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All things Pharma

Diary of a self-confessed NHS budget-holder


Pharma’s Account Management model is built on the principle that frontline professionals develop and deliver brand value propositions that align with the key priorities of key customers. But in a changing market where new customers are emerging, how well do you understand those priorities? Omar Ali pens Part I of a typical day in the life of a Formulary Pharmacist.

Despite consumers’ apparent lust for TV medical dramas and gruesome surgical documentaries, it’s unlikely that the viewing public would find a biopic centring on the work of a Formulary Pharmacist particularly enticing. But, for an audience of pharmaceutical sales professionals charged with understanding its customer-base, gaining an insight into the breadth and depth – and far-reaching implications – of a typical week in the life of NHS prescribing advisers, medicines management and formulary pharmacists should provide much food for thought.

Pharma appears desperate to establish the ‘key priorities’ of its many customers. This article, based on typical encounters with medical sales professionals, is a genuine attempt to outline mine.

(Discussion in the corridor)
Arrived at my NHS base camp. Stopped in the corridor by one of the GI Consultants who wants to set up a GPC/CCG commissioning group on GI Inflammatory Disease with one of the local Consortia – we ran one with Rheumatology framed around an osteoporosis brand. We put a date in the diary to discuss. I will be coordinating an IBD lunch event to facilitate joined-up working. Bringing in the GPCs is easy – I can text most of the GPs on the Commissioning Board of our local clusters, such is the relationship required for joined-up thinking. He’s very committed to his cause – and has very recently impressed significant knowledge and application of commissioning processes involved. Needless to say, many of his choice agents are either off-license or difficult to source from community pharmacies. He also has a whole stack of biologics he’s keen to use – but without some PCT discussions (and now outreaching to GPCs) he won’t get very far.

Thoughts for pharma

GI/IBD has become very noisy and in certain areas very controversial. Biologics are testing the very essence of ‘affordability’ in the NHS. We also know that by using them correctly, we can prevent signi­cant morbidity – surgery/admissions/etc. However, joined-up thinking doesn’t occur by magic – and you have a signifi­cant role in making this happen. When we coordinate this GPC/Hospital IBD lunch event, I am certain I will be discussing with various stakeholders, including pharma. NICE in principle supports a number of products but there are complexities. For example, bringing patients in for an IV infusion will generate income for the Trust – which funds a nurse who provides additional services. Patients treated at home may be a preferred option – there is no VAT. Home healthcare is not without its headaches around delivery, months’ supply ordered and administrative burden.

I am still disappointed at the level of pharma support I have seen here. There is far more that can be done to bring a clinical context into a financial framework. I call this the ‘Mortgage Principle’ – translating falling in love with a house into a financial framework with a defined loan: value and %APR with monthly repayments – see previous Matrix Revolutions. There seems to be a vast gap in understanding NHS processes – not just from pharma, but also from consultants – so improved process mapping from chronic disease to A&E through to post-discharge is essential. It also brings out the ‘true-cost’ of the disease in IBD – not just the ‘drug’s cost’. If our consultant doesn’t move ahead and advance his prescribing base, he will end up referring more patients to tertiary centres (which will only increase PCT costs) – so it’s important to put things into context here. Process Map the patient and the money will follow. If this is not tackled by pharma, I foresee the future of managed care entering here very neatly. Looking after the whole pathway and pushing pharma out to bystanders – look at companies like IHP, United Healthcare & Medco, it’s happening.

8.40am: Pharmacy Base.
(Discussion with the boss)
Arrived to my desk – finally. This time it’s the Chief waiting with an IFR/one-off-request that needs sorting. It’s the usual story: this time it’s a urology product that a GP is refusing to prescribe. We are having to push through the IFR/one-off-request – and also liaise with the GP for a medium-term solution (the patient is travelling significant distances to obtain this). This means some research, PCT discussions, GP emails and a phone call to the patient. I will also try and perch on the urology consultant’s shoulders (he runs a clinic this afternoon) and coordinate future D&T processes. Most of all, we need to ensure that the patient is central to this whole system – which is easier said than done. It’s good timing though – I have been in discussions with urology, working through the top-ten spend on the drug list to see where we have efficiency savings (something which is occurring across the whole trust in conjunction with PCTs & GPCs). This product initially came up as ‘not-on-the-radar’ but clearly needs some attention. I have our medicines information pharmacist conducting background research – I have emailed the specialist commissioning pharmacist at the PCT and CCd the prescribing adviser who has just evaluated a recent APC paper on overactive bladder prescribing (which we are discussing at our next D&T).

