Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Patient-centric communication

The above image from here (click here)! 

The ever expanding pharmaceutical industry in India has seen several phases of activity:
a) MR-centric era: Medical Representatives were appointed who carried the product message, samples and other collaterals (including compliments) to generate business...more MRs = more business!
This went on for some time...then the...doctor - centric era came up...
b) Pharma companies used the MR network and customer service executives to go beyond messaging.  Doctors were/are pampered with freebies, sponsorships and deals to prescribe the target brands.
Now with social media going strong, and the Govt. of India looking down with a frown at current doctor-centric pharmaceutical marketing practices (UCPMP or the Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practice is now becoming a priority policy for the Govt. of India), a slow momentum towards an era of patient-centric communication is taking shape.
There are several factors contributing to this trend:
POLITICAL: the central government is imposing price ceilings through NPPA (National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority) and putting curbs on adventurous marketing practices through: UCPMP.  The Union Central Government and state governments are giving shape and enforcing generic name prescriptions by doctors.  Jan Aushadi or generic drug stores concept is being given a fillip by the governments (state and central).
ECONOMIC: inflation pressure is on top of mind of policy makers, hence, they are actively working to put a ceiling on pharmaceutical formulations.
SOCIAL: In urban and semi-urban areas, social media, electronic media and internet (particularly mobile internet) is providing a link between patients and information on medicines.  Thus, the slow but sure process of empowering patients or patient care givers on unbranded generics and branded generics is a work-in-process trend in society.
TECHNOLOGICAL: the information revolution is not only here to stay, IT is revolutionizing information dispersal, way of diagnosis, and patient-doctor interactions.  As mobile internet penetrates faster and faster and various mobile apps get invented, it will put the power of choice in the patient's hands.  In months to come, patients will compare brand prices real-time of various pharmaceutical formulations and make their purchasing choice, with or without consulting their doctor.  For doctors, retaining patients and obtaining word-of-mouth through satisfied patients is critical, hence, they will certainly go with what is ideal for the patient, rather than pharmaceutical companies.
ENVIRONMENTAL: the herbal ayurvedic trend is gaining traction with every passing day.  The humongous growth of Patanjali is a case to study.  With this environmental friendly products will have an added attraction with patients.
LEGAL: there are legal hurdles of full fledged communication including advertising of prescription only drugs to patients.  However, there are means of communicating through doctors to patients:
Example 1: Assume a doctor prescribes Glycomet to a patient (after taking the patient's permission).  The doctor enters patient's email id and mobile number into the computer.  The computer automatically updates this information to the pharmaceutical company server. 
The company server through it's software starts sending sms reminder for dosage alerts, and other tips for managing disease, drug side effects etc.
Example 2: On purchase of a box or strip of Ramistar, the patient is encouraged by pharmacist retailer to give a missed call to the company's special number for patients.  After this, the call center rings up the patient, collects basic contact details and then starts various messaging systems such as dosage alert sms, whatsapp based infographics, educational videos through whatsapp etc.
Example 3: A call center number on the product pack or in the advertising poster placed in the patient waiting area of the clinic - will encourage the patient to use IVRS and gain interesting information on his disease and disease management.
Example 4: The pharmaceutical company organizes in co-ordination with doctors various patient education and entertainment (with fun games etc) on disease and disease management.  This helps patients manage their disease better (eg., depression), bond with their doctor and build their morale for obtaining better health outcomes.
Example 5: Prescriber enrolls his patient to subscribe a disease management monthly health magazine (print or e-magazine) from the pharmaceutical company.  The patient receives this magazine through courier and learns a healthy way of disease management.  For instance LIVE WELL WITH RAMACE can be the title of a monthly magazine for the patient.  This magazine can provide health tips, hypertension and kidney health management articles etc.
Example 6: Patients can be encouraged by the product pack or by the prescriber to follow the brand on facebook or twitter
Example 7: Patient can register at the product website and obtain informational emails etc.
Example 8: Patient can register for free BMD (Bone Mineral Density) test...with his personal details, and once a prescriber starts his calcium medication, the brand marketer can engage with the patient through email, whatsapp and sms to ensure patient stays on course with the medication.
Why patient-centric communication?
The current environment is such that doctors are under a cloud for alleged over-prescribing and pharmaceutical marketers are also getting negative press for doctor oriented services. Patients are also fed with a steady dose of such stories in the press/social media.  The central and state governments are also putting pressure for ensuring sale and consumption of affordable unbranded generics. 

Hence, the way out for pharmaceutical brand marketers is to build trust and reputation through an integrated communication approach - involving prescribers and patients.  Hence, patient-centric communication strategy is the need of the hour in Indian pharmaceutical communication and marketing practice.

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