Stefi Rucci, Say Communications: New horizons for pharma

The pharmaceutical industry is having to reinvent itself in a changing healthcare environment

We are witnessing an irreversible shift in power from the clinical prescriber to a wider cast of purchasing influencers. The pharmaceutical industry is having to reinvent its role in the healthcare pathway. For healthcare communicators and marketers, this presents a pivotal opportunity to help define the industry's strategic relationships.

Boundaries are blurring between those who commission, prescribe and direct policy, while pharma's traditional sales and marketing model is becoming dated. Diminishing access to clinicians for product detailing, escalating R&D costs and generic threats motivate pharma's quest for new, foolproof ways to bring treatments to market. There is also the growing complexity in making treatment decisions for patients.

A profusion of protocols, clinical guidelines and advances in medical technology are pulling clinicians in different directions. Perhaps, in the era of NICE and world class commissioning, we should ask: who is the real prescriber now? Decisions that affect local formularies (lists of drugs available to purchase) are increasingly made far from the consulting room.

The industry is having to adapt; yet, surprisingly, many pharma companies have been slow to refocus their sales and marketing model. The good news is this offers an outstanding opportunity for marketers and communicators to prove their worth, as well as for pharma to reinvent its relationship with the NHS and other critical stakeholders.

As communicators, much of our expertise is in informing clinicians, facilitating the uptake of new ideas and treatments, and using education as the main currency for engagement. This approach can be adapted to non-clinical audiences. If we can grasp the nettle and go back to the basics of putting customer needs first, we will help the pharmaceutical industry move forward and redefine itself as an essential, symbiotic partner in the healthcare pathway.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry's recent launch of four key priorities - trust, innovation, value and access - is a sign that it is beginning to commit to this. Engagement propositions must not be one-off ‘sweeteners' or short-term sales-driven initiatives. They must be for the long haul, with a realistic expectation about short-term return on investment.

A broader concept of value and ROI that includes qualitative measurements is necessary. Relationships are not defined by numbers. The degree of insight these relationships allow, the opportunities for further engagement and the gradual development of ‘trust' should be measures of success.

Opportunities for collaboration outside product-focused activities range from sharing pharma's own expertise in business - for example, with foundation trusts hungry for business skills - to helping to assess disease burden and impact on quality of life of a clinical or social policy intervention. What can we add to our armoury of comms tools? Stakeholder mapping and engagement, strategic consultancy, and identifying leverage points and opportunities for co-operation with NHS organisations should no longer be the exclusive tools of market access teams.

Perhaps the toughest challenge for pharma is to shed the ‘silo mentality' that prevails in many companies.

Consider two key drivers for change. First, the growing complexity of the payer/prescriber/user relationship demands more comprehensive arguments and integrated messages. Second, in rewriting the template for engagement with the NHS, it is critical to share insight, experience and best practice with colleagues at all company levels.

The opportunity has never been greater for the industry to stake its claim in the new healthcare pathway.

Views in Brief

You're in charge of the NHS for the day. What one change would you make?

Streamline the number of NHS programmes, task forces, strategies and plans
that seem to issue almost daily from the Government. In some health sectors
there is overlap between initiatives, making it really difficult to navigate the
system. There's also far too much jargon and addiction to acronyms.

Tell us about an unsung hero in healthcare

Emergency medicine teams. I admire their ability to make quick, tough decisions and save lives in extremely testing circumstances.

Stefi Rucci is a director at Say Communications

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