In the recent wake of GlaxoSmithKline’s decision to discontinue the practice of paying physicians to promote its pharmaceuticals and medical devices, pharma retailers are in a state of fix.
As argued succinctly by Phil Baumann in his influential article, the above decision only unearths more questions than answers. The most important of which is – Is the industry ready for such a change?
‘Pay-for-promotion,’ Baumann says, was not only a marketing tactic, but also the fundamental, and probably the only way, of bridging the information gap between physicians (doctors) that need the ‘prescriptive knowledge‘ to treat their patients, and manufacturing companies that makes such knowledge available in the first place.
The reality of a barrage of medical representatives queuing up to impress, but also inform-educate, doctors is a well known one. This kind of ‘white promotion‘ – one where two parties (medical reps from pharma distributors and doctors) engage in a meaningful manner for mutual benefit – is hard to done away with, especially when its alternative is not clearly visible in the horizon.
But this is where Baumann introduces the role of the crucial third front – ‘the pharma’. In all deliberation, refers to Pharma Software for distributors and retailers. He perceives this as an oppurtunity for these intermediaries, that in his words, ‘…opportunity for pharma is to envision itself as a source of trustworthy information rather than as a seller of…‘
The Rise of New Age Pharmacy Distributors and Retailers
Let’s understand the dire practicality of it. Doctors depend on the upstream knowledge channel to prescribe drugs to their patients, and while they have their peer network to draw information from, it is limited by its size, time and necessity.
Distributors have, on the other hand, the oppurtunity to work with manufacturers to get sensitized on newer drug offerings, as well as the privilege of working closely with the doctors, while retailers form the bridge for distributors to gain end-customer insights.
This puts them in an ideal position to become ‘knowledge incubators‘, as well as alternative informative marketing channel, of the industry.
While the news was made available in UK, the spokesperson for GSK India said that the proposed changes are designed to “bring greater clarity and confidence that whenever we talk to a doctor, nurse, or other prescriber, it is patients’ interests that always come first”.
Where does it leave Pharma Distributors and Retailers, especially in India?
Well…nowhere, for the moment. For traditionally, the pharma industry has always followed a ‘push’ form of distribution – from drugs to data. Now, with the customers becoming more informed about the ‘over-the-counter’ drug purchases they make, it is time for the entire distribution channel to start listening to them, and that involves distributors as much as retailers.
It is at this juncture, where they can unearth the oppurtunity!
But the question is, ‘Have they invested in a suitable technology at their point of sale terminal, i.e. a pharma distribution software to capture knowledge, and make it available upstream?‘