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The death of traditional consumerism

What does it mean for pharma and how can empowering patients open up new possibilities to the industry
The death of traditional consumerism

There is some compelling evidence that modern day consumers are keen to move away from the 'accumulation' model that has dominated post-WWII economies. A global study of over 10,000 people for The New Consumer & The Sharing Economy white paper indicated a growing sentiment against overconsumption. Seven in ten of us believe it to be putting our society and the planet at risk, and the majority feel that current models of consumerism are not sustainable. More than this, there's a great deal of emotional baggage that comes with it; we feel weighed down by the sheer amount of 'stuff' we own. How many of us have boxes of electronic equipment and consumer goods collecting dust in cupboards, lofts and garages?

Put simply, we're tired of consumerism. We see through the 'shop 'til we drop' mantra and we're bored of adverts that try to manipulate us by pushing products at us like they're the answer to life's problems. We want to be in control, we want to be able to make informed decisions about how we spend our time and money and we don't want others telling us what to do.

This goes for healthcare as much as consumer markets. Patients no longer want or expect merely to be prescribed a pill that they unwittingly swallow once a day and hope for the best. Facilitated by an abundance of information technologies, they are knowledgeable about treatments and drugs and rightly sceptical about the impacts they have on their health. Patients want to be actively involved in managing their own health care and expect to be involved in the decision-making process not dictated to.

The wealth of monitoring apps across treatment areas (AsthmaCheck, MoodPanda and Diabetes In Check are but a few) is a fair indicator of a general desire for information and authority regarding personal treatment regimens. For financially hamstrung public health providers such as the NHS, this is a welcome trend. Empowering patients with greater control of their treatment reduces the burden of care placed on public providers, and has the potential to garner much better results by actively engaging patients.

MoodPanda is one of a wealth of monitoring apps across treatment areas that are a fair indicator of a general desire for information

Indeed, studies over the last decade or so have shown that the Benjamin Franklin mantra of 'tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn' is no truer than in the administering of patient care. There is a legacy of evidence demonstrating the success of self-management systems, mostly based around establishing non-clinical community settings. Building from this, more recently the focus has been on the potential of digital in this space. Even imagining the potential has some exciting possibilities; internet and digital based solutions would offer the opportunity to cast the net wider to increasingly remote and less mobile patients. 

Crucial to progressing a digitally-led mode of care is whether or not the same results can be delivered. Studies would seem to indicate they can. A trial conducted in South Australia examined the impact of an online self-management system on a range of chronic disease patients. Facilitated remotely, patients were given access to a range of web-based tools, including an online learning centre detailing the weekly programme and posing questions to participants; social networking facilities, such as discussion boards, internal messaging systems; and a range of tools to help patients conduct and log their care programme (audio relaxation exercises, medication logs etc). 

After a year, patients showed significant improvement in both their health, well-being and attitude towards treatment: five of eight health indicators were considerably improved - including self-reported health, health distress, fatigue and impact of illness on work and recreation - and six of seven health behaviours were also significantly better - including mental stress management, communication with doctor, aerobic exercise, alcoholic drinks, medication adherence, and health behaviour adherence. Such results suggest great promise for future development in this area and not least because of the diversity of patients included (under 40s up to over 70s, rural and metropolitan habitation, and chronic diseases ranging from arthritis to mental health conditions) seems to indicate a universality to the methods behind digital self-management systems.

So where does pharma fit into all this? The patent model and subsequent relationship with healthcare providers has always followed traditional models of consumerism: 'we are a drug company and we've produced this drug which you can buy from us.' So how can we who work in pharma support and facilitate patients' desires for greater inclusion and authority in their care and still turn a profit? 

Firstly, we need to reshape our relationship with the people we serve. Pharmaceutical companies can no longer act as vendors and must become partners to professionals and patients alike. In doing so, we need to provide solutions, not pills, and increasingly this will mean delivering holistic services and systems of care. If patients are being granted increased authority in an effort to improve outcomes and reduce the burden on providers, then pharma should support this. 'Beyond the pill' solutions are an arena in which there is massive potential for pharmaceutical companies to contribute to and add real value. At HAVAS LYNX we've worked on a series of patient care programmes that have been shown to half the number of days patients spend in hospital. 

When pharma partners its expertise with other parties it opens up a world of new revenue streams. I'm a long-time admirer of Healthbox, an accelerator organisation that facilitates collaboration between innovative small start-ups and large healthcare organisations. I firmly believe that this is an area that pharma should be looking to more and more. Even amid the context of Pfizer's recent efforts to secure the acquisition of AstraZeneca, I'd like to see pharma companies look beyond traditional development pipelines when seeking to expand their offering. 

We need to innovate past the sector mainstream and recognise outsider trends, much in the same way that Facebook has in its purchasing of ProtoGeo. ProtoGeo is the ten-man company responsible for fitness tracking app 'Moves' and the purchase is a signal of Facebook's intent to compete with the likes of Nike and Fitbit. There are so many exciting and disruptive technologies being developed that have the potential to transform the lives of patients. Far more than offering supplementary revenue, these areas that currently lie on the fringes of the market are likely to be the mainstay of pharmaceuticals in the future. 

  • For a copy of HAVAS Worldwide's The New Consumer & The Sharing Economy white paper please visit

Article by
David Hunt


18th August 2014

From: Sales, Marketing, Healthcare



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