Leela Barham reports on how the pharma industry can make the most of working with emerging stakeholders
Engaging and partnering with emerging stakeholders has become a crucial pharma priority. But, according to Martin Anderson, who works with pharmaceutical companies on partnerships with the NHS in England and who previously led the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry’s (ABPI) work on partnerships, all stakeholders share a common goal: “To improve quality of care and provide the supporting environment for the use of innovation.”
This, says Mat Phillips, co-founder of multi-stakeholder engagement organization Engage Health Alliance Europe, means the emerging pharma ecosystem is less about new stakeholders and “more about a change in emphasis.”
This changed emphasis must ensure broader engagement with patients and policymakers as well as healthcare providers and payers. Each stakeholder should be aligned to “ensure innovation delivers the fullest value possible to those who can benefit.” Part of this shift involves a move away from market access as ‘justifying a price’ to broader goals of delivering full value not only from the introduction phases but right through to the ongoing patient experience.
“It’s difficult for companies to know who to liaise with,” says Anderson. “Reforms in England mean that knowing who to contact is not clear. And, of course, it will be different in different parts of England since there are different people with different levels of influence.” (For more on the NHS, see Pharma and the ‘new’ NHS: Getting the most from partnerships, The 'new' NHS: What does it mean for pharma? and How to engage with the new NHS.)
Stay on target
There is no simple list of job titles to target to find those involved in setting priorities, identifying preferred products, or designing the incentives that can affect prescribers behaviors, such as local formularies or incentive schemes. There are also crucial differences in how engaged patients and their representatives are in such decisions.
Companies may be faced with a number of potential stakeholders, so accurate targeting is essential. Firms may even have to take a ‘wait and see’ approach in some areas of England to avoid putting in a lot of time and effort only to find the stakeholders are no longer relevant as reforms are implemented.
Firms also need to be clear about what they want to achieve when working with stakeholders, whether it’s patients or prescribers. “In each situation, choose what you are going to focus on, like education for professionals,” Anderson advises. “And stick to it. Don’t confuse the issue.”
It’s really about “putting the patient first and then working outward,” Phillips adds. Companies that continue to see patients in a line behind payers and providers will miss out on insights, collaborative opportunities and value-generating ideas that come into focus when the patient is seen as the main customer.
That line of thought can bring in groups that may not have been given emphasis before—the cross-stakeholder approach—in which pharma works with other industries (mobile technology providers, for instance) and the voluntary sector. As cuts to services are made in response to economic constraints, more and more patient services are being picked up by volunteer organizations.
“Pharmaceutical companies can bring real creativity, energy, and new ideas,” says Anderson. Phillips adds that “patient organizations do more than provide information, education and lobbying. Over half also directly provide some form of care or intervention. They can offer incredible insights about the patient pathway.” (For more on patient organizations, see Patients’ Week 2011: The changing dynamic of doctor–patient communications and How pharmacists can help improve patient compliance.)
A changing stakeholder landscape
There are, of course, certain rules that cover engagement and partnerships. The ABPI Code applies in the UK, proving guidance on joint working. This is another reason to be clear about the objectives: to avoid tensions further downstream. Though the stakeholder landscape is changing, the basic tenets that underpin pharma’s activities are not. Anderson points out that engagement and partnership are “not a destination in itself. Rather, it is about a move to a more mature business relationship.”
Phillips says companies will engage better not by asking ‘What can patients and patient groups do for my company?’, but by asking, ‘What can my company do for patients and patient groups?’ Success is when “there is an equal seat at the table for all parties in the partnership,” he says.
Of course, return on investment is critical. But broad stakeholder engagement can be measured in ways that don’t include sales. Success measures should include learning, reputation, contacts and relationships. What has the company learned? Has the perception of the company improved in the minds of others? Are relationships successful? These fundamental questions can be applied across regions and are easier to transport than actual projects.
Companies should ask themselves, “Do we have the breadth of skills and experience that actually represent our customers?” says Phillips. Companies that have the knowledge and understanding to successfully engage emerging stakeholders also have a competitive edge.
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