For pharma companies, the answer to commoditization is service

We’re in an age of service. To stand out from a crowd of competition, pharmaceutical brands are going beyond their core product to provide valuable and memorable experiences.

As pharma products are so susceptible to commoditization, differentiation is especially important. As soon as a patent expires and generics enter the market at a lower price point, a product can quickly become unremarkable and unprofitable.

Generics account for 89 percent of all retail prescriptions in the U.S., but saying that, they will continue to rely on the innovation of big pharma.

Pharma companies should keep innovating with new products, but they also need to take their strategy in new supplementary directions to deliver extra value. This is especially true for the healthcare industry in Asia-Pacific, which is expected to be one of the fastest growing regions in 2018.

Frost & Sullivan has predicted 11.1% growth for healthcare in Asia-Pacific this year, which towers above the average global healthcare economy growth of 4.8%. This growth will be fuelled by Southeast Asia’s fast adoption of technology as well as healthcare’s innovation in delivering care and digital programs.

To keep up with rapid growth in Southeast Asia, the most successful pharma companies will go “beyond the pill” and offer services and value to boost their profits and brand power over the long-term.


Patients expect service

In a piece of Accenture research from 2014, “Why Pharma Companies Can’t Ignore Patient Services”, 76 percent of 2,000 patients taking medication believed that pharma companies should offer complementary services with products. For instance, customer rewards programs, financial assistance, measuring and tracking alerts, or product information.

Patients don’t just want these extra services, they’re now expecting them. It’s the same with any industry today. Consumers want the brands and businesses they interact with to tangibly improve their lives in some way. Writer and marketer Bernadette Jiwa believes that today we are seeing a powerful shift towards a “Meaning Economy”. The brands and businesses that thrive are the ones that enable us to work with our hearts as well as our heads and hands.

In industries outside of pharma, we are receiving experiences that go above and beyond the base level of service. We return to the grocery store that greets us, gives us advice, and personalizes our experience. We expect personalization when we travel and book experiences in a destination. And we are also often willing to provide extra personal information in exchange for this.

Packaging pharma products with services is a differentiator in an increasingly crowded marketplace. It also gives patients a reason to spend more, as they’re not thinking of the drug as a commodity that they could just get a cheaper generic version of. Rather, it’s a packaged service with a range of benefits, including digital aspects that can fit in with their wider online life.


How pharma can provide services

As soon as patients start taking a medication, outreach by pharmaceutical companies to patients can start. This can be through a multitude of channels, online and offline. However, the most power will be in digital patient programs.

The majority of patients are online several hours a day, and consume information from a variety of online sources. Patients are also playing a bigger role in the healthcare dynamic than ever before. They want to partner with providers and make informed decisions and strategies together. Digital programs are a great gateway to making this happen, especially in the digitally-savvy emerging markets that are experiencing hyper-growth, including Southeast Asia.

One solution for digital patient programs is Connect, mClinica’s whitelabel app. Connect enables pharmaceutical companies to reach patients with health education messaging, refill reminders, and targeted discounts – all by text message. The patient can receive value beyond the pill, and the health care provider can provide services beyond the visit.

In one use case, a pharmaceutical company program in a southeast Asian country invited more than 300 physicians and pharmacy outlets enroll during the eight months post-launch. Over 15,000 patients have since received targeted messaging and discounts with 1 million USD in sales coursed through the platform.

To drive patient adherence and loyalty, pharma companies need to think about the value they provide at every touchpoint. They need to get to know their patients and understand where they can best provide value. This redefines the role of pharmaceutical companies, bringing them into a wider, more powerful and sustainable ecosystem.


The future of pharma: collaboration with other providers to be the patient’s health partner

To give patients extra value, it’s beneficial for pharma companies to partner with a tech provider that brings the external insights and capacities they lack. This is more effective than building their own tech solution or acquiring other companies, both of which can fail to hit the mark. Another collaborative opportunity is integrated clinical trials. For this, “beyond-the-pill” solutions like services or wearable devices could be merged with a clinical trial for a valuable package offering.

Going forward, the most successful pharmaceutical companies will provide much more than just commodities. They will deliver services that uniquely answer the patient’s needs. And a personalized, user-friendly and digital offering for each patient will be their secret to thrive.


At mClinica, we expect to see greater collaboration between pharma companies, providers and doctors, all working to achieve the patient’s best outcome. By connecting the complete healthcare chain and providing value at every stage, we’ll see sustainable results at every level.


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