3 Impressive Innovations in Pharmaceutical Service Delivery
In recent years, pharmaceutical companies have come under a lot of criticism for not giving enough consideration to the end users of their products – the patients – and instead prioritising the bottom line. Since pharma spend extremely large amounts of money to develop and market their products, there often arises the conflict between the need to push the drug to make a sale and the broader goal of providing holistic care for patients. To solve this conundrum, a number of companies have come up with creative innovations to enable the pharma industry to refocus their attention and resources towards efforts that meet the true needs of patients, develop closer relationships with their clients, and regain trust in the industry.
I have interviewed hundreds of people within the pharma industry about some of these exciting initiatives. For me, however, three stand out from the crowd:
Orchestrated Customer Engagement (OCE) (Richie Etwaru, Chief Digital Officer IMS Health):
This communications model, developed by the research company IMS Health, recognises that most of the dissatisfaction levelled towards pharmaceutical companies can be traced to having a poor internal and external communications strategy. As large corporations, pharma companies consist of numerous internal divisions such as sales, marketing, and R&D. All of these departments have to communicate with each other (internally), as well as with external stakeholders.
The aim of the OCE model is to ensure that all departments share information internally and coordinate their individual external communication so that they don’t present their stakeholders (and especially their customers) with conflicting information. If the communications strategy is uncoordinated, the marketing department could inadvertently market a drug as a cure for a certain ailment before the R&D department has given confirmation, creating a situation where the clients (justifiably) believe that the company is engaging in dishonest advertising. OCE ensures that such a situation is avoided.
OCE goes beyond simply coordinating a company’s communications strategy. It also increases a company’s competitiveness by ensuring that information is shared on a real-time basis between all of the internal company divisions. The model takes into account that all internal company divisions have access to information that could be beneficial to the rest of the company. The pharmaceutical representatives, who are in charge of sales, could have valuable client feedback that would enable the R&D department to develop products that are tailored to their client’s needs. The sales team can also identify untapped market segments that could be targeted by the marketing team. This is why an integral part of OCE deployment includes the need to have a centralised data storage system that allows the entire organisation to access valuable information from all departments. OCE bolsters a company’s ability to innovate by providing universal internal data access that enables each department to collaborate smoothly with the rest of the company.
The heavy emphasis on the bottom line rewards pharmaceutical sales representatives for their lucrative financial performance, making it easy for many pharma members to lose their focus on the patient. Another complaint that has thus been levelled towards pharmaceutical companies has been the perceived unethical practices in which sale reps engage in. Health care providers, including dispensing pharmacists, now perceive sales reps as people who are only out to make a sale and are therefore not to be trusted. In a bid to re-establish the trust between pharmaceutical companies and their clients, Jill Donahue co-created the Engage Rx training program, which is a 15-module course that teaches pharma members to evaluate their thinking and behaviour within their respective jobs and rediscover how they can contribute towards the health outcomes of patients.
Engage Rx recognises that most actively employed sales reps, as well as many other members of the organisation, do not have the time to commit themselves to full-time studies and, therefore, the company sends training videos and notes to its learners on a daily basis. Each day’s lesson is designed to require only 15 minutes of study time, which does not interfere with the learner’s work schedules, making achieving the end goal more plausible and the learning outcomes more long lasting. Engage RX uses mobile phones as the education delivery platform to empower and inspire employees into making a difference in patient’s’ lives. The lessons are designed to produce purpose-driven individuals who will engage in ethical behaviour and make a sincere effort in building long-term relationships based on mutual trust. With patient-focused members, Engage Rx introduces innovation into the organisational culture and makes patient-focused growth possible for any pharmaceutical firm.
While Engage Rx focuses on training and education, and the OCE model focuses on integrating an organisation’s communications strategy, another company has taken a different approach to enhancing innovation in pharmaceutical companies by establishing an innovation ranking system. The company, IDEA Pharma, has established the Productive Innovation Index, which ranks pharmaceutical companies in terms of their innovativeness.
IDEA Pharma has been producing an annual index for the last six years. Rather than the traditional subjective measurement metrics such as a company’s sales revenue, the index distinguishes itself by using measurements of innovation, such as the company’s ability to minimise a new drug’s attrition rate (especially during Phase III of clinical trials), ability to acquire regulatory approval, speed in moving a new drug from the development stage into the market, and reimbursement rates.
A positive testament to this innovative approach has seen smaller pharmaceutical companies being recognised for their leadership in innovation; in their most recent 2016 rankings, the only ‘established’ pharmaceutical company in their top 3 is Johnson & Johnson, with Takeda Pharmaceuticals (Japan), and Novo Nordisk (Denmark) also gaining well-deserved recognition. Ultimately, the Index celebrates the companies that are able to work around the clinical, regulatory, legal, and manufacturing limitations to make the best out of the compounds they discover and create an innovative drug profile that meets the diverse yet specific needs of patients. Moreover, the Index is a terrific document for revealing how the drive for innovation differs from company to company, and recognising how innovation can historically improve within the same company.
While I have focused on three companies’ efforts to boost innovation in the pharmaceutical industry, there are numerous other examples that use innovative solutions to shift the focus from the traditional shareholder oriented model to a more customer oriented model. Innovation will not only enable pharmaceutical companies to work more efficiently as organisations, but also to improve their understanding of their patients’ needs, rebuild trust, put more life-saving and timely products into the market, and make any patient-focused initiative work much more successfully.