Showing posts with label Health. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Health. Show all posts

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ambrosia for food, Palm-top engagement, Iterative decision making – A preview into evolving expectations of the healthcare consumer

Understanding consumer preferences has always been of paramount importance in most product segments. Within the pharmaceutical domain however even as there’s a constant ideation, speculation on future of healthcare; outlook on disease incidence, burden and pharmaceutical consumption patterns, this particular aspect has not been focused on, possibly owing to the prescriptive nature of the medicine where decision-making seldom lies with the patient & the power to influence product development lies more with the medical professionals & payers. To an extent this disengagement of consumer does justify the disinterest of Industry to understanding the consumer as against understanding the prescriber & the payer/ insurer.

Having said that, a number of disorders these days are getting close to being categorized as lifestyle-diseases & with early detection, diagnosis and routine monitoring getting simpler, it’s only imminent that the insurer will increasingly resort to rationalizing what treatment-regimens can be covered thus significantly shifting the onus of payment to consumer. Then again, owing to the abundance of open-source information and availability of validated healthcare gamification apps, the consumer is getting more knowledgeable & hence empowered. Seen together, these trends indicate that the average pharmaceutical consumer is well poised to be the key decision-maker on therapeutic choices, particularly on maintenance therapies that form a predominant portion (vis-à-vis’ the curative therapies) of all pharmaceutical revenues.

It also hence would not be overtly speculative to state that the hitherto quintessential practitioner-dependent healthcare consumer is evolving quick & is looking at an iterative role for her/ him-self rather than merely wanting to being ‘prescribed health’, literally & figuratively. Continued negligence of factoring-in consumer behaviour in the product development process can thus be a serious lapse of judgement in an industry that’s been groping around for the next paradigm shift for a few years now.

The Health 2025 survey I floated in early July is a token attempt to gain some basic perspective into the altering behaviour of an ‘aware pharmaceutical consumer’ which I hope either in its promise OR in its inadequacy will instigate more such studies in-depth and at a larger scale. While I can’t claim to have gotten a great number of responses, I fortunately received quality responses (& some incidental endorsement*) as indicated by consistency of the trend that was showing up right from early stages to till plateauing of response flow.

Even as I was compiling the final results I came across this rather well received fund raising pitch of Stefan Broda (Founder/CEO of BeforeWeDo) at the end of which one particular GP lauded the Consumer Iteration built into the business model which is worth emulating by other healthcare start-ups! – If not a sign from the heavens, a sweet coincidence nonetheless.


I chose the sample population of pharmaceutical professionals who I believe are very representative of the above breed of ‘aware pharmaceutical consumers’ & to whom I have ready access through the Pharmaceutical Discussion Group I founded and manage on Linkedin & Groupsite.

Based on a guestimate of ~5million pharmaceutical professionals world-wide, I derived my target sample size as 350, using a Confidence level of 95%, which is the mostly used default level & a Confidence interval of 5, which again is the oft-employed default figure. By the time I chose to start the compilation (the survey is still active) I however had only 159 responses which translated amount to a confidence interval of 7.7 while the confidence level remains at 95% - That, I guess is my cue to you for taking the results with a pinch of salt :-)

Finally, I am neither a professional statistician nor a qualified analyst and it’s likely the design of survey may not fully please many out there. I however did consciously try and keep the questionnaire short, the questions specific & the choice of answers broad in order to minimize any chance of a bias setting-in – the trends indicated by the responses, as I see, justify some if not all questions.


The survey is based on ten questions out of which the first three are essentially filters namely age, sex & nationality that enable some level of demographic segmentation of responses. While the charts of responses to individual questions looked very pretty on Surveymonkey dash-board, I agonized nonetheless quite a bit deciding on an ideal approach to presenting the results on my blog without sounding too pedagogic – I hence chose to weave the details around certain KEY OBSERVATIONS and then go about detailing on those further.

