My last post was all about the value of respecting your customers, particularly if you are an airline, and was based upon my terrible experience with Turkish Airlines. To complete that article I should add that my experience with Turkish Airlines continued to be bad including during the flight with some of the most inedible food I’ve ever attempted to eat, old airplanes with seats that did not recline properly and grumpy crew. My holiday itself however was awesome 🙂
As I looked back at this article though I thought it also worthwhile to add my opinion on respecting your customers in the pharmaceutical industry. For too long this industry has been very self-centered and not particularly focused on customers, especially patients (who I also include as customers). Of course the industry is “plagued” by regulation which has made it harder to be as customer centric per se as many other industries. We all know by now that the end of the blockbuster era and the patent cliff ushered in huge change and a shift in thinking for the industry but we are still not where we should be.
So why are we still not as customer centric as we could be? Regulation is often one of the first reasons bandied about for this … “we can’t talk directly to our patients” or “we can’t do that because of regulatory restrictions”. Very often this is however just an excuse. We can still be customer centric and comply with regulations. For starters many patients do not want to hear promotional messages about pharma products anyway so even if we could bombard them with product branded marketing this would still be pharma and not customer centric.
Even where we can do promotion for it to be most effective it should be targeted and try to provide some value to the customer. What is it that a physician needs or wants to hear about? If we develop content – promotional or not – with the customer in mind then we generally see far greater results than if we just stubbornly try to force our message down their throats.
Coming back to the regulatory side of things though I do also believe that it is time regulators also become more customer centric, particularly towards patients. Whist I do not support a US style DTC promotion I also believe that the pharma industry sits on a large swathe of data that would be highly valuable and beneficial to patients, and HCPs. Much of this data is never made available to patients – in part because of compliance but also in part because of the “fear” of regulation and legal action. Counter this with the number of misinformation that patients now have access to online I think there needs to be a change in thinking in how we communicate and share information online. I firmly believe that as an industry (both pharma & regulators) we have a duty of care to make sure that patients have access to accurate, reliable information. We need to drown out the misinformation, and make sure that the correct information is coming in at the top of Google searches, and not hidden away a few pages in.
A second issue is that whilst many patients may never want to know the data, or indeed even understand it, there is a growing number of active and educated patients that do want more information. The informed patient wants to have the data so that they can make their own decisions concerning their healthcare. The days when we as patients blindly trusted what our doctors told us are diminishing. As a patient who has experienced misinformation coming from a specialist, in my case an endocrinologist who told me that the symptoms form my un-managed Hashimoto’s were all in my head, I firmly believe in the movement of the informed patient and the need for patients to be more active in their healthcare. Had I relied on that endocrinologist, and not actively sought my own answers, I doubt I would be here now writing this post as I would probably have either been too depressed or died of heart complications due to over-medication in an attempt to reduce my symptoms.
I think it is high time that all those involved in the healthcare system start to respect patients as decision makers and work together to support the informed patient. How can we make all that data that pharma sits on, that may have no commercial value to the organisation btw, available in a digestible and understandable format for patients. Pharma often has the money and resources to turn the data into content and disseminate it but may not be allowed to – or may not have the incentive to. Much of that data may also have a public health benefit so one could also argue that pharma should not shoulder the burden of dissemination alone. Pharma companies at the end of the day are businesses and if they are not profitable they will go under and that also does not benefit patients.
There are many more questions but there also numerous answers. For starters pharma can start to work more closely with patient associations. Why is it that for many pharma companies the patient advocacy department, if there even is one, is only made up of one or two people?! Whilst we have huge brand teams focused on marketing to HCPs the number of headcount that is focused on patients is tiny by comparison. Pharma really needs to start ramping up in this area.
In turn though regulators may also need to re-assess that pharma patient partnership model. Not all diseases have a patient association but there may be online groups and individual patient experts. How was can facilitate partnerships here for the benefit of all parties? How can we all work together to find a model that supports patients, is compliant but also does not bankrupt pharma? I think the answer lies in the question … we need to all work together! We need to start talking more to patients, and include regulators in those discussions. We need to put patients firmly in the center of the equation, along with HCPs. We need to not only start listening more but also start being more active in driving the change needed to do this. Only then will we start to see an industry that is truly respecting its customers and meeting their needs.
Last week I posted about my need to purchase a new laptop and my excitement about the release of the new Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book. I am now travelling weekly and really need to invest in a more portable shiny new laptop or tablet/laptop mix and having done my research I decided that I absolutely have to have the new Surface Book. It ticks all of my boxes in that it is a powerful laptop, is far more portable than my current 18″ big boy, runs Windows (my current tablet doesn’t that well), and can work as a tablet with the keyboard providing the extra battery life and oomph to give you a full day’s work (like my current tablet) – and of course it looks shiny. OMG I want this shiny toy!!! I had heard of the announcement and whilst I really need a new laptop immediately I waited until October 6th as knew Microsoft would make an announcement and there it was – my new desire. Whilst the Surface Pro 4 also looks great it doesn’t quite hit the Book in my opinion. I was so very excited!
You can then imagine my displeasure when the next couple of days there was still no mention of a release date for Europe. To me this seems very odd – in today’s global age why would you only announce for the US and not the ROW? Then my displeasure turned to horror as I found out that Microsoft probably won’t be releasing in Europe until sometime next year – with the vague mention of somewhere between January and March (which to me suggests it will probably be more likely to be March). OMG NOOOOO!!! How could this be?! How could a global company not be selling in Europe?! How could Microsoft get my hopes, and other laptop seekers like @Ubermarketer, so excited and then dash our hopes so cruelly?! Like myself @Ubermarketer needs a laptop now – not sometime next year! Microsoft is making us have to make the painful choice of either waiting 6 months or going with another brand – when we know our desired new shiny toy is already out there but just out of our reach.
Naturally I turned to Twitter to vent my pain and anger. I tweeted @microsofthelps to beg for help. I really need that new Surface Book laptop could they please help me? Pretty please? They responded pretty promptly with a lovely tweet asking how they could help. When I told them they forwarded my tweet to @SurfaceSupport who responded with what looked like suspiciously like an automated response sending me to the US online shop. I responded that I was not in the US (as already mentioned in my previous tweets with @Microsofthelps) – could they help? They then responded asking me where I was in Europe – I replied in Switzerland and the UK (I am British but live in Switzerland) and that I would travel anywhere in Europe to get my hands on the Surface Book – that is how much I want one!! Now of course I realise that that may not be ideal as I want a UK (or at least a US) keyboard not a German, French, or other language one.
So now I wait. Anxiously. Checking my twitter every 30 minutes. Hoping. Praying. Will they have a solution for me? Will they be able to help me in my desperate plight to get my hands on a Surface Book this year? My heart is beating with anticipation and nervousness. What will they reply? What this space to find out …..