It's Time to Stop Using Finances as an Excuse

The "sweet spot" between profitability and patient needs is finally available to the pharma industry - finance is no excuse.

Finding the balance between profitability and benefits for the target market is a holy grail of every contemporary business endeavor. This is even more so for the pharma industry, where the stakes are high, with far-reaching consequences for patients and society at large.

Despite some resilient popular myths, patient focus is extremely cost-effective, as demonstrated in eyeforpharma’s recent whitepaper, Patient-Centric Profitability: Pharma’s Global Survey & Analysis.

A key question raised within the paper is: Given the cost-effectiveness of patient focus, why is there still such considerable debate about the monetary value of putting patients at the heart of pharma? John Gerow, Principle at JG Consulting and Service Team Strategy Partner at Ashfield (part of UDG Healthcare), puts it down to the fact that, “We are challenged in our business today with cutting costs and we have a history of what has worked in the past.” With this in mind, is it merely a lack of flexibility to adapt to new ways of working? Jens Lipinski, Head of Patient Relations at Bayer Vital believes, “Finding appropriate performance indicators for achieved improvements of real life enhanced trust or improved outcomes from patient focus is the key challenge.”

It is true that a few things need to be considered to achieve the desired financial efficiency that is good for patients on the one hand and for pharma on the other, but this can be achieved.

A strategic necessity, but also a long-term economic investment

Financial costs of patient focus are one of the most commonly perpetuated reasons touted as to why patient focus should not be holistically implemented. Indeed, many of the respondents within the global patient survey seem to agree on one thing: their limited budget does not allow them to commit wholly to patient-focused missions.

However, Christi Shaw, Former President of Novartis, doesn't believe finances are a good excuse: “I don't believe it is more budget/resources that are needed. I believe it's a shift of resources from non-patient focused activities to patient journey activities.” Gerow agrees, stating, “Focusing on the patient is the right thing to do for many reasons; the question is, what are you going to give up? That is the hard part.”

Fortunately, The Aurora Project shines a light on what Jill Donahue of EngageRx has dubbed the “sweet spot” - where both patient and business needs can meet at a crossroads and attain the collision of interests from all stakeholders. In particular, market conditions and an enhanced understanding over patient needs require a radically new approach and the pharma industry has already started taking steps towards that intersection. Gerow also emphasizes that, “The industry reputation challenges that we [pharma] are all facing should be a key reason to line up behind the patient versus the brand. In this scenario, everyone wins.” Industry experts are, therefore, clearly convinced that patient focus can be capitalized by both patients and pharma alike.

I am convinced that the early investment in patient engagement and interaction will save money in the long run, like prevention measures or vaccinations do.

In order to utilize their existing resources better, pharma should actively engage in listening and understanding what patients truly need in their journey towards health. Lipinski indicates that, “Once you have collected opinions directly from patients, other spending can decrease accordingly - or even be avoided.” Engaging patients in the process of developing much-needed pharma solutions is, therefore, seen as one way to save money by creating more successful clinical trials that lead to better treatments. Ultimately, this cuts costs for the health system, as well as ensures loyal customers - facilitating long-term profitability of pharma products and services. “I am convinced,” says Lipinski, “that the early investment in patient engagement and interaction will save money in the long run, like prevention measures or vaccinations do.”

From salespeople to sales service teams

A change in company culture and internal buy-in are perhaps the most important elements that can guarantee holistic and honest integration of patient focus. Lipinski agrees: “Patient-centric is probably more a question of culture than of training.” The confidence to own such a change is one of the biggest obstacles to truly engaging in steps that will ensure patient-focused profitability. “Being patient-centric is like being pregnant or not,” says Lipinski. “Either you are or you aren’t.”

According to Gerow, an option to consider in order to address the missing link between pharma and patients, is the creation of a new patient service team. This role is responsible for delivering patient services along with patient-focused messages rather than product messages.

With the right combination of sales and service teams, you can significantly improve profitability and consequently increase the cost-effectiveness of patient-focused efforts. This will require a shift in your traditional approach to marketing. Gerow warns, “You need to hire different people if you really want to change your model. To change the approach to a patient service channel, we have shown time and again that you need a different profile.”

If you get the people right, the patient services, and the right frequency then you have a channel that can deliver above average results at costs that the industry has not seen.

Creating a patient focused channel with a service team has demonstrated impact across the brand lifecycle. It can seem counterintuitive to many sales and marketing leaders, but once they see the evidence from their first pilot, they are convinced that it works.” Lipinski agrees, stating “Patient engagement is not always expensive. It is a matter of willingness and time to do so.”

Confident leadership

With globalized businesses and outsourced business units, aligning the patient-focused approach is even more challenging, but nonetheless worth pursuing. “Change is hard, even when it is the right thing to do for the patient and the business,” says Gerow. “Every market thinks they are different, but in, reality, we have far more similarities than differences. I would pilot new models and transfer the learning across the globe.” The possibility of a global patient-focused system has the potential to make the change more effective, less costly, and much quicker for the global pharma industry.

Overall, patient focus can generate immense opportunities for pharma to further its business goals. However, it needs confident leadership that has the courage to drive the change. “If you get the people right, the patient services, and the right frequency then you have a channel that can deliver above average results at costs that the industry has not seen,” says Gerow.

Smart utilization of resources, frequent and comprehensive engagement with stakeholders and training of employees are creating the opportunity for pharma to reach the sweet spot between patient and business needs for the first time. The reality is, according to Lipinski, that within the pharma industry, “Everybody is able to create patient relevant value. Sharing the reality of people living with a severe condition and experiencing their gratitude for interest and assistance is so inspiring that there is a high probability that everybody will become even more motivated to strive for better patient outcomes.” 

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