Q&A with Novartis Communications Head Christine Fajardo on Healthcare Marketing

Christine Fajardo is the head of communications and engagement of Novartis in the Philippines and the Asia Aspiring Innovative Medicines Cluster. Novartis is the world’s second largest drug company. Prior to Novartis, she was SVP for strategic marketing & corporate affairs of St. Luke’s Medical Center. Christine is also the Chairperson of the Swiss Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines and the Philippine-Swiss Business Council. In this interview, she shares her thoughts about healthcare marketing and access to medicines. 

Q1: Big picture, how has healthcare marketing changed the last few years?

A1: The telehealth industry has grown significantly amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Our CEO, Vas Narasimhan, notes that while data have long suggested that large percentages of health visits can be executed successfully through telehealth, COVID-19 has brought that fact to bear. The time for widespread telehealth adoption is now.

And telehealth or otherwise, improving the patient experience remains the top priority of healthcare marketers. Positive experiences have a greater influence on consumers’ healthcare purchasing decisions than in other industries. Positive patient experiences can help increase patient loyalty.

To better measure and gauge the effectiveness and satisfaction of health interventions on a large scale, expect the usage of artificial intelligence or AI in healthcare to increase rapidly. Emerging technologies help cities become better positioned to drive population health measures and transform health systems to become predictive, proactive and even preventive.

Through the Novartis Foundation, we work with governments to help shape the policy needed for safe, effective, and inclusive integration of AI into health and care.

One notable initiative was the AI4HealthyCities Health Equity Network, a collaboration with Microsoft AI for Health. Using advanced analytics and AI, city authorities get data-driven insights about the drivers of cardiovascular health and equity.

Q2: How is the role of your medical reps evolving and how are doctors adapting to the realities of tech?

A2: The pandemic has accelerated the shift from traditional in-person medical updates to technology-enabled medical information. Healthcare companies are developing personalized digital engagement tools to provide doctors with the latest clinical updates that can add value to patient care.

Several elements in the management of NCDs go beyond clinics and hospitals. The roles of doctors in the care setting are evolving to employ digital health technology. Doctors acknowledge how technology can empower and assist them.

Q3: The pandemic forced digitalization to happen in both the pharmaceutical companies and the hospitals. How has Novartis differentiated in this aspect?

A3: We continue to invest in digital tools to provide personalization and better experiences for customers. These include AI-powered digital assistants to optimize the content, timing and method of communication with physicians based on their preferences. This enterprise-wide, multiyear effort uses data insights to help improve the quality of our medical affairs interactions.  

In the Philippines, Novartis supported the development and implementation of the Circle of Life Data and Digital Infrastructure pilot project to support the ICanServe Foundation’s Ating Dibdibin breast cancer control program in Taguig City. The Circle of Life project will generate analytics that can help identify gaps in cancer care and enhance monitoring and evaluation. This can empower the local government to make data-driven decisions and use the data to support their request for healthcare-related funding at the local and national levels.

Q4: Pharmaceutical companies tend to price their products high during their patent protection period. How is Novartis different with regard to access to medicines?

A4: We use a combination of approaches to help patients across the income pyramid access our medicines. We seek to price our medicines based on the value they deliver to patients, healthcare systems and society.

An example of this would be tiered pricing, taking into account the income levels, local affordability barriers and economic realities, while maintaining the sustainability of our business. We also make our medicines available through patient support programs, as well as managed access and post-trial access programs.

Committed to the cause, Novartis was one of the first pharmaceutical companies to enter into value-based contracting for medicines, linking pricing and reimbursement rates to specific outcomes – including for our breakthrough gene therapy for patients with spinal muscular atrophy.

In 2014, Novartis introduced an emerging market brand or EMB strategy to expand access to innovative medicines to people in low- and middle-income countries or LMICs, in a way that is sustainable for our business and supports governments in responding to unmet medical needs.

In observance of World Cancer Day 2021 and to help more Filipino patients gain access to effective cancer treatments, Novartis voluntarily reduced the prices of its medicines used in the treatment of breast cancer, kidney cancer, aplastic anemia, leukemia, gastrointestinal tumors, among others. Novartis also implements various access programs that provide an effective and sustainable way of helping Filipino patients gain access to effective cancer treatments.

