Remote doctor consultation

The future of pharmaceutical product launches after COVID-19

  • 7 mins read
Rob Verheul
by Rob Verheul
Managing Director

Graphite's Managing Director and a BIMA 100 winner. Also on the BIMA Young Talent Council, which is focused on creating a pipeline of future innovators in all areas of digital.

Published on Monday 27th July 2020

What might future pharmaceutical product launches look like after COVID-19? 

While a potential vaccine has dominated the headlines, there are other products still in the pipeline which are yet to see the light of day. Without the direct, in-person access to Healthcare Professionals (HCPs) that pharma reps usually thrive on, organisations are pivoting their efforts to digital in order to help HCPs understand how their patients can benefit from their available products. In this post we look at the current challenges and opportunities that moving to a primarily digital experience can bring to the pharma sales and education process.

Pharmaceutical and life sciences companies have been thrust into the limelight since COVID-19 hit globally, and the eyes of the world are on which of them might emerge with a vaccine first. The prize is far beyond money; it includes international brand recognition and political acclaim, like never before. However, it is worth remembering that many other pharmaceutical products have launched during the pandemic, new indications have been approved and clinical trial results have been published.

As an agency with a specialism in the design of digital HCP experiences and having worked in the space for over a decade, we thought we’d share our reflections on the challenges companies are facing today, and focus on some of the opportunities amid this disruption.

Challenges today - restricted access to HCP’s throughout the pandemic

Access to HCPs has always been a challenge. HCPs have always been time-poor and rightly focused on patient care. This means that it is almost impossible in many territories for sales representatives to find an appropriate time to sit down with HCPs and have a lengthy discussion.

Now, the requirements for social distancing have been added to the mix, and many sales representatives have been furloughed or have limited access to care facilities and therefore HCPs. Some sales representatives are being offered digital tools to connect with potential customers without the necessary training to form digitally-enabled relationships. 

Access to HCPs now may be completely open or completely closed - depending on how their therapy area is working (or not working) at this time. HCP’s have not traditionally been known for tech connectivity and may well be unreachable via traditional methods or quick to dismiss offers of a video call to connect and talk about a new product. In many instances they might also be relying on technology that has been provided by their workplace, sometimes locked down in order to enhance patient data confidentiality. 

Virtual meeting with HCP

COVID-19 has created an opportunity to focus on the drive for better digital experiences

For many pharmaceutical and life sciences brands, digital has been a core part of their customer journey for many years. For others this hasn’t been the case and this situation has made creating effective digital experiences and journeys a new priority, particularly in the HCP engagement space where an over-reliance on traditional communications has left the sector lagging behind in many markets.

The situation has inspired Marketing Managers to be more creative and bold, fuelling conversations with regulatory colleagues to explore new designs and technologies in order to achieve their goals. 

The pandemic has created a moment for pharma companies to reflect on the methods and processes that have been employed for decades. They now have an opportunity to discover whether these processes can be changed in order to increase speed and reduce time to market for content and experiences that will enable the sales function to continue to flourish and do what it does best - get treatments into the hands of HCPs that can improve their patients lives.

Doctor prescribing medicine

How to approach creating a digital experience for a pharma product?

Rarely is there a ‘one size fits all’ digital product. Needs can vary wildly per product and per HCP prescriber - on lines including therapy area to geographical location and seniority to budgets and even the way that procurement functions in that territory.

It is key to frame the problem correctly - through the eyes of the customer (in this case the HCP), not the eyes of the business. We recently joined a webinar in which Erasmus Holm, CMO and Digital Transformation Lead (Nordics and Baltics) at MSD shared his thoughts, and we couldn’t put it any better:

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“Don’t launch products, launch experiences. Design experiences first, and work backwards to the products.”

Increasingly, brands are looking to create customer experience ‘value’, more so than ‘volume’ - i.e. achieving clinical results reliably, through an integrated approach where the overall care that the patient receives is prized, rather than a focus on selling more pills. Experience, particularly digital experience, has a large role to play here; where technologies can augment the value proposition of products and help business move truly ‘beyond the pill’. Technologies can create lasting improvements through lifestyle changes and improved adherence to protocols, as well as helping HCPs to manage their patient care remotely or collect clinical trial data in more accurate ways.

Doctor using mobile

Where to begin when launching a new digital experience for a pharma product?

  • Understanding your target audience - it’s essential to understand who you are talking to. HCPs are people too - responding to emotional and logical needs, which can be supported through information and technology. By grounding your approach in understanding their context; you’ll achieve a greater outcome. HCPs also have the same high expectations as every other customer does when it comes to the quality of their digital interactions with businesses. Your HCP experience is being compared with everything else they do online. For many businesses this makes them look less innovative and responsive to customer needs than they would like. 

  • Align the technology to the value proposition - rather than letting the technology lead the solution, seek to provide the information in a way that is sympathetic to the technology and experience. In short - don’t just take a copy sales aid leaflet and paste the content onto a website. Context is vital - always consider how the HCP will interact with the tool or resources that you are providing. Will they be in a hospital elevator moving between appointments or sat in a consultation with the patient in front of them - how can we make finding what they need in that moment as frictionless as possible? 

  • Bring regulatory departments on the journey - your digital experience is not going to launch unless regulatory, legal, medical and compliance teams understand what you’re trying to do, how this solution will achieve this and the risks. Bring them in early and often, seek their input and work to find solutions that reduce risk and improve the customer experience.

  • Test and learn, remaining agile - don’t expect this solution to be a panacea. There will be test cases that need to be learned from. Create focussed KPIs and ensure you evaluate what works. Talk to HCPs little and often and find out what works for them and what doesn’t. Drive your feature development around their needs and we are confident that you’ll not only have more satisfied customers but you will save money by not developing tools that your customers never wanted or needed in the first place.

How can Graphite help?

Graphite has worked with pharmaceutical and life sciences businesses for over ten years to rapidly design and develop innovative digital customer experiences.

We are digital natives with a deep knowledge of the complexities of working in the pharmaceutical regulatory environment, as well as the innovation opportunities open to multiple sectors and industries.

Get in touch via the form below to discuss how we can help you with: User Research & Testing, Digital CX Strategy, Rapid Prototyping and CX Technology.

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