Thoughts for pharma

Urology is big on the radar. Many prescribing items are specialist, while there are significant prescribing efficiency savings aimed at ‘overactive bladder’ and linked into a more encompassing discussion with endocrinologists, and the ongoing story behind testosterone. I am sure I am sitting on a business card of a testosterone brand, but which company it was I cannot recall. Thumbing through my cards – the stack waiting for a call back is big – I can’t really see through the thick fog of various companies/pharma/sub-companies/take-overs. Note to self: request all staff to ensure reps write their brands on their business cards when they call at the pharmacy. Key priorities around urology that are high on the radar across primary/secondary care are as follows:

  • Urinary retention/BPH
    Is it just me or has Combodart lost its way? I remember some very exciting joined up thinking on preventing unnecessary referrals and bringing consultants out to primary care. Given urology consultants admit themselves that DREs to exclude prostate Ca is not easy, liability and governance for getting GPs to this was always heading into a cul-de-sac. I think there is a ‘new campaign’, though I’m not sure what it is. We have both finasteride and dutasteride on our joint formulary – but I’m not seeing the right financial framework on the ground. I can see NHS PCOs moving backwards, lifting finasteride back on the pedestal and not even considering the Combodart story. If there is a value proposition around this brand someone better get this moving within commissioning circles fast. To add to this, tamsulosin’s patent expiry further hastens the need for the value story here. If the last D&T rejection we had is anything to go by this is either off the radar or must be a third drop-down detail on someone’s bonus scheme.
  • Urinary incontinence
    We have NICE, LUTS and SMC. HTA is all important. Most of pharma focuses on product differentiation. They need to, NICE is an open forum for prescribing. But I don’t see a commissioning story or a decent value proposition for payers. Please don’t state you want to run me through a cost model – that is not a ‘value proposition’. I have yet to see a company come to me and talk about QIPP. Where are you guys? Please don’t moan at the NHS for using generic oxybuytnin first-line – we get the opposition, what we don’t get is a Payer ‘QIPP Value Proposition’ around your brand. Too much n=1 for my liking. The only brand working the NHS has to some extent are the solifenacin crowd – they certainly have significant clinician/KOL buy-in if the Payers are left somewhat ‘wanting’. I’m unsure where exactly duloxetine & fesoteradine are heading, or what their value story is – despite SMC approval. Maybe it’s just me.
  • Bladder instillation
    This is hotting up big time. Why? Because there are costs to both primary and secondary care – and furthermore, despite numerous products – some without a license – for conditions such as interstitial cystitis there is significant unmet need on cure rates, relapse rates and hospitalisations. Someone, somewhere will win big when they map out to us what already suspect – hospitalisation costs here are huge, and process mapping will show how these are sectored into various health economies. At the moment, everyone is walking and talking product – bag of saline/infuse like this/lovely twisty connector/etc. Just waiting for someone like United or Medco to come and show us the path to the land of milk and honey. It appears no-one else will.
  • Testosterone
    It’s back! The story has become interesting all over again, and all credit to pharma. The link with diabetes is moving this higher and higher up the agenda. It is fraught with issues. Everything from best mode of delivery to patient/compliance and desired effect, through to overlap with specialties – is this endocrine or urology or both, same pathway or different pathway? The pharmaceutical arguments in testosterone are worthy but having no coat hanger to hang your outcomes on makes for difficulty in pulling out the cheque book. There is a ‘gap-effect’ in situ – from academic niceties to clinical practice. I’m not sure the pull is there yet – and again, I return to my translation into a financial argument. Furthermore, there are cost savings and efficiencies to be had and this is where a product-matrix weighted with Payer Related Priorities would assist a brand in its Payer Value Proposition – if it indeed cares to invest in one.

It goes a bit like this:

1. What’s important to payers with a view to testosterone replacement?
2. Rank this list in a weighted manner so that they all add up to 100% (ie they may say evidence w%, compliance x%, safety y%, cost z% – w+x+y+z must all add up to 100%
3. Now you have your weighting, get the payers to allocate the numbers for each of the testosterone brands
4. Now you have not just who is the winner, but also how and why
5. So if, for instance, compliance is 25% weighting of the whole game, then if you spend 80% of your time talking about compliance, this may not be effecting your exposure time with payers to maximum benefit –remember the clinicians will have a different matrix. You may have the best compliance story – well done, that’s 25/25 but you will never score higher than this. There is another 75 points in this exam that you haven’t answered yet. You need to find out ‘what is the % weight that formulary/prescribing advisers give to the ‘testosterone story’ – once you have this value, you know how important it is.

9.30am: Meeting with Obs & Gynae Consultant / re: Formulary Application
This should be quick. We’ve recently put on some pessaries to our formulary. Obs and gynae want to use them in difficult/pre-specified labour/delivery situations. Now the company has whipped over a freezer to their unit. Yes, they are stored in the freezer, and no, before you ask, I don’t know whether we defrost before use or just pop them into our patients freezing cold. Have had a discussion about this with my wife over dinner, she is also a pharmacist – not a good move. Anyway, I’ve been firm but clear. The pharmacy doesn’t have a freezer, we need to discuss with the company about a freezer. There will be no prescribing of this new product within the Trust until we resolve the ‘freezer’ issue. All credit to the company, supportive they are, quick to respond they have been and, as I write, and you read, one of my staff is coordinating logistics around this. This is a classic example of simple supportive strategy. I looked back at the minutes of our D&T Form and smiled to myself… “accepted onto formulary, pending freezer.”

 Omar Ali is the Formulary Development Pharmacist for Surrey & Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust & sits on the External Reference Group for Cost Impact Modelling for NICE. He may be reached on omar.ali@sash.nhs.uk

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