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Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and Packing Sourcer

The Digital Age

What are the challenges facing businesses that are looking to offer the pharmaceutical sector a scalable and leading-edge business process outsourcing (BPO) proposition?

The answer lies in a deep understanding of consumer expectations in a digital world – ‘patients’ have become ‘consumers’ and consumer expectations are being empowered by technology. The pharma industry is no different to any other – it has to step up and compete for customer loyalty through the provision of an integrated, value-added consumer experience.

Pharma is facing one of the greatest seismic changes in the way its business model has operated for decades – from R&D through to delivery, an overhaul is under way. R&D now has more to prove. It is no longer sufficient that a clinical trial can demonstrate a particular drug is effective for it to be prescribed to a patient; we are in an era where evidence-based medicine is bringing improvements in quality and standardisation of care. However, for pharma companies, this brings bigger hurdles.

Against the Odds

With longer capital payback times and, ultimately, lower profits, there is less to invest into the R&D of new drugs. Patients have become consumers who expect a personalised and customised service that includes the delivery of the right drug at the right time to the right patient – this is now the baseline or norm, as opposed to an exception.

In addition, pharma companies need to work with governing bodies to ensure their business models provide the right level of detail in feedback data to prove the efficacy of a new drug, guaranteeing funding for the next wave of R&D. Ultimately, all of this means fewer opportunities to adopt new breakthrough therapies.

There is a strong argument for the industry achieving these goals through the use of BPO services. However, there remain a number of obstacles encountered by outsourcing companies aspiring to provide an efficient BPO solution to the pharma sector.

To be of value, it could be argued, any BPO solution must not only be scalable and cutting-edge, but that the consumer service provided must meet the ever-changing and intensely demanding needs of today’s consumer – this will only be achieved through a fully integrated, end-to-end, technologically-savvy platform.

Consumer Focus

The first challenge that BPO providers face is that consumers today play a bigger role in healthcare decisions and choices. Armed with greater access to product information, patients are better informed about drugs, products, devices, procedures, treatment options and healthcare providers. As a result, they are exercising a greater degree of control over their healthcare decisions, particularly in developed markets. A number of factors are driving the trend toward consumerism, not least advances in technology.

Any BPO solution provider must place consumers at the heart of every decision made, and every service element provided must ensure that it results in a rewarding experience for consumers. Today’s patient does not expect to wait in queues to receive medication or be told to come back in three days as a particular medication is out of stock. Drugs need to be appropriate, readily available and easily secured from a device that consumers wish to use at a time convenient for them – whether this is while watching television on a mobile device or smartphone, or while working on a computer.

Technology Breakthrough

Technology is essential in driving the consumer experience. It has dramatically changed consumer behaviour over the last 50 years, with the internet providing access to ever-more information to allow patients to compare and evaluate treatment options and costs, or researching which providers adhere to best practices.

Today, mobile applications are changing the way all consumers interact with brands, and providers have to adapt the way they present their products through increasingly clever technology to meet consumer expectations. This is no different in the pharma sector. A BPO business wishing to provide value-added services will need to help companies understand their patient, provide meaningful communications through a medium appropriate to that individual, then provide a personalised delivery and follow-up service.

For example, for patients on long-term medication, the BPO provider will be expected to provide a service that predicts and understands patient consumption via a mobile device, and one which, at the click of a key, enables consumers to set up a regular delivery of that medication. The delivery destination can be chosen by consumers too, whether that is the workplace, home, holiday home, or other option.

It is not inconceivable that, in the very near future, patients will be able to walk into a pharmacy to pick up their prescription, where a beacon will recognise their smartphone, connect it with past purchasing history and send a text or email to the pharmacist having analysed consumption – enabling the patient to collect the prescription at the counter, with no queuing or waiting. Patients will expect to self-administer their medication and use appropriate devices to monitor their particular condition; then, through devices supplied to them, feed this information back to an appropriate data centre where it can be analysed. Any change of medication can then be recommended to them in a personalised way, via a means appropriate to their needs.

In Practice

However, while technological capability looks to offer a fully automated process for those who embrace it, patients who require a different type of service do not have to be excluded.

As an example, we can compare two patients taking medication for diabetes. One is a teenager; the other is a senior citizen. The teenager has been used to taking medication for a number of years and has a stabilised condition. The senior citizen has newly-diagnosed age-onset diabetes, but is still adjusting to the condition. Ongoing monitoring is required in both instances, but while the teenager is used to receiving and sending information via smartphone, the senior citizen is not able to use such technology.

