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Spread the word

Understanding payers can help us communicate our message, increasing market access

spread the wordIf you work in pharmaceutical marketing, I doubt a week goes by when you have not had to take some time to consider market access for your products. Like so many things in life however, simply thinking of market access is just one small step in addressing it.

Financial instability in almost every European country — in almost every country around the world, in fact — has forced an inevitable increase in scrutiny and a focus on securing value for money from every single transaction made. Although a highly emotive and politically charged subject, healthcare as an industry has also not escaped this focus on gaining value for money.

Until now, as an industry, we have rightly quoted statistics that demonstrate the drugs budget represents a small proportion of the overall healthcare budget. We have also, consistently and comprehensively, described the staggering costs of drug development and reflected on the economics of that development, which necessitate that those drugs that do make it to market generate enough revenue to satisfy shareholders and also to provide investment for future R&D. But has the message got through? My opinion is that it might well have done so by now, if it had not been for the most challenging budgetary environment our industry has ever faced.

Still, we must continue in our efforts to communicate these important messages. And every example of exceptional communication strategies you will ever find will have one common theme — an intimate understanding of the customer perspective.

Customers aren't hurdles
To ensure the industry message is truly heard, we have to be able to communicate effectively with our customers. This group includes our newest, and arguably most important, customer: the payer. To communicate effectively with payers, however, we must first also have an intimate knowledge of their work and the challenges they face.

Payers are the true gatekeepers of patient access to medicines and have the difficult task of managing budgets effectively, while simultaneously improving health outcomes in their population.

I am continually surprised when I hear people still referring to market access and payers as 'hurdles'. By definition, a hurdle is something you consciously try to 'dodge' — you jump over it, pass around it or ignore its existence. A customer, on the other hand, is someone with whom you need to communicate effectively and to work closely in order to understand his needs. Customers need to be convinced in a language they understand, whether that is budget impact, cost saving, cost-effectiveness analysis or any one of a whole range of other measures.

To stop seeing payers as 'hurdles' and start seeing them ascustomers is truly to redefine the purpose of market access.

Admittedly obtaining a true understanding of the payer stakeholder group isn't easy. The market access landscape is an evolving one; there is the increasing fiscal responsibility of Government bodies and regulatory agencies to take into account, as well as a range of country-specific processes to familiarise yourself with in terms of medicines review. The effort is worth it, however: in fact, the more you learn, the more you are also able to see similarities forming across countries and regulatory systems, as well as global trends towards cross-border co-operation, excellence exchange and the devolution of power to regional, local and third-party level and health technology appraisal (HTA) practices.

Within this context, then, it becomes much easier to acknowledge payers as they view themselves — as investors in health — and, more importantly, to build a language of engagement that aligns with how they are defining and discussing their own needs.

The heart of market access
I truly believe that communication must sit at the heart of market access and that this principle must be applied to internal processes as well as external approaches. A recent IMS study concluded: '[pharmaceutical] companies can enhance success by eliminating the inconsistencies that arise between the goals of clinical and commercial teams, between global teams and affiliates', and never has this observation been more timely. What is interesting and even exciting here is that, in the process of redefining market access, we are also realigning all pharmaceutical functions and disciplines behind the common goal of achieving optimal access for our drugs.

It doesn't stop there. Arguably now more than ever before, pharmaceutical companies need exceptional healthcare communication partners who can help them to develop meaningful relationships and a broad range of communications that turn customers into ambassadors and help them to ensure patients gain access to approved products.

What keeps both those in the industry and our agency partners involved in this sector is the unrivalled passion and focus we have to deliver meaningful health gains for patients.

What none of us can accept is the tragedy of bringing a drug to market, only for patients to be denied access.

And that is not the payers' problem, it's ours.

Opportunity doesn't come knocking
If there is one thing you take away from this article, please let it be this. When next faced with considering market access, recognise that you have an opportunity to understand and engage effectively with an increasingly important customer group, an opportunity to align your clinical and commercial terms in entirely new and increasingly efficient ways — an opportunity to ensure the successful commercialisation of your products

The Author
Uday Bose is institutional care business unit head, Eisai Europe Ltd

To comment on this article, email

21st December 2010


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