Aiming to provide free medicines for identified priority set of cancer types not yet fully covered by PhilHealth and to minimize out-of-pocket costs, Novartis partnered with the Department of Health (DOH) and patient group, Touched By Max in launching the DOH Cancer, Supportive Care, and Palliative Care Medicine Access Program (CSPMAP) in 26 government hospitals.

In 2019, through our Legacy Pricing initiative in the Philippines, we substantially reduced the prices of six Novartis hypertension and epilepsy medicines Our access programs in the Philippines have evolved from donation of multidrug therapy for leprosy, providing malaria products at cost, access to lower-priced emerging market brands for psoriasis and heart failure, to creating patient support programs.

To help make healthcare affordable, it is important to consider innovative approaches such as the previously mentioned EMB strategy and patient support programs that Novartis is implementing; leverage technology for health system strengthening; for example, incorporating telehealth or case finding via digital means to lower costs. We also need to promote preventative health through patient education and health literacy programs.

Q5: The future is happening elsewhere. What future trends should we expect to happen in the healthcare marketing space?

A5: The increasing use of telehealth, the paramount importance of patient experience and the rise of health technology and AI are what will continue to transform healthcare marketing.

Our ability to empower patients and doctors, deliver content that matters and how we nurture lasting relationships through a multi-touchpoint approach will be seen as important.

One of our strategic priorities at Novartis is to be a leader in harnessing data science and digital technologies to boost effectiveness and efficiency across our enterprise. Digital technologies help improve how our scientists discover and develop innovative new treatments, how we make decisions, how we engage with customers and how we run our operations. We endeavor to use data science, new communications channels and other digital technologies to help us better serve our customers.

Q6: How do you measure success in your role in communications and engagement? What are your proudest accomplishments in Novartis?

A6: I measure the impact of communications and engagement through the number of patients whose lives we help improve and extend, and people and communities we supported in building capabilities and driving change for improved patient care. I find fulfillment in helping shorten the patient journey to treatment and wellbeing.

To this end, I would like to highlight these initiatives:

·      Through the Alliance and Partnerships for Patient Innovation and Solutions (APPIS), we support the health literacy initiative of the patient group Psoriasis Philippines via their Wellness Weekends talk show streamed live every Saturday on their FaceBook and YouTube channels.

·      We launched our Collaboration to Preserve Sight initiative in partnership with the Fred Hollows Foundation, Vitreo-Retina Society of the Philippines, and National Committee for Sight Preservation to provide free screenings and patient education for early diagnosis of retinal disorders, eye and cataract diseases amid the pandemic.

·      As of December 2021, the initiative has reached approximately one million people through awareness initiatives; screened 78,000 patients; detected vision impairment among 11,000 patients; facilitated 7 out of 10 diagnosed patients to seek consultation; treated 6 of 10 patients or over 4,700 patients; launched social media platforms for patient education and screening schedules; and formed external partnerships with over 370 patient and medical organizations, NGOs and policymakers.

·      To improve diagnosis and treatment of axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA), we supported the Philippine Rheumatology Association (PRA) and patient group Axial Spondyloarthritis Association of the Philippines (ASAPh) in conducting the Philippine Map of Axial Spondyloarthritis (PMAS), the first comprehensive survey describing the demographic, disease characteristics, and patterns of disease, diagnosis, and treatment of patients with axSpA in the Philippines.

The online survey revealed that on average, Filipinos with axSpA are diagnosed 5.8 years after developing the disease and that the disease has a significant functional, psychosocial and economic impact on patients, highlighting its heavy disease burden.

·      To enhance affordability of medicines, we partnered with PhilHealth to co-develop the PhilHealth Z Benefit Package for Kidney Transplantation.

Since 2012, the benefit package has been providing qualified PhilHealth members who need a kidney transplant with access to high-quality and lower-cost anti-organ rejection medicines. It enables more Filipinos with end-stage renal disease to afford the life-saving benefits of kidney transplantation and achieve better health outcomes.

Such initiatives can only succeed through the support of passionate and action-oriented leaders who play a crucial role in making healthcare more accessible. They include Health Secretary Enrique Ona who was committed to making healthcare accessible to all Filipinos through collaboration and patient-centric PhilHealth benefit packages. 

Christine Fajardo will speak at the 14th Mansmith Market Masters Conference on May 17, 2023. Registration is available at marketmastersconference.com

Josiah Go is Chairman and Chief Innovation Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders Inc. 

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