The pharma industry today

The US pharmacy industry has been traditionally built around the basis of control.

CVS, Walgreens, and other brick-and-mortar enterprises control means of fulfillment, with a dense chain of stores and tight relationships with pharma drug manufacturers, pharma drug wholesalers, and pharmacy benefit managers. Payers often control customer decisions around pharmacy drugs and treatment choice, with deep know-how of the ins and outs of care network incentives and formulary control. And the limited interoperability of data living in different care providers’ EHR and HIE systems create silos of data whose potential is controlled by the data holder.

These rigid systems of control deepen information asymmetry and create overly complicated experiences for the patient. Patients quickly lose trust in a system that prioritizes the needs of the many stakeholders within the care value chain rather than the end consumer, the patient. The current system screams for humanity, empathy, and trust.

Digital is disrupting the pharma industry

Digital is here to help. Today, digitization is already driving healthcare differentiation and disaggregation, offering new pathways for care. Innovative start-ups across the care value chain are driving greater data interoperability, increasing the volume of alternative health data, and unbundling traditionally centralized health services. For example, according to a CB Insights report, the top 150 health startups received over $20 billion in funding in 2020, aiming to scale new tech-enabled services and business models across the healthcare network ecosystem. 

Advancements in digital have also led to greater consumer choice when it comes to healthcare, including pharmacy services. At-home remote health monitoring devices like electrocardiograms, wearables with biometrics, home IoT and voice technologies are extending the patient touch point. Granular health data in consumers’ hands means consumers feel empowered to self-manage and actively engage in care decisions. In a 2020 Deloitte study, 51% of consumers said they were very or extremely likely to tell their doctors when they disagreed with them. 

Anticipating these evolving customer expectations, pharmacy innovators pioneered user-centric solutions – take PillPack, for example, which grew to $1B in value in just a few short years.  Stanford has rolled out its robotic pharmacy in a care environment designed with user experience at its forefront. Meanwhile, Benevolent AI is leveraging data and AI to accelerate upstream R&D of novel drugs while solutions like Pando provide digital tools to increase collaboration and coordination between health and social care teams. 

Additionally, digital services like Alto Pharmacy, Lemonaid health, and Ro bundle multiple value-propositions from online diagnosis to prescription management and delivery, saving care providers time and simplifying patient experience. These digital start-ups across the pharma value chain are not only challenging the status quo of the industry but are also more effective at gaining patient trust.

It is clear that the future of pharmacy will be more patient experience and less a control play. This will require rethinking the value exchange across pharma stakeholders and innovating new patient-centric services that prioritize patient trust.

The future of pharma is trustworthy 

Providers can build and prioritize patient trust by providing consistent care communication, frictionless care coordination, and greater accuracy and transparency. This is what today’s customers expect, and it is a key driver of business success. 

The COVID-19 vaccination program and pockets of resistance have shown us that the biggest reason for consumer resistance to vaccination has been a lack of trust. A pharmacy is the closest and most accessible patient touch point in the care value chain and is therefore strategically positioned to respond to this trust gap.

Healthcare distrust and unequal access to services are some of the most pressing challenges facing providers and public health officials today. 

How would our systems change if we prioritized the provider/patient connection? What could be if we established a new, more efficient, and effective care ecosystem ‘wiring’ with customer needs at the center of the ecosystem? 

Leveraging technology as the ecosystem facilitator, what if we could reset the customer and care provider dynamic? 

How might we enhance the value of care by focusing on the right patient experience principles and delivering them consistently across the patient journey?

Enhancing the value of care through trust-based solutions

Enhancing the value of care could mean ensuring greater SIMPLICITY by increasing basic transparency of price options, as well as developing a one-stop dashboard for the entire family’s care management. 

This could mean facilitating greater ACCESS by lowering costs relative to insured/copay, creating a broader range of pharmacy/care networks, increasing community-based touchpoints, and also providing logistical support via transportation, finance, multilingual communication, etc. to access care.

This could mean enhancing CONVENIENCE with delivery to you wherever you are, or even an end-to-end care solution at home through a single app from clinical diagnostics, monitoring, prescription delivery, and recurrent subscription savings.

This could mean prioritizing SEAMLESS integration into lifestyle touch points like mobile, wearables, and smart home devices for looking at care from a holistic health and wellness perspective. This could further increase contextual data richness for predictive analytics to diagnose and prevent future health conditions before they arise.

This could mean providing POWER to the patient through medication adherence reminders scheduling and tracking via wearables and drug dispensing solutions. 

Better care is possible 

Opportunities for improving the value of care through trust are emerging with both retail- and community-based care. Value-based care is driving healthcare providers to look at the patients holistically (beyond health to socioeconomic needs and abilities to access health), and partnering with community-based organizations is becoming important to deliver this value. 

For pharmacies innovating their digital business models, this could mean designing for greater EFFICIENCY to reduce care administration and management costs while also streamlining billing and back-office payment operations for better revenue management.

This could mean better PLANNING by improved demand forecasting for new health conditions, uncovering trends in existing health conditions, and access to an expanding expert knowledge base and potential links to new types of R&D. This could also mean supporting drug efficacy monitoring via population health trends.

This might mean augmenting DECISION MAKING for doctors by providing access to data/ML/AI analytics to improve diagnosis and decision support. Access to a managed and credible care network/community might also help care providers share insights and solicit advice.

And most importantly, this might include maintaining a 360 VIEW of the patients, facilitating transparent communication with personalized language and cultural context, removing the structural barriers to health equity, and building trust within its communities.

Read more:

Illustration by Mike Andersen