Sumit Prasad, Mu Sigma
The United States has given birth to the worldвЂ™s largest free-pricing market for pharmaceuticals owing primarily to a favorable patent and regulatory environment. However, Food and Drug Administration regulations and the patent cliff have resulted in tighter price controls, forcing most pharmaceutical companies to move toward adopting a patient-centric approach, wherein patients are at the center of strategy and operations. This forces pharmaceutical companies to work with other stakeholders and focus on finding ways to curb healthcare costs.
Big data analytics and the Internet of Things have expanded the entire spectrum of insights, and pharmaceutical sales reps can leverage these to stay ahead of the competition. The manner in which sales reps harness the volume, velocity, and variety of data that is available to them will be the key differentiator that defines the efficiency of their role. The following are several ways in which sales reps can leverage the information big data can provide.
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- The pharmaceutical world is transforming from physician-owned practices to centralized institutions, such as Integrated Delivery Networks (IDN) and Group Practices (GP). A single physician could be part of multiple GPs/IDNs, which could be inter-connected with varying levels of influence on each other. Sales reps can use data to identify the most influential GPs/IDNs as well as their network of GPs/IDNs to focus sales efforts only on physicians in the influential groups and reallocate their remaining efforts elsewhere.
- Managed Care Access (MCA) in particular has become imperative owing to cost constraints and the large number of patients being covered (or to be covered) under Medicaid or Medicare plans, which provide high rebates. MCA data can be leveraged to optimize resource allocation/reduction in the following ways:
1. Preference. A physicianвЂ™s drug preference will not be affected by any amount of calls to physicians, or вЂњdetailing,вЂќ by sales reps if the physician is MCA driven and the product being detailed is positioned at a lower tier in the insurance plan.
2. Profitability. If two physicians are writing the same number of prescriptions but one writes 90 percent of them through Medicaid and the other only 5 percent through Medicaid, then the second physician is more profitable because a lower amount of rebates will have to be provided. Data on physiciansвЂ™ prescribing patterns can help reps allocate resources accordingly.
- Real-time intelligence. Based on physiciansвЂ™ prescription patterns, profile, market condition, and statistical techniques, itвЂ™s possible to create an intelligent, self-learning system that can identify physicians who warrant attention вЂ“ ones who could be at risk of switching to a competitor product or could be a better growth opportunity. To capitalize on a physicianвЂ™s situation, sales reps will need to modify their strategy on an ongoing basis based on these triggers/alerts and take appropriate action in or near real time.
- Patient-level data. Traditionally, sales reps have looked at physician data to devise their strategy. But a move toward patient centricity means that under-utilized but rich patient-level data, such as patient attitudinal research and Electronic Health Record (EHR) data, becomes a valuable avenue for insights. The widespread use of EHR data for analysis while complying with HIPAA patient confidentiality regulations is becoming possible. It provides sales reps with insights about the patient base and profile for all the physicians and enables reps to change their messaging and/or targeting accordingly.
- Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBM). They started as third-party administrators, administering drug claims of health plans/employers. But they have grown to execute many more functions, such as formulary and benefit plan design, retail network management, and encouraging mail-order pharmacies. Over the last few years, PBMs have been trying to consolidate and increase their negotiating power. Express Scripts is a perfect example. PBMвЂ™s stakeholders include almost all players in the pharma industry and the patientвЂ™s health plan. Price discounts provided by pharmacies and rebates provided by manufacturers are a few data points that can help sales reps gauge the influence and preference of PBMs in a territory. Therefore, sales reps should consider the presence of PBMs in their territory when devising strategy.
- Digital media. Unified analysis, the confluence of structured and unstructured data, has enabled organizations in all industries to improve the scope and depth of analytical projects. In the pharma space, physicians and patients are increasingly becoming active on social media, catapulting the importance of unstructured data. Understanding them enables customization of the messaging strategy вЂ“ topic modeling can identify the main influencers and themes, and sentiment analysis can indicate whether it is positive or negative. Sales reps can also provide feedback to the brand team in terms of whatвЂ™s working and whatвЂ™s not.
The pharmaceutical industry includes multiple dynamic forces, which keeps the landscape evolving. Businesses are innovating and strategizing to keep up with this evolution and future-proof themselves. Sales reps constitute an integral part of an organization, taking on a key role вЂ“ selling products вЂ“ that is not subject to change over time. What is subject to change is the way they sell due to the volumes and variety of data available to them. Physician data, patient-level data, and digital media analytics aid in developing the messaging strategy. To stay ahead of the curve, sales reps must leverage data insights to make informed, real-time decisions.
Sumit Prasad earned a degree in Statistics from Delhi University in 2007 and joined IT giant TCS for 2.5 years, where he worked in the pharma domain. He then went on to pursue a masterвЂ™s degree in International Management from IE Business School. Since then, he has been a part of Mu Sigma, providing analytical solutions to Fortune 500 clients, leveraging cross-industry learning to ideate and innovate, and providing thought leadership. Follow him on Twitter: @sumit_pd.