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Pharma’s authentic proof of purpose influences decisions among HCPs and payers

By Ludivine Delattre and Stacy Vaughn

The COVID-19 pandemic has been testing the fragility of global and national healthcare delivery systems to their breaking points.

In the face of such adversity, we have seen pharma competitors work together, with new discourses and responses delivered by a conscience- challenged corporate world, with its purpose in society laid bare by unwelcome commercial and geopolitical tensions.

As we look to a future where economies will potentially be as stretched as our healthcare systems were, ongoing action and proof of societal purpose will be expected from the industry – there cannot be a return to ‘normal’ competitive behaviours.

As industry partners focused on communicating purpose in health, Porter Novelli wanted to understand what new expectations there are of the pharma industry and where it will need to strengthen its proof of purpose in the medium to long term.

In collaboration with our colleagues at the leading healthcare research and insight agency Hall and Partners, we conducted research
aimed at establishing the impact of purpose on our most critical decision-makers – healthcare professionals (HCPs) and payers.

We looked at whether a company’s perceived purpose affects the decision-making process of HCPs and payers, especially when faced with otherwise parity (in terms of price, efficacy and safety). In addition, we dug deeper to explore the connections between individual and company purpose.

‘Purpose’ was defined as sustainability in supply chain, environmental sustainability, donations
of medicines and proactive collaboration with stakeholders to solve system challenges.

Our research was conducted over several weeks in 2020 with over 2,000 healthcare professionals across a wide range of therapy areas in the US and EU Big Five, as well as respondents representing the FDA and EMA regional regulators.

We saw some clear insights:

  • The system will be more interconnected now and in the future – more than ever, system stakeholders will need to collaborate to solve new challenges within and across borders
  • The divinity of data – a universal acceptance that data is at the core of collaboration and enablement in the new system
  • Industry as change agents – budget-strapped systems are increasingly looking to pharma to solve beyond-the-pill challenges surrounding patient access and to tackle the question of how to deliver a more sustainable healthcare delivery model of the future.

What did we learn?

  • Purpose does, indeed, bust parity
  • There is a connection of purpose that aligns well between companies and respondents, each with a specific and complementary role
  • Purpose is about taking action – messaging and commitment alone will not prove purpose.

Purpose can overcome parity. Nearly all physicians specifically stated that both a company’s purpose should carry weight with health systems when considering new innovations and that they themselves would consider purpose in prescribing when brands are at parity.

In fact, over a third of respondents indicated purpose should carry ‘a lot’ of weight in the health systems’ choices, with half of respondents stating they would consider purpose ‘strongly’ in their own prescribing.

Payers similarly acknowledge the importance of purpose, with eight out of ten payers specifically stating that a company’s purpose should carry weight with health systems when considering new innovations.

There are two purpose-focused opportunities for the industry beyond innovation:

  • Identifying authentically where they are best able to assist and act in the face of change
  • Acting as a powerful navigator through turbulent times, for their own internal organisations and external stakeholders.

Connecting individual and company purpose

Nearly half of all respondents felt it was very important for their own purpose to align with that of pharma, clearly indicating the desire for complementary, not adversarial, relationships.

When asked more specifically what purpose meant to them, patterns began to emerge:

  • Physicians, the closest to direct patient care, were most likely to associate their own purpose with achieving the best individual patient outcomes
  • Payers, a step or two away from direct patient care, aligned their own purpose to being the guardians of efficient and cost-effective care. Physicians seek to have pharma drive value across the spectrum, whereas payers see the role as being a bit more restricted to population health. Qualitatively, it becomes clear that the closer respondents are to direct patient care, the more ready and accepting they are to see a diverse role for pharma that they can partner with.
  • Physicians were diverse in their perspectives, seeing roles for pharma across the healthcare ecosystem
  • Payers, however, focused more specifically on the role pharma could play in solving system challenges and driving stakeholder partnerships. In discussions, their focus was on more logistical assistance and situational needs, and would vary based on specific product, category and country needs.

Geographical nuances

A high percentage of US HCPs felt that the personal alignment of their purpose with pharma’s purpose was very important, whereas in France there was a feeling that alignment wasn’t that important and perhaps, in France, pharma’s role is more likely to be enabling HCPs to fulfil their own purpose vs trying to align it.

US and UK HCPs across the specialties felt their purpose lay in delivering the best care for patients. Those in France and Spain aligned their purpose more to ensuring efficiency and cost- effectiveness of care.

Professional nuances

More than any other HCP subset, neurologists felt strongly that their role and purpose was to uncover the complexities and direct patient challenges vs being involved in tackling systemic challenges, looking to payers and pharma as partners to to help solve these challenges.

It’s no great surprise that we saw the increased value of purpose in the area of infectious disease, where we’ve seen the greatest demonstration of system collaboration effort during COVID-19.

Infectious disease specialists showed a strong affinity to pharma’s efforts in driving solutions to peripheral system challenges. We also saw a similar response from oncologists and cardiologists, who showed a strong acknowledgement that pharma’s purpose lay in system partnerships.

Again, this was no surprise, given that the oncology and cardiology communities have seen many innovative programmes and have worked with many system stakeholders to deliver optimum patient care.

Interestingly payers gave us the signal, through the data, that they feel pharma is best focused on triaging educational gaps and improving home care solutions to support patients.

How can pharma increase the visibility of their purpose?

There was a clear response that action – specifically, partnering within the healthcare ecosystem – is how to prove purpose, and that purpose cannot be achieved just through commitment and communication. While still important, a great story about purpose is meaningless without the action to prove it.

What are the important conclusions gained from this research

Clearly, it is important for industry to make purpose a priority, especially in the face of brand parity and increasing perceptions of corporate/ franchise parity.

As well as bringing its innovations to market, pharma has another clear role to play – that of enabling physicians to solve the needs of their individual patients – and that is accomplished by achieving purpose through partnership across the healthcare ecosystem.

Ludivine Delattre is Head of Health at Porter Novelli London and Stacy Vaughn is Managing Partner of US healthcare research at Hall & Partners

7th July 2021

Ludivine Delattre is Head of Health at Porter Novelli London and Stacy Vaughn is Managing Partner of US healthcare research at Hall & Partners

7th July 2021

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