Tuesday, April 10, 2007

High time to permit Pharma DTC product promotion in India


India is on the throes of radical socio-economic change. Globalization, liberalization (both economic restructuring and social liberalization) and the telecom – internet revolution are transforming lives of Indians. Liberal social attitudes born out of better communication and understanding is leading to dramatic changes in terms of dating, friendships, marriages and conduct of business. The entrepreneurial culture is gaining more steam in India. Credit availability is boosting business prospects. India is shining!?

Writing in The Times of India, 7.4.2007, in the Times wellness section, Dr. B Ramana Rao, a leading light physician of Bangalore, with a roaring practice, has written some revolutionary lines on the changing paradigm of healthcare in India. The writings were on the occasion of World Health Day (7.4.2007). Dr. Ramana Rao writes: ‘Health is no longer just a matter of preventing infections. Health is no longer in the custody of medical professionals alone’. He goes on to elaborate that the community as a whole is a stakeholder in health.

Another important trend in India – the world’s capital for outsourcing activities - is the rocking growth of ‘medical tourism’. The private healthcare sector is positioned as a tourist attraction. The medical tourism market is pegged at Rs. 1200 crores with a growth of 30%. And leading light doctors like Dr. Aniruddha Malpani MD, IVF specialist, Malpani Infertility Clinic contends patients from the West have high expectations from doctors. The medical tourism sector is attractive through its fast treatment with modern technologies (no long waiting lines as in the West); ayurveda, naturopathy, English speaking staff, and low costs. For eg. liver transplant in USA costs USD 3,00,000 while in India it is 69000 USD. Heart surgery costs 30000 USD in USA, while in India its 8000 USD. Thus the focus in India is to have a world class Pharma – medical sector.

Dr. C J Thakkar, a leading joint replacement surgeon at Leelavati, Sion, Mumbai says: ‘Medical tourism is like - buy a bucket and get a mug free! This is like fix the knee and also send the patient to Goa for a holiday to help recuperate faster!!’

So how can we summarize some of the current trends in the Indian society?

India is moving up the global ladder, there is a more market savvy behavior of businesses, open society, liberal attitudes, and fast access to world class information through the telecom revolution, greater patient empowerment, consumer protection act extended to Indian patients and integration of Indian medical sector with the global market.

DTC in Pharma promotion

The current Pharma marketing communication scene in India is communication through MRs and advertisements in medical journals. DTC (direct to consumer) product promotion is prohibited for Sch. H and Sch. X drugs. In India, the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954 controls the advertisements and DTC product promotion. In USA and New Zealand, DTC Pharma promotion is a big avenue of ‘mar-com’ activity. In India, DTC promotion is mainly in the sphere of social marketing ie on family planning initiatives, health awareness, and hygiene and disease awareness. DTC product promotion is permitted for Ayurvedic proprietary medicines. ‘DTC therapy advertising’ has worked wonders for homeopathy. As per reports in Economic Times, a business daily, the organized homeopathy market is worth Rs. 630 crores with branded players such as Baksons, Dr. Batra’s, SBL and Schwabe India slugging it out. Therapy DTC advertising has worked the magic in market building for homeopathy.

Another factor that has restricted the growth of DTC Pharma promotion in India is the need for prescription secrecy by doctors. As such, doctors do not prescribe ‘popular brands’ and prefer to prescribe those that enjoy unfamiliarity with patient population. However, this scenario is changing with the trends of an open society, liberal attitudes, and fast access to world class information through the telecom - internet revolution, greater patient empowerment, and consumer protection act extended to Indian patients and integration of Indian medical sector with the global market.

In short, it is high time and the ripe time for Pharma DTC product promotion for the following reasons:

Ø Open society and liberal attitudes
Ø Fast access to world class information through the telecom - internet revolution
Ø Greater patient empowerment
Ø Consumer protection act extended to Indian patients
Ø Integration of Indian medical sector with the global market
Ø DTC Pharma product promotion will enhance disease awareness and ensure patients will seek right medical help. The social objective of Health for All will be achieved faster. Even leading doctors contend that health is not just the medical professionals’ responsibility
Ø Ayurvedic proprietary medicines find a place in DTC Pharma product promotion. So why not extend to all types of medications?
Ø DTC Pharma product promotion will enhance disease awareness, therapy promotion and thus will create an ecosystem of empowered patients who will seek the appropriate health management opportunities.

Pharma DTC product promotion is a big subject and big business too with positive ramifications for healthcare from society’s perspective and the Pharma marketers’ angle. Pharma DTC product promotion has promise and useful contributions to make for India’s health goals.


blogvikas said...

Its an excellent thought to go DTC in pharma. But with the laws not permitting DTC advertising, its still a distant dream. Wat r the diffenent ways available to go DTC.

Sunil S Chiplunkar said...

Good start blogvikas - I visited your blog (360 degrees).

One can do disease awareness advertising and some surrogate advertising for a brand (like 'information courtesy brand X').

Ambrish said...

Hello, nice to go thr the blog and thoughts shared on your page.

Related to DTC and educational promotion in India, there exists a large opportunity for private players to take this responsibility of informing the public/patients on the disease and treatment, etc...to ultimately get a better market penetration..What say?

Sunil S Chiplunkar said...

Dear Ambrish:
It is a win-win approach. This will help society and the marketer. With the development of social media a new dimension is now added to healthcare conversations. It is not just marketer to customer but also between customers.