In both cases, the ongoing monitoring device and procedure must prove appropriate to each individual to ensure the best care. Therefore, the teenager might upload monitoring results via his smartphone, transmit this data to a data hub, and expect to receive instructions back through the same device. He would expect to be able to sign up for a regular delivery of drugs via the smartphone and/or be guided to a pharmacy where the medication is already packaged and waiting for collection. On the other hand, the senior citizen will expect a personalised service where provision of drugs and collection of data for ongoing monitoring requires more human intervention.

In short, the more companies know about their customers, the more each customer will require them to provide a customised and personalised service, not only at a macro-level, but on a micro-level too.

Information Platform

The second challenge BPO providers face is the technological platform upon which to host their services. To provide additional value, any solution developed for pharma companies in today’s world must not only be scalable to cope with a growing and more demanding ageing population, but must also be capable of spanning multiple countries, currencies, cultures, and be easily integrated across various divisions.

Such systems need to be built on leading and future-proof technology, but these cost millions of pounds to install and further millions to maintain. This is certainly the case when using enterprise resource platforms such as SAP. This cost, along with the ability and desire to ensure that systems are proactively developed, honed and managed to meet changing consumer and market needs, requires substantial investment not only in systems, but also in the right people.

Talent Pool

The third and, some might say, biggest challenge is the desire to attract and invest in the best people who have the experience, know-how, drive and passion to meet the needs of the client (the pharma company), as well as its patients or consumers. BPO is a service business that is reliant on ensuring the best people are attracted and retained to guarantee that best practices are acknowledged, customised and implemented to meet the changing needs of clients and their consumers. Clients and their consumers need to be the sole focus of the BPO provider, and delivering a best-in-class service and experience must be the entire staff’s mission at every stage of the consumer’s service journey. An understanding of the sector in which the BPO services will be provided is absolutely essential, and a culture that identifies with the needs of that sector confirms that aspirations and goals are understood and met.

Good Communications

Lastly, it is crucial that, as a BPO provider, the company has a clear understanding of the service it must give to its clients and their consumers. The service must be communicated and understood by the audience the BPO provider is targeting, and it is critical that it is understood how the offering will be future-proofed.

There are many different types of BPO service providers and they do not all deliver the same service in the same areas, or at the same level. For example, pharma companies looking to outsource will need to understand what would benefit their business model best. Is it a part or full service? Is it payment management, data management, data analysis, trend prediction, subscription management, logistics, warehousing, fulfilment, patient communications, or all of the above? Is a full, end-to-end service provider required so that the patient is assured an integrated and personalised experience? The demographic theme and trend of an ageing global population may indicate how pharma companies can make these decisions.

Such trends carry significant implications for the whole circular journey, from R&D through to the final delivery of the supply of drugs, the feedback on efficacy and final seal of approval for funds for further research.

Looking at the relatively small area of supply chain management, there is the need for a new and more dispersed distribution of products. The supply chain must be able to deliver required products to hospitals, specialist centres, clinics, pharmacies, retail stores and individual homes. Self-help and monitoring will require the regular delivery of the monitoring device to the patient; the data collected will need to be passed to a reliable and secure data collection centre; and any action required as a result of the analysis of that data will need to be professionally communicated to the patient. A communications centre could be empowered to do this and, equally, be the link to ensure the patient attends the clinic. Meanwhile, any change in prescription needs to be stored, along with other patient data, in an easily accessible and secure data hub before the prescription fulfilment is completed to home, work or other collection point.

Business Progress

In conclusion, BPO solutions could well be the future answer to helping pharma re-engineer its business processes. For any BPO provider to be truly effective, it is imperative that companies take into account all of the factors outlined above in a flexible, intelligent and scalable way – this will provide patients or pharma consumers with the integrated, convenient and rewarding experience expected in today’s digital world.

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Alan Cox is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Indigo Lighthouse Group, a company he established in 1998 after identifying a gap in the market to change contact lens retailing. Prior to this, he established and developed his own national chain of optical retail outlets called Opto Total Eyecare, which was purchased by The Dolland & Aitchison Opticians Group in 1996. Alan holds a BSc in Optometry from Glasgow Caledonian University.
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