Why Serve Differently?

When we focus on patients first, business follows. The time has come to serve differently.

Jill Donahue, Chief Engagement Officer, EngageRx with Dr. Stefan Oschmann, Vice Chairman and Deputy CEO at Merck KGaA, and President IFPMA.

When you think back to things you create, isn’t it true that they emerge from the spark of a frustration - a sense that there has to be a better way?

That’s how John and I feel about our pharma industry. Something needs to change. Somewhere along the line, we lost our trustworthiness and with it, our ability to deeply engage healthcare providers and ensure that all those who should get our medicines - do.

For us that spark of frustration began over 20 years ago as we each sat in front of doctors as reps, trying our best to help them help their patients. Although our efforts were well intentioned, there was something missing. It wasn’t a skill per se. It was a context. It was a place from which we could credibly engage them.

We each wondered, how could I turn around the diminishing trustworthiness they had in me, in us - the pharma industry? What could we do to change the way they saw and responded to us?

Long after we stopped carrying the bag and moved on to other roles in pharma, those questions dogged us. Seeking answers, I completed a master’s degree in adult education to complement the research I had been doing on behavior change in healthcare. It was then that a hunch began to form that I needed, that WE needed to serve differently.

After my father died as the result of a drug error, I knew more than ever before that we needed a new approach. We needed to gain back our seat at the healthcare table. It takes a pit crew to treat the patient and there is an important role for pharma in that crew. It is simply dangerous that we are being pushed away.

What if when we focus on the patient, we will achieve our greatest growth?"

What is missing is the common ground from which our knowledge and expertise is valued. It is clear that the one common, unifying interest of pharma professionals, doctors, pharmacists, hospitals, governments and health systems is the need to serve the patient. That is the North Star to re-imagining our role in healthcare.

Somewhere in the 1990s, we lost sight of that guiding star, and focused on the product and the profit instead of the patient. Why? We thought this was how we should best grow our business. What if the thinking that got us there was all wrong? What if the opposite is true? What if when we focus on the patient, we will achieve our greatest growth?

Your senior leaders get it. In fact, in the 2014 eyeforpharma Industry Healthcheck survey, 86% of the 1500 pharma executive respondents believe that focusing on the patient is key to future profitability for their company.

And that brings us to another guiding principle that needs to be clear. Profit is not a dirty word. We must strive for growth and profit so we can continue to serve patients. We must continue our work to find solutions for the thousands of diseases for which we do not yet have a solution.

Bottom line, by serving patients interests first we will grow our businesses. Perhaps most importantly, we need patients, healthcare providers and institutions, governments, and pharma professionals to stop thinking that serving patients and serving our companies are mutually exclusive activities. Being focused on the patient and being profitable are not incompatible. They are inseparable!

I have had the pleasure of interviewing senior pharma leaders and asking them “Are patient centricity and profitability incompatible or inseparable?” Their unanimous consensus—inseparable! (Video interviews are available for the asking. Email me at jill@engagerx.org.)

Just last week I asked that question to Dr. Stefan Oschmann, currently President IFPMA (International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations) and as of 2016 Vice Chairman and Deputy CEO of Merck KGaA. He did not disappoint.

He said, “I am very confident that we are moving in the right direction. The people in our industry are great people. They are here because they want to make a difference in the world. Yes, we had to do our homework and change our approach,” he admitted “but we’re back on the right path. I’m passionate about this and believe we have made progress and must and will continue to do so. And we must do so as an industry,” he concluded.

The challenge… how do we change our whole industry? How do we shift from product-focused to patient-focused?

The Birth of 'Serve Differently'

In 1997, Apple created an advertising campaign, 'Think Different', which communicated Apple’s values by portraying people who stood out in history as “the crazy ones… the ones who see things differently”; Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Richard Branson, John Lennon, Thomas Edison, Muhammad Ali, Mahatma Gandhi, Jim Henson, Pablo Picasso to name a few.

The ad ends with the following statement:

The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

And change the world they did. Here’s the video:


When I saw this ad, I asked myself, “Who is going to be crazy enough to think they can change our world in pharma?” It was clear to me that it couldn’t be just one person or one company. It had to be a group of thoughtful, committed people; a movement of people willing to try something new and redefine how they create value for patients and their organizations. It had to be a movement of people willing to ‘serve differently’.

John and I, along with our colleagues - hundreds of senior pharma leaders - who attended eyeforpharma Barcelona 2015, feel such a movement is already underway… but it needs some help.We need to close the thinking/doing gap. We need to shift the mindset from product to patient in every person in our industry in how they think, feel and act.

This week, we’re kicking off our new column with a short video “Serve Differently”.  It acknowledges that the best and brightest in pharma are already ‘on the bus’. They want to serve patients and their companies in a new way. It also lays down the larger challenge: “how we can move from accepted to needed,” and have not just our medicines, but also our people become an integral part of the healthcare system.

Check out John’s acting debut in this 1-min video!

We will continue to discuss and explore ideas and solutions through this column in the coming months. It is our commitment to you and our industry to continue to scour the literature, interview thought leaders, create tools and ideas to help us serve differently… and better!

So let’s get going in our movement to serve differently. Healthcare needs our patient-focused efforts.

Jill Donahue and John Elliott are on a mission to help lift pharma - to turn our ship around and help us gain back our trust so we can partner for better outcomes for all. They believe that growth through a focus on the patient is key to our sustainable future. This column in one way they hope to help pharma folks serve differently and better! Learn more about Jill & John at www.EngageRx.org

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Latin America Awards 2015

May 7, 2015 - May 7, 2015, Miami

The eyeforpharma Latin America Awards recognize those in the pharmaceutical industry who are driving pharma forwards not just with higher short-term profits, but with better customer innovation, value and outcomes leading to longer-term success.