Converging the pharma business with its logistics and data functions

Pharmaceutical CommercePharmaceutical Commerce - September/October 2014

Sales was, is and always will be the driving force in the pharmaceutical business (as opposed to pharmaceutical science, which is shared among private companies, academia, the medical professions and governments). And while the pharma sales profession is under duress in terms of employment numbers and core functions, we’ve consistently asserted that the often-heralded “death” of the profession is a figment—there will always be a need for a sales function, and people to perform that function in the industry.

With this issue, Pharmaceutical Commerce would appear to be at some distance from content relating to pharma sales. We’ve got our Cold Chain Directory, a comprehensive source of vendor and service offerings for the industry, along with several articles on logistics and supply chain security. And there’s a report on the vastly undervalued function of master data management. Here’s how they relate to pharma sales:

With cold chain, the first thing to understand is that the field is gradually shifting from that specific function—keeping certain products in a refrigerated state—to one of ensuring the overall integrity of the supply chain. That, in turn, links to the directive the entire US industry is now under (catching up with many parts of the rest of the world) to tracking pharmaceutical shipments and ensuring that they are coming from, and going to, authorized entities. It’s often been remarked that this tracking process, in turn, is a deep window into overall movement of products in the marketplace, and now you’re close to a basic sales function of making sure that products are on hand when needed. (It’s still true that the pharma supply chain, from API ingredients to finished, packaged products on pharmacy shelves, is one of the longest, time-wise, of any industry.)

With MDM, there appears to be a quiet revolution going on that’s about to get quite a bit noisier. MDM got a boost (from a supplier or IT services provider perspective) by the Physician’s Sunshine Act, which the entire industry has been busy complying with since about a year ago. (At presstime, CMS was sticking to its guns that the database of reported spending by industry on healthcare providers would go public around Sept. 30, but as the article points out, the medical professional societies, among others, are calling for a postponement).

MDM always has been intimately connected to sales—its historic function has been to help reps locate and qualify the physicians they hope to visit. Today, however, the picture is changing rapidly. MDM providers are fast at work clarifying the affiliation relationships among physicians—which hospitals, integrated delivery networks and other business relationships they have. Why? For the simple reason that as more and more prescribing gets influenced by formulary plans and payer policies, these relationships become more important to recognize in the sales process.

An even bigger transformation in MDM is the merging of physician identity and affiliation data with professional practices, including communication preferences, social media activity and prescribing trends. The pharma industry is in the early stages of being able to understand their key clients—physicians—in the same ways that consumer marketers are delving into the preferences of consumers.

The next stage of this transformation—understanding patient habits and preferences—is already started, and MDM techniques will accelerate that change.

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