Hanover

23 Nov 2017

As the winter begins to set in the UK’s media will become increasingly focused on stories of rising pressures on the National Health Service. The UK’s ageing population and the rising demand for healthcare have led to reports of a “winter crisis” in UK hospitals for the last few years.

As health services across the globe grapple with affordability challenges and future sustainability, many are facing similar challenges, often resulting in somewhat painful decisions taken by national governments keen to reduce costs. Within this, medical innovation and pharma are increasingly seen as a commodity as opposed to a true partner for the system, with recognition for the true value that innovation brings to a health system.

For many, the direction of travel can only appear negative, driving pharma towards a lowest-price, procurement-based, model that has been seen in other parts of the healthcare sector, including medical devices. There is nonetheless an urgent need to reframe the debate around medical innovation and support healthcare systems to improve understanding of the broader value of medicines.

Given pharma’s long history of partnering with health systems across the world to improve patient outcomes, the sector has a strong case to be seen as a central partner to health systems to develop new models of care delivery that overcome many of the common issues facing global health systems – increasing demand, growing populations, and the ever-rising burden of chronic disease.

Pharma can work with health systems, either nationally or at the regional level, to understand what these systems truly value, and what part they see innovation playing in delivering their objectives. For example, if a healthcare system wants to move to an outcomes-driven approach, like some parts of the NHS, could pharma support systems to develop infrastructure that allows for patients to be tracked through the healthcare pathway, and outcomes to be measured. If a system places great value on prevention and public health awareness, how can pharma support analysis that improves understanding of where to best target patients in different geographies?

This approach will not be achieved overnight, and in some cases there will be longstanding concerns to overcome from a health system regarding pharma’s motives. This is why it is vital that the industry identifies how it can communicate in the language of the health system. For too long what the pharma industry values has been diametrically opposed to the values of the healthcare system, and a new approach will be needed which speaks to the value of the system, and patients.

Some may question whether the general public has appetite for a debate around the values of healthcare services, or whether the public just wants a health service which runs efficiently, and on time. Across Europe, public service reform – including and beyond healthcare – has often overpromised and under delivered. However, healthcare remains a significant issue for voters. In the UK polling regularly showing that the future of the NHS is the highest priority for voters.

What is certain is that a one size fits all model will not work. Different healthcare systems will have different needs and challenges. This challenge should be embraced by pharma and the communicators within the sector. There is a great opportunity to leverage the expertise within different organisations and across the sector to ensure a future healthcare debate is both patient-centric, and expert-led. This should include challenging organisations to define exactly what the long-term partnership offer could be to healthcare systems that builds trust, long-term understanding and, ultimately, improves the value given to medical innovation.

 

This article was originally published in PMLive on 22 November 2017.