Time For Pharma To Leverage ‘The Break In The Clouds’

A ‘break in the clouds’ is now clearly visible in the dark and overcast sky – witnessing a global havoc caused by the Coronavirus pandemic in the healthcare space – with its severe socioeconomic consequences. The name of the game to combat this gargantuan crisis in a heavily restricted environment with success, is adding ‘error-free speed’ in all aspects of the planned countermeasures.

This isn’t a very easy task, either. And certainly, is possible with well-integrated digital interventions. From this perspective, one can construe this situation as ‘break in the clouds’ that can be leveraged by pharma companies for digital transformation of their respective business operations.

It may also be interpreted as a blessing in disguise, because such transformation will empower the companies to take appropriate effective measures with speed. When effectively leveraged, such strategic steps will help pharma players in two ways. One, to contain the virus spread while ensuring access to care through business operations. And the second, will help propel the organization to move ahead, even within such a crisis. However, the ‘Digitalization’ process is multifaceted, having, at least two fundamental prerequisites. In this article, I shall focus on this strategic space.

Alternative ways to provide health care is fast gaining ground:

The product and service delivery models of pharma companies are generally built around the concept of physical presence of patients while consulting a doctor or other health care providers. However, Coronavirus pandemic has triggered some significant changes in this area. Let me illustrate this point with some contemporary references.

As the recent L.E.K paper – ‘COVID-19 and the Acceleration of Digital Health in APAC’ emphasized – ‘by sheer necessity, governments and regulators have also reduced the barriers to participation and uptake for remote engagement of consumers, enabling access to care despite social distancing measures,’ during the pandemic. Moreover, a technical guidance paper, published by the World Health Organization (W.H.O) on April 1, 2020 on strengthening health systems against COVID-19, also recognizes ‘telemedicine’ as an alternative model for delivery of care to ensure the continuous running of essential health care.

COVID-19 will take health system digitalization to a new level:

The above L.E.K paper also pointed out – in the days and months ahead, COVID-19 will accelerate the ‘digitalization’ of health systems to a new level. Especially when, healthcare stakeholders adopt a more urgent, no-holds-barred strategy to stem the rising tide of infections. L.E.K article predicted, the new ways of working and behaviors, forged and refined in the heat of battle against COVID-19, will not be easily put “back in the box.” Consequently, this increasingly digitalized reality will force a paradigm shift in the healthcare ecosystem, the paper concluded.

‘A virtually perfect solution’ to neutralize Covid-19 impact: 

Another paper - ‘Virtually Perfect? Telemedicine for Covid-19,’ published in the NEJM on April 30, 2020 wrote, disasters and pandemics pose unique challenges to health care delivery. It underscored, ‘Though telehealth will not solve them all, it’s well suited for scenarios in which infrastructure remains intact and clinicians are available to see patients.’ It also indicated, telemedicine may be a virtually perfect solution, particularly where such infrastructure is available.

‘Governments must reimagine healthcare delivery’:

That ‘Telemedicine can be a COVID-19 game-changer’ - both now, and in a post-pandemic world, was also articulated by another article, published by the World Economic Forum on May 13, 2020. It suggested: ‘Governments must reimagine healthcare delivery in the face of COVID-19.’

This is mainly because, hospitals and several other places where the COVID-19 battle is raging – have become risky places for both patients and healthcare workers. Although, several measures are being taken to limit transmission from such places, those are still ‘insufficient to stop overstretching of healthcare systems that were already overwhelmed before COVID-19,’ the article observed.

The good news is, in sync with the recommendation of the World Health Organization (W.H.O) for the use of telemedicine as an alternative model to boost clinical performance and optimize service delivery, India has also recognized its telemedicine facility. The Government finds it as ‘a blessing in disguise in time of Covid-19’ and has urged - ‘it’s already high time to recognize telemedicine as a mandatory technology for responding to the current pandemic.’

Health consumers started utilizing digital platforms during lockdown:

hanger, As I wrote in my article of April 27, 2020, being literally locked down at home, a good number of healthcare consumers in India, are utilizing innovative digital platforms, mostly for common illnesses or follow-up consultations, such as:

  • For medical consultation on digital platforms, e.g., Skype, Facetime etc.
  • Getting diagnostic tests done at home by requesting through digital apps,
  • Sending test reports to doctors digitally,
  • Getting doctor’s prescription through digital mode,
  • Ordering medicines through e-pharmacy apps by uploading prescriptions,
  • Getting medicines delivered at home after e-payment,
  • Repeating the same process whenever required.