Since it may help put things in perspective, I have uploaded the primary results document* to file cabinet on Pharmaceutical Discussion Group – please note that this link opens the document only when you are logged in, (i.e. if not a member already, you will have to join the group)

**I’ll be happy to share the master data file too with anyone interested.


In hindsight I realize some of the questions are pretty skewed & some fairly meaningful, but overall they seemed to fall in two broad categories, one set wherein the standalone overall response is itself strongly indicative of a trend & a second set wherein an interesting picture emerges only when the responses are separated out and compared across demographics. I however will spare the mundane trends and go straight to top observations based on the percentage response towards a trend-indicating response;

Not just food, Ambrosia is what the consumer wants - a huge thumbs-up for Functional Foods!

Quite ironic that the top trend in a health survey is food & not medicine! - A whopping 87% of the respondents see/ want the food in 2025 to be more than nutrition, out of which 46% see a potential for food being a curative!

Women make up the majority of the ‘food as a curative’ advocates (60% as against 30% among men) – which simultaneously underscores & endorses the greater influence of women in the functional food promise.

More Indians (56%) believe in the promise of curative food than the North Americans (40%) or Europeans (44%) – a possible connection to the expectations influenced by prevailing, predominant ethno-cultural dietary practises?

Consumers want to take things into their hands, literally – Mobile Health Tools all set to Rule

At 68%, a clear majority of the respondents are bullish on the role & significance of personal mobile apps in an individual’s health management. (25%, Indispensable & 43%, Very crucial)

Once again this is a trend driven primarily by women, the percentage of women who chose ‘Indispensable’ (40%) being significantly higher than the men, a majority of whom (67%) chose the mildly-tempered but still bullish, ‘Very crucial’ as their answer. This clearly establishes women as the ‘early adaptors of the health mobile tools & apps’ & possibly that mobile apps are more amenable to woman’s health management and finally that factoring-in gender into the development of a mobile healthcare app can be a key determiner of the success of the same.

When the Geography filter is applied, the trend expectedly peaks in North America with an overall bullish-ness at 76% - within which women once again stand-out strongly with 55% responding ‘Indispensable’. The dominant European response is however ‘Very crucial’ (60%) which probably indicates a currently lower penetration of mobile health apps within this geography – this holds good for India too.


They seem to say, keep the Doctor away – Eating an apple isn't the only way

While the question has some unfortunate bias & choice of ‘You’ sounds like a given…, the responses still indicate an increasing role for non-physician health professionals. If the choice of ‘You’ (53%) is ignored, only 12% see the physician playing the single most crucial role towards an individual’s health much below the diagnostician at 18%.

There’s an interesting contrast in choice of physician v/s diagnostician among the female & male respondents’ viz., Female: 7% (P) v/s 21% (D) & Male: 14% (P) v/s 16% (D) – probably again owing to the essential nature of women’s health issues vis-à-vis’ male issues – nonetheless, a potentially important alert to the healthcare industry.

In-line with the number one trend above, the nutritionist polled 10% of the vote. Quite surprisingly, of all respondents who chose Nutritionist, 70% belong to the age group of 35-44 yrs. This read together with the first trend gives a great demographic insight into who could be the prime target demographic segment for promoting functional foods – Women between the age group of 35-44.


Apart from the above three observations, the rest of the observations though interesting aren’t necessarily great insights into the health consumer psyche - the same are listed below in no specific order;

  • 78% of the respondents feel medicines should target cure as against 22% that are okay with maintenance – expectedly, the 78% group is populated majorly with people under 55 years of age.
  • 87% of the respondents prefer oral medications to parenterals – Interestingly though, there’s a strong geographical variation with NA & EU preferring oral medications at 92%, while the Indian respondents still retain some of the cultural trust of ‘injections’ (26%) 
  • 89% of all respondents still believe the necessity of medicines per se’ in-spite or despite the preference of the ambrosial foods – if anything, this seems to showcase the omnipresence of the pills.

While the results may not qualify as astonishing findings, the unmistakable relevance of the trends thrown up by a mere seven-question survey still underscores the value of understanding the health consumer’s perspective and using the knowledge to build, refine the road-map of pharmaceutical product development.

Functional Food for thought! :-)

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Understanding the consumer's perspective on the future of healthcare is the key to envisioning the future of pharma itself!

