Pharma Industry has been as quick to adopt digital solutions as the NHS: a personal perspective

“In response to Covid19, general practice has moved from carrying out c.90% of consultations with patients as face-to-face appointments to managing more than 85% of consultations remotely. 95% of practices now having video consultation capability live and the remaining few percent in the process of implementation or procurement of a solution.” This was stated today 29th April 2020 in a letter from the NHSE England Chief Executive outlining Phase 2 of the NHS Response.*

Superlatives could not overstate what a tremendous digital revolution this has been in the traditionally sluggish NHS. Under tension, the NHS has been forced to overcome previous and existing resistance to change; necessity has forced the rubber band to be stretched beyond its previous comfort levels.

Equally, I have been extremely impressed at the speed at which the Pharmaceutical Industry has deftly moved into the collaboration zone. Most of this is in the public domain with examples of big and small companies partnering to find vaccines for this pandemic. However, in market access terms, much of this agility is less obvious; particularly the way in which pharma has quickly and sensitively adapted to online delivery of traditional face-to-face interactions and events. I have often felt that industry can get slowed down with the reams of internally facing red tape; this can impede companies from working effectively and adding maximum value with their already busy NHS customers. However, I have been observing the red tape becoming a red rubber band with a flexible ‘can-do’ attitude as industry stretches to deliver value in the ‘new normal. I thought it may be useful at this juncture to reflect and provide a personal perspective of how we are collaborating and innovating digitally with various industry partners.

Rapid Response Web clinics: Last week we conducted the first of these webinar clinics designed to support GP Pharmacists to manage LTCs virtually during COVID-19. Incredibly, we had 200 attendees! This was remarkable for three reasons:1) because it was an innovative and programme delivered in 12 working days- surely a record for Industry approvals! 2) The uptake highlighted the appetite of NHS healthcare professionals to continue to learn and improve clinical knowledge in innovative and online ways. 3) field teams were able to legitimately reach out to customers for a service that was both responsive and relevant. We have since agreed on a fortnightly programme of topics with various other companies including frailty, heart failure, and more which we look forward to working in partnership to deliver.

Converting to an Online Training Offer: Pharma Industry has quickly recognised the importance of supporting HCPs with their development and upskilling and we have been able to convert our i2i online resources and workshops into a blended approach of interactive e-learning modules, live-streamed sessions, and on-demand presentations which HCPs can gain access in their own time and at their own convenience. This has been viewed positively by industry recognising that the traditional meeting-based model will no longer be relevant.

Virtual advisory boards: This week we are delivering two of these half-day advisory boards for clients to support them with an understanding of the environment and shaping engagement during and beyond COVID-19. This has proven to be a focussed and cost-effective approach for Pharma to craft potential offerings and services. Payer customers who would have needed to leave at 5 am and return at 9 pm for a full-day meeting in London were able to be fully engaged and were grateful for this time-effective approach. Indeed more preparation is needed, but the desired business outcomes were still achieved for the pharma client.

Field upskilling: Whether life will be the same for field-based teams in life AC (After Covid) is uncertain. However, the need for companies to be able to engage meaningfully and with empathy with their NHS customers, that remains a certainty. So, we have enjoyed working with companies to develop a curriculum of team mentorship with NHS customers to remain connected and alive to the real-world challenges; supporting them to understand the wider context and agenda for customers and helping them to “chunk-up”.

Those are just some examples of how Soar Beyond, our small organisation, has nimbly needed to modify our approach to meet our pharma and NHS customer needs. Whether the digital revolution we have adopted will be fully embedded when clinic doors re-open, remains to be seen. I suspect we will have tautened the elastic to its limit in the new normal, but have proven both the NHS and industry to be pliable and resilient. Although nothing can fully replace face-to-face human contact entirely in healthcare interactions, we must resist pinging back to the old normal in life BC (Before Covid). I am hopeful that some of the more mindful and efficient approaches adopted by NHS and industry during this unprecedented period will surely endure.


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