote support or virtual approaches. Curiously, a majority still prefers, at least some in-person interaction ‘once the pandemic passes.’
Interestingly, no one seems to know, just yet, when exactly will this pandemic get over. Besides, whether or not Covid will keep coming back in waves, for an indefinite period. Or, any similar or even worse global health crisis, in future, could bring greater disruption for the industry.
Driven by such apprehensions, it is possible that more and more patients will prefer telehealth, expanding access to health care for an increasing number of people. Nonetheless, one should also take into consideration that virtual health care has also some significant limitations, especially those which may lead to serious or life-threatening conditions.
Some key limitations to overcome:
Alongside multiple advantages of telehealth, it has some significant limitations, which can’t be wished away, either. This point was also well articulated in the article – ‘Where Telemedicine Falls Short,’ published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) on June 30, 2020. The author, who is also a primary care physician gave a number of examples in this regard. For example, in one place he wrote:
‘I have found treatable cancers multiple times in routine exams that would be impossible to replicate in the virtual world. Could a Zoom visit detect a lymph node too firm, a spleen or liver too large, or an unexpected prostate nodule (with a normal PSA)?’ The paper also emphasized: ‘Trust and face-to-face encounters are even more important for patients with complex and intertwined problems.’
Be that as it may, the task to encourage patients, even with serious ailments, for in-person consultation and examination by doctors’ in their clinics, won’t be ‘a piece of cake’ too. On the contrary, it will be rather a colossal exercise.
Why will this task be colossal?
One can get a sense of tough challenges involved in this effort from the IQVIA report titled, ‘COVID-19 Pandemic and the Impact on SEA Healthcare Market.’ Along with other areas, the study captured several details of the above area, specifically for the South East Asia (SEA), as follows:
- Decrease in patient visits (Out-Patient): 2 out of 3 hospital doctors are experiencing >60% decrease in patient visits.
- Extended period of time before patient load resumes to normal: ~50% of doctors think that it will take 4 to 6 months to resume normal operations.
- Increase in prescription duration: ~25% of doctors have 2x their standard prescription duration to reduce patient visits.
The study also observed, ‘in order to reduce the risk of getting infected, patients are reducing their visits to the HCPs.’ Such an unusual situation is unlikely to be mitigated, soon, with any traditional or ‘one size-fits all’ type strategy. Particularly when Covid threat still looms large on the population. As is happening today, even after signs of waning, Covid may return in waves – for an indefinite period. Thus, innovative marketing interventions, backed by actionable insights, are essential to help overcome the fear of getting Covid infected, by both patients and doctors.
How to respond to this situation in a creative way?
The creative marketing response to overcoming the possible barriers on the way, would call for predictive rather than reactive pharma strategies. The game plan not only needs to be purpose drivenfor the marketers, but should also be perceived that way by all concerned. For example, the core purpose of marketing in this scenario, will be to provide a life-saving patient ‘service’, with win-win outcomes.
And the additional ‘service’ in this case is encouragement in-person physician visits during early symptoms of life-threatening health conditions – taking all safety precautions and overcoming ‘paranoia’ of getting infected. The win-win outcomes will include – saving lives, preventing deterioration of the disease condition, and of course, facilitation of the brand demand. The good news is some global pharma majors have already started making progress in this direction.
Promoting doctor visits during the pandemic – an example:
Leaving footprints to follow, some pharma marketers have already started creatively working on it. Let me cite a recent example of this unique initiative. This was reported by Fierce Pharma in its November 02, 2020 issue. The marketing process carries all the required ingredients for excellence, as mentioned above.
It wrote, ‘Pfizer and Bristol Myers Squibb are the latest drugmakers to join the swell of campaigns promoting doctor visits during the pandemic.’ This decision was based on data, showing many people haven’t been going to their primary care appointments for symptoms that may lead to potentially serious conditions.
This initiative is focused on three critical health conditions, namely, atrial fibrillation, deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. The rationale for selecting these three indications is, these are all treated by the partners’ anticoagulant Eliquis.
Accordingly, the BMS-Pfizer Alliance launched a campaign to raise awareness and encourage people to seek prompt medical attention. The American campaign was built around the theme – ‘Your symptoms could mean something serious, so this is no time to wait.’ In tandem, the companies also widely communicated through multiple channels that ‘Decreases in Americans’ Primary Care Visits May Lead to Late Diagnoses of Potentially Serious Conditions.’
According to reports, the net result of this creative marketing, so far, is no less than outstanding, as compared to many other pharma players operating in similar situations. ‘Eliquis’ brand sales for the first six months of 2020 topped $4.8 billion, a 21% increase over the same time period last year. Doesn’t this initiative demonstrate that creative pharma marketers can unshackle even Covid fetters?
Meanwhile, as on November 08, 2020 morning, India recorded a staggering figure of 8,507,754 of Coronavirus cases with 126,162 deaths. The average number of daily new cases appeared to have slowed down in the last few weeks. But, the threat of further spread of Covid infection, in waves, still looms large in the country.
Most scientists agree – while effective vaccines offer the best chance of reaching zero COVID-19 – eliminating the virus across much of the world, while not unthinkable, could take a significant number of years. Thus, it may be realistic for some time to focus on flattening the curve with stringent control measures, involving efficient contact tracing, testing and isolation, together with social distancing and mask wearing – till it happens, ultimately.
Meanwhile, the business must flourish, even amid a new normal. And this is, in no way, a pipe dream, but a proven reality, as we have seen above. No doubt, this calls for most pharma marketers wearing a fresh thinking cap, equipped with more cerebral power, as it were, to unshackle Covid fetters on their way – effectively.
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.