While there occurs a lot of ideation & speculation within the industry domain on the future of healthcare & an outlook on pharma variously from 2020 through to 2050, I always still felt there is a crying need for pharmaceutical industry to understand the consumer's perspective on what healthcare scenario should be like in future - This is critical considering the hitherto quintessential 'practitioner-dependent' healthcare consumer is changing rapidly & is looking at an 'iterative' role for himself rather than wanting to being 'prescribed' health literally & figuratively.

While not exactly an average consumer, the pharmaceutical professionals themselves represent a sample population of aware individual consumers whose opinion I believe will give me a much valuable insight into what an increasingly knowledgeable healthcare consumer is looking forward to with respect to health & wellness in 2025 & hence I have decided to reach out to them primarily, to start with & pick some brain.

Through the various forums I have access to, I have already sent out multiple requests to multitudes of individuals to spare a a few minutes of their precious time to fill in the HEALTH 2025 survey as a consumer. I of course will be greatly pleased to have an outlook from the 'non-pharma' aware consumers too & invite the same to provide their valuable input.

The outcome of my small effort looks promising with the total initial responses already reaching 100 across the globe even as I type this post - Not bad at all, considering the survey's been open for only 20 hours now. 

Very soon I will be back to share the results of the above survey & postulate, however minimal, on a few useful trends & indicators.

Wish me good luck folks!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Shouldn't all pharmaceutical professionals too take the Hippocratic Oath?

The news about the generic drug maker Ranbaxy Labs pleading guilty to felony charges related to drug safety and its acceptance of $500 million in civil and criminal fines created an unprecedented buzz in the world-wide web. The most incisive piece by far appears to be “the epic inside story of long-term criminal fraud at Ranbaxy.....” By Katherine Eban on CNN Money.

No horror story is complete without its share of seedy alleys, murky dealings & closed cup-boards that contain multitudes of hidden skeletons - this too has. Even as all the digging is indeed required towards a total expose’, the associated spill/ shoot-out of emotional rhetoric is threatening to harm the still-early but the strong trend of genericization of global medicare.

Can we raise above the rhetoric of branded drugs v/s generic drugs; first-world v/s third-world & address the core issue of why medical frauds happen & what can be done to plug these? 

My Comment on the above article:
A very compelling narrative & an alarmingly scary proposition…. 

I fully agree with the majority opinion here that the consequences of a fraud this big should be equally big for the company in question. But again, I also endorse the opinion of a few others like Sam Werbalowsky, 
Dan Miller et al who have pointed out that Ranbaxy isn't a standalone case in the shameful history of pharmaceutical frauds & that the focus should be on ethical business of all Pharma & not just the generic players as Ranbaxy – It is important to underscore this particular aspect at this juncture since the tone & tenor of this otherwise brilliant piece makes it prone to being construed as a platform for demonizing the generic medicine vis-a-vis' branded drugs. 

A quick look at the list of infamy here & here establishes that the common thread running through all is the disturbing trend of the best-of-the-organizations taking a call of preferring earnings over ethics at critical decision points. Another common aspect among all is the seeming complicity of a vast number of employees at all levels of the organization to misrepresenting a fact or manipulating an outcome. This shows that the problem is not just at the top decision making levels but is endemic at all levels of hierarchy & there’s this shocking apathy all through to what amounts to ethical behavior of an average worker/ employee in a pharmaceutical organization.

Given the complete insulation of an average pharmaceutical employee to the consumer-end of the spectrum & hence insulation from the consequences of any wrong-doing, I'm a little sceptical as to what will motivate these people to be vigilantes of public health & safety at their work place, pardon my cheekiness here, whether or not that involves whistle-blower benefits – THIS apparent lack of ownership of public health & safety in pharmaceutical manufacturing world is what I believe is the real core problem.

While there may be much creative reasoning & some complex solutions to the above core problem, I’d like to keep it simple & say that the reason is a lack of any formal sensitization of a pharmaceutical industry worker prior to or during his/ her employment on her/ his own accountability to public health & safety in general & the solution I hence propose is to instil this accountability in all pharmaceutical employees by way of a Hippocratic Oath that unfortunately is currently merely confined to medical practitioners & decreasingly so.

Food for thought.

Ref: my earlier post at: