The Indian Pharmaceutical Industry - At a turning point with Digital Technology

Rajaram Sankaran, Director- Strategy & Business Development, Established Pharmaceuticals - Abbott, India Region | Wednesday, 23 August 2017, 09:07 IST

The Indian Healthcare sector is continuously evolving, with several factors impacting the market. Over the last few years, market dynamics have altered significantly. The pace of changes, at times making the market appear volatile, has increased exponentially. Many will call it a much - delayed yet necessary phase of consolidation, where the fittest and most efficient eventually survive.

Certain factors have played a major role in influencing these dynamics. The Government of India is working on making health care and medicines more accessible to people. The ‘Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana’ is one such campaign launched by the Department of Pharmaceuticals to provide quality medicines at affordable prices to the masses.

There are some other significant factors that also need to be taken into account. First, the Indian pharmaceutical market is forecasted to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.0 percent between 2016 and 2021, reaching Rs.1,982.6 billion by 2021 (Source: IMS Market Prognosis 2017-2021, published in March’17)

Second, the digital health "revolution" appears to be well under way. With the rise in digital health platforms for physicians and patients owing to which a vast majority of physicians believe that adopting digital health tools will improve their ability to care for their patients. At the same time, the average time spent by a Medical representative in a doctor's chamber (especially with specialists), has reduced. Hence engaging with doctors needs to be innovative, meaningful, precise and fact based.

Also, the Patient’s rapid transition to become a Customer is a new development. This essentially means that the end user is more informed now. The patient journey is digitally powered right from new symptoms, know how, doctor appointments, diagnosis, treatment selection, condition management and final treatment options. Successful websites DrEd, PatientsLikeMe, and ZocDoc are just three examples of this trend.

There is immense competition for the doctor’s mind space, with this increasing awareness amongst patients, coupled with a competitive landscape. The challenge for any company is to ensure that its brand stands out amongst others.

While competencies like state of art manufacturing facilities, a great supply chain, and excellent distribution system, customer relationships will continue to be core necessities; these will no longer be differentiating factors.

In this situation, a critical enabler which has great potential, and has not been used to its full capability by organizations in the Pharmaceutical Industry, is Technology and Digital Media.

There are several examples from other In­dustries which validate the fact that technology can bridge the accessibility and awareness gap for any sector. The Indian Railways is one such example. Earlier peo­ple would queue up for sev­eral hours to book tickets, whereas now tickets can be booked online for several sectors if required. Use of social me­dia to am­plify personal achievements or milestones is another such example.

Similarly, technology can be utilized to help information reach doctors and patients in an optimum manner, beyond just personal connect.

Digital presence of brands will be very important to ensure that they are available through physical as well as digital channels, if they are in OTC/OTX segment.

A 2016 estimate suggests that in India, there is a shortage of 500,000 doctors with only one doctor per 1674 patients. (Source- Hindustan Times)

Today there are several Doctor-Patient online connect platforms and this makes up for the absence of doctors. The Government is also planning to start a helpline for patients to connect with doctors, but this is in the planning stage as of now. Several companies are already equipped with a Unique Doctor database which helps them understand where the focus on doctors can be improved demographically. Technology can also help reach rural doctors and subsequently patients, thus improving the dissemination of key medical insights. Similarly, there are several apps, recommended by doctors, which help patients manage chronic diseases.

Abbott in India has a dedicated Digital & Technology taskforce which focuses on aspects of CRM, Customer Experience & Insights, Mobility, Digital Innovation leading to Business Effectiveness. The Company emphasizes on a strong CRM platform for the field force and a knowledge portal for doctors to provide best in class, updated scientific content. The data received from these platforms can be analyzed and used for further improvements in the system and eventually for patient care.

There is tremendous scope to innovate and opportunities for growth taking into account these tools and new emerging technologies. Organizations must also lay emphasis on ”Digital Trust” by protecting the customer data and ensuring that digital ethics and cyber security norms are maintained at all times.

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