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Postcards from China

Checking the pulse of the year of the dragon

In this, the first of a new series that examines the evolving healthcare landscape of China, we consider how multinational businesses might develop, sustain or expand in the country's pharmaceutical market.

At the end of January, the Chinese lunar New Year festivities ushered in the Year of the Dragon. A legendary creature, the dragon (or "long" in Mandarin Chinese) is considered to be the most auspicious and powerful of the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac, one associated with high energy, prosperity, change and mobility. The 2012 Dragon Year is also associated with the water element, a connection that occurs only once every 60 years and is thought to be particularly auspicious.

Around the same time, a wealth of consultancies and analysts projected that China would move into third place amongst the world's pharmaceutical markets in 2012, with expected sales of more than $50 billion, a good indication that optimism was warranted.

Caution and optimism
However, at the close of last week, for the first time in close to a decade China's projected economic growth rate fell below the magic threshold of 8%, a target linked to sustaining sufficient employment levels for the country's vast population. Continued economic strength takes on additional import in 2012, as China prepares for a major leadership reshuffle in the late autumn.

This change in projected GDP is significant for the healthcare industry, too. It comes in the midst of the government's massive healthcare reform scheme, one which requires significant on-going financial resources to achieve its objectives of expanded health coverage, a larger pool of well-trained physicians and nurses, and the opening of thousands of new hospitals, clinics and community health centres in which they can deliver care.

While expansion of coverage and the number of facilities offering care means additional channels for a company's products – whether a pharmaceutical, a diagnostic or a device, this is all taking place in an environment of cost containment and a constantly changing competitive landscape.

Given this broader macroeconomic situation and questions about health reform, how can multinational healthcare businesses develop, sustain or expand in the Year of the Dragon?

Driving market access
First and foremost, efforts to drive market access should be broad and should be everyone's aim – access should be a central objective that goes beyond pricing and reimbursement and around which all departments and functions rally. One must strive for internal alignment that brings functions together to determine how to help patients gain access to services, access to medicines (both across more geographies and within their own communities), and access to valuable information and education on health and medical care.

An integrated view of access will provide an opportunity to engage payers, professionals and providers in discussions of a product's value that go beyond price and establish the broader impact of a treatment, supported by relevant health economics and outcome research (HEOR) data that connects the treatment to established unmet needs.

However, discussions are not enough. The burden of an ageing population experiencing a rapid rise in chronic diseases has created an immediate need for better education of both healthcare professionals (HCPs) and patients. Industry can help address this need, by supporting continuing medical education for HCPs of all levels that improves core knowledge in key therapeutic areas, introduces innovative methods for disease prevention and shares research into the newest treatments to enable selection of the most appropriate therapies for individual patients.

Educating patients
Patients, too, are increasingly looking for on-going support and information from the brands behind their treatments. The preventable, lifestyle-related chronic conditions, which are on the rise in China, demand that individuals take a greater role in managing their own health. As people become more aware and more active consumers of health, arming them with the knowledge to make smart decisions about care and treatments – for themselves and for their family members – will be a key differentiator for businesses.

An essential underpinning of education for and engagement with both professionals and patients in China is a foundation of public/private partnerships. Working with government bodies has always been an essential part of the business landscape here. Whether with local hospitals, research centres or medical schools, healthcare industry partnerships abound. But today more than ever, global companies need to ensure that these public/private partnerships are both practical and truly benefit both parties. They need to be deeper and more substantive stakeholder-centric collaborations that consider the drivers behind better quality, greater access and higher efficiency, and thus position businesses as true partners investing in the future health of the nation.

Finally, while conversations about health and solutions for driving better health outcomes are increasingly cutting across borders and becoming more global in nature;  health systems, policies and priorities continue to be distinguished by local market characteristics. There must be people on the ground in the market to complement global thinking and programming with a deep understanding of the local regulatory environment, of cultural norms and of the various nuances of social behavior that are at the heart of engaging stakeholders effectively to change behaviors and, ultimately, to help achieve China's long-term goals for health.

The Author
Clancey Houston
is head of inVentiv Health Communications China and can be contacted at 

31st July 2012

From: Marketing



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