Understanding consumer preferences has always been of paramount importance in most product segments. Within the pharmaceutical domain however even as there’s a constant ideation, speculation on future of healthcare; outlook on disease incidence, burden and pharmaceutical consumption patterns, this particular aspect has not been focused on, possibly owing to the prescriptive nature of the medicine where decision-making seldom lies with the patient & the power to influence product development lies more with the medical professionals & payers. To an extent this disengagement of consumer does justify the disinterest of Industry to understanding the consumer as against understanding the prescriber & the payer/ insurer.
Having said that, a number of disorders these days are getting close to being categorized as lifestyle-diseases & with early detection, diagnosis and routine monitoring getting simpler, it’s only imminent that the insurer will increasingly resort to rationalizing what treatment-regimens can be covered thus significantly shifting the onus of payment to consumer. Then again, owing to the abundance of open-source information and availability of validated healthcare gamification apps, the consumer is getting more knowledgeable & hence empowered. Seen together, these trends indicate that the average pharmaceutical consumer is well poised to be the key decision-maker on therapeutic choices, particularly on maintenance therapies that form a predominant portion (vis-à-vis’ the curative therapies) of all pharmaceutical revenues.
It also hence would not be overtly speculative to state that the hitherto quintessential practitioner-dependent healthcare consumer is evolving quick & is looking at an iterative role for her/ him-self rather than merely wanting to being ‘prescribed health’, literally & figuratively. Continued negligence of factoring-in consumer behaviour in the product development process can thus be a serious lapse of judgement in an industry that’s been groping around for the next paradigm shift for a few years now.
The Health 2025 survey I floated in early July is a token attempt to gain some basic perspective into the altering behaviour of an ‘aware pharmaceutical consumer’ which I hope either in its promise OR in its inadequacy will instigate more such studies in-depth and at a larger scale. While I can’t claim to have gotten a great number of responses, I fortunately received quality responses (& some incidental endorsement*) as indicated by consistency of the trend that was showing up right from early stages to till plateauing of response flow.
Even as I was compiling the final results I came across this rather well received fund raising pitch of Stefan Broda (Founder/CEO of BeforeWeDo) at the end of which one particular GP lauded the Consumer Iteration built into the business model which is worth emulating by other healthcare start-ups! – If not a sign from the heavens, a sweet coincidence nonetheless.
SAMPLE POPULATION, STATISTICAL ASSUMPTIONS & SURVEY DESIGN
I chose the sample population of pharmaceutical professionals who I believe are very representative of the above breed of ‘aware pharmaceutical consumers’ & to whom I have ready access through the Pharmaceutical Discussion Group I founded and manage on Linkedin & Groupsite
Based on a guestimate of ~5million pharmaceutical professionals world-wide, I derived my target sample size as 350, using a Confidence level of 95%, which is the mostly used default level & a Confidence interval of 5, which again is the oft-employed default figure. By the time I chose to start the compilation (the survey is still active) I however had only 159 responses which translated amount to a confidence interval of 7.7 while the confidence level remains at 95% - That, I guess is my cue to you for taking the results with a pinch of salt :-)
Finally, I am neither a professional statistician nor a qualified analyst and it’s likely the design of survey may not fully please many out there. I however did consciously try and keep the questionnaire short, the questions specific & the choice of answers broad in order to minimize any chance of a bias setting-in – the trends indicated by the responses, as I see, justify some if not all questions.
PRESENTATION OF RESULTS, ANALYSIS
The survey is based on ten questions out of which the first three are essentially filters namely age, sex & nationality that enable some level of demographic segmentation of responses. While the charts of responses to individual questions looked very pretty on Surveymonkey dash-board, I agonized nonetheless quite a bit deciding on an ideal approach to presenting the results on my blog without sounding too pedagogic – I hence chose to weave the details around certain KEY OBSERVATIONS and then go about detailing on those further.
Since it may help put things in perspective, I have uploaded the primary results document* to file cabinet on Pharmaceutical Discussion Group – please note that this link opens the document only when you are logged in, (i.e. if not a member already, you will have to join the group)
**I’ll be happy to share the master data file too with anyone interested.
In hindsight I realize some of the questions are pretty skewed & some fairly meaningful, but overall they seemed to fall in two broad categories, one set wherein the standalone overall response is itself strongly indicative of a trend & a second set wherein an interesting picture emerges only when the responses are separated out and compared across demographics. I however will spare the mundane trends and go straight to top observations based on the percentage response towards a trend-indicating response;
Not just food, Ambrosia is what the consumer wants - a huge thumbs-up for Functional Foods!
Quite ironic that the top trend in a health survey is food & not medicine! - A whopping 87% of the respondents see/ want the food in 2025 to be more than nutrition, out of which 46% see a potential for food being a curative!
Women make up the majority of the ‘food as a curative’ advocates (60% as against 30% among men) – which simultaneously underscores & endorses the greater influence of women in the functional food promise.
More Indians (56%) believe in the promise of curative food than the North Americans (40%) or Europeans (44%) – a possible connection to the expectations influenced by prevailing, predominant ethno-cultural dietary practises?
Consumers want to take things into their hands, literally – Mobile Health Tools all set to Rule
At 68%, a clear majority of the respondents are bullish on the role & significance of personal mobile apps in an individual’s health management. (25%, Indispensable & 43%, Very crucial)
Once again this is a trend driven primarily by women, the percentage of women who chose ‘Indispensable’ (40%) being significantly higher than the men, a majority of whom (67%) chose the mildly-tempered but still bullish, ‘Very crucial’ as their answer. This clearly establishes women as the ‘early adaptors of the health mobile tools & apps’ & possibly that mobile apps are more amenable to woman’s health management and finally that factoring-in gender into the development of a mobile healthcare app can be a key determiner of the success of the same.
When the Geography filter is applied, the trend expectedly peaks in North America with an overall bullish-ness at 76% - within which women once again stand-out strongly with 55% responding ‘Indispensable’. The dominant European response is however ‘Very crucial’ (60%) which probably indicates a currently lower penetration of mobile health apps within this geography – this holds good for India too.
They seem to say, keep the Doctor away – Eating an apple isn't the only way
While the question has some unfortunate bias & choice of ‘You’ sounds like a given…, the responses still indicate an increasing role for non-physician health professionals. If the choice of ‘You’ (53%) is ignored, only 12% see the physician playing the single most crucial role towards an individual’s health much below the diagnostician at 18%.
In-line with the number one trend above, the nutritionist polled 10% of the vote. Quite surprisingly, of all respondents who chose Nutritionist, 70% belong to the age group of 35-44 yrs. This read together with the first trend gives a great demographic insight into who could be the prime target demographic segment for promoting functional foods – Women between the age group of 35-44.
Apart from the above three observations, the rest of the observations though interesting aren’t necessarily great insights into the health consumer psyche - the same are listed below in no specific order;
- 78% of the respondents feel medicines should target cure as against 22% that are okay with maintenance – expectedly, the 78% group is populated majorly with people under 55 years of age.
- 87% of the respondents prefer oral medications to parenterals – Interestingly though, there’s a strong geographical variation with NA & EU preferring oral medications at 92%, while the Indian respondents still retain some of the cultural trust of ‘injections’ (26%)
- 89% of all respondents still believe the necessity of medicines per se’ in-spite or despite the preference of the ambrosial foods – if anything, this seems to showcase the omnipresence of the pills.
While the results may not qualify as astonishing findings, the unmistakable relevance of the trends thrown up by a mere seven-question survey still underscores the value of understanding the health consumer’s perspective and using the knowledge to build, refine the road-map of pharmaceutical product development.
Functional Food for thought! :-)