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New realities. How can pharma adapt to COVID-19 needs?

Doctor facing a computor
Written by
Tenney Loweth

Tenney Loweth

Written by
Nancy Dale

Nancy Dale

NATIONAL’s Healthcare team has been actively strategizing for what lies ahead for sectors like the pharmaceutical industry. When the opportunity arose to attend a virtual panel hosted by the Ontario Pharmaceutical Marketing Association, focused on how companies are assessing and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, we jumped at the chance to hear how a range of representatives of leading global and Canadian pharmaceutical companies are navigating the realities of a COVID-19 world.

We’ve gathered highlights and key insights around some of the challenges, and the opportunities, that the industry faces.

Make the evolution seamless for patients

The delivery of healthcare changed overnight for millions, but healthcare needs didn’t. Telehealth and virtual visit capabilities accelerated at a breakneck speed to meet those needs, with some healthcare providers suggesting that patient visits will be 50% virtual and 50% face-to-face as the new norm.

At the beginning of the outbreak, e-health platforms and fee structures for healthcare providers were restructured quickly. It’s clear now that these updates will have to be assessed for long-term adoption. Not only are they necessary, but many patients prefer convenient virtual and telemedicine options, particularly for the monitoring of ongoing health management.

An important insight to adapting to patients’ needs is to understand the new patient pathway. In some cases, the patient now has a phone or video appointment, has a prescription sent to their pharmacist, and medication delivered to their home—all without ever physically seeing a healthcare professional.

Stand out in a sea of Zoom calls

Without offices and clinics in regular use, and certainly with in-person visits drastically reduced, leaders in pharma need to evolve their client interactions and sales techniques. Everything, from the handshake, to advisory boards, to speaking events and congresses, needs to change. Obviously, the shift is to digital, but healthcare professionals are pressed for time as it is—and like so many of us, they are now tuning in to their computer screens for what used to be an engaging face-to-face interaction.

What leaders need to focus on now is stepping up their offering by improving digital content to maximize value to the end user. Now more than ever, it’s important to think about the recipient of the message.

To do that, step one is to consciously rally around a common purpose. Reminding employees to keep patients at the heart of decisions will help to inspire this evolution and help bring healthcare into its next phase. How do we help our healthcare partners solve issues or challenges? How do we continue to help them keep up to date with products and service offerings in a creative and useful way? The pressure is on for marketing and public relations leads to pave the new way to online engagement with providers and patients alike.

Leaders in healthcare need to challenge and revisit their assumptions of the patient journey as we all adjust to the new normal, while monitoring for unintended consequences.

Moving forward

As in most other industries, healthcare leaders are still very much taking things day-by-day in the midst of a pandemic, but also trying to balance the longer-term outlook on issues like return to work, product availability and patient engagement. Perhaps most importantly, they also understand the need to look after one’s own mental and physical health, while also looking out for each other with a bit more patience, understanding and kindness.

One thing remains constant in this uncertain world—we at NATIONAL look forward to continuing to support our healthcare clients as they contemplate their own evolution and navigate changes at a speed never seen before in Canadian healthcare.

——— Nancy Dale is a former Vice-President and Practice Lead, Healthcare at NATIONAL Public Relations

——— Tenney Loweth is a former Manager, Healthcare at NATIONAL Public Relations