I also mentioned there, the use of telemedicine in several different, unconventional formats, is also gaining momentum, signaling its greater potential in the years ahead. It seems a reality today, as strict compliance with ‘social distancing’ guidelines is one of the basic requirements of health safety for all.

Does pharma have any other prudent choice now to be effective?

Traditionally, health care industry almost in all countries, is structured on the model of in-person interactions between patients and their clinicians. As the article – ‘Covid-19 and Health Care’s Digital Revolution,’ published in the NEJM on June 04, 2020 wrote, ‘clinical workflows and economic incentives have largely been developed to support and reinforce a face-to-face model of care, resulting in the congregation of patients in emergency departments and waiting areas during this crisis.’

Realizing that this model of care contributes to the spread of the virus to uninfected individuals who are seeking evaluation, many health care consumers are now postponing the needed care or looking for a digital solution for common ailments, to begin with.

In this environment to be effective – pharma players don’t seem to have any other choice but to transform their business operations and scaling up operating systems with the power of digital technologies, as the article indicated. Although, some digital technologies, including telemedicine, have existed for decades, they have had poor penetration into the market for different considerations. But, it’s a transformed situation today, exhibiting a groundswell for the same.

Groundswell for digital transformation in pharma?

COVID-19 pandemic is creating a groundswell for an early digital transformation in the health care space where pharma industry plays a very critical role. If one observes carefully, it is not difficult to fathom the change in behavior and practices of health care consumers. Thus, it calls for commensurate changes in the operating models of the drug players, to keep the kettle boiling, at the very least.

Consequently, the need for integrated digital interventions, quite akin to ‘Zoom’ – replacing many long in-person meetings. Changes of such nature and significance won’t just come and go. These are here to stay to add speed, convenience and cost-effectiveness in business operations, even if Coronavirus disappears, eventually.

The shape and talent need of future organizations will be prompted by such changes, facilitated by digital technologies and Artificial Intelligence (AI). However, digital transformation isn’t just a ‘switch-on’ operation of drug companies, as and when they would wish. Moving towards this direction will call for an unbiased assessment of, at least two prerequisites, for each player.

Two important prerequisites:

As both personal lives and also the work lives of almost all professionals and entrepreneurs, along with the customer behavior, have metamorphosed significantly, commensurate changes need to be implemented in all these areas, urgently. One area where a quantum change has taken place almost unknowingly – mainly driven by the human instinct of survival in a crisis, is the use of various state-of-the-art digital platforms. These include, the way businesses and professionals interact with each other for productive engagements.

Many studies have unraveled this process, such as the one – ‘Seizing the moment in digital’, published in the eye for pharma on May 28, 2020. It underscores two critical prerequisites for any digital transformation of businesses. These are to assess – first, how compatible will this transformation be with the existing organization culture and the same of its top leadership.

If any barrier surfaces, the organization would need to ask, whether its business is ready for a commensurate cultural transformation to make it work productively. The second one is, the capability – it may not be just the technical capability – internal or outsourced to go digital, but more importantly, the capability to run the transformed business to fetch desired results.

Conclusion:

The world is still in the midst of a global crisis, triggered by the Coronavirus pandemic. It is quite far from even plateauing in India. As on July 5, 2020 morning, crossing half a million mark, the recorded Coronavirus cases in the country have reached 673,904 with 19,279 deaths. And its climb continues.

Thus, amid a virtually unfathomable Covid-19 crisis, it will be foolhardy to predict what will happen next. However, as one joins the dots of some significant development, a perceptible trend emerges through the break in the clouds. This is unlikely to vanish anytime soon, and is very likely to be a new normal. Many articles from various thought leaders, such as one of McKinsey Digital - ‘The COVID-19 recovery will be digital’, published on May 14, 2020, vindicated a ground swell for the same. Yet another interesting article of May 11, 2020, termed the Covid-19 pandemic as a black swan event – ‘pushing towards a digital future.’

That said, digital transformation for a drug player will call for an unbiased assessment of two critical prerequisites – culture and capability, to deliver a meaningful outcome. Be that as it may, all indicators confirm that this is undoubtedly a critical time for pharma to leverage the ‘break in the clouds’ in pursuit of 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.

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