Pharmaceutical manufacturers are in a unique position post-Covid-19, as the demand for “direct to patient” (D2P) distribution channels increases.  Manufacturers must be able to ensure trust in their products through channels that have historically felt unsafe and this is possible by using existing technology tools.

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Pharmaceutical manufacturers must be able to ensure trust in their products through channels that have historically felt unsafe and this is possible by using existing technology tools.

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Direct distribution models for pharmaceuticals have historically been rife with questionable internet pharmacies, suspicious marketing strategies, and stories of counterfeiting or questionable business practices.  In order to help patients move beyond this inherent mistrust, pharma manufacturers can rely on existing serialization and authentication investments to help their customers feel confident in the products that they receive.  Luckily, foundational elements for building this expanded trust with patients already exist and only require some creativity to design a patient experience that capitalizes on them with endless possibilities.

The D2P Revolution

As patients more frequently engage virtually with healthcare workers and telemedicine becomes more mainstream, D2P pharmaceutical distribution will continue to expand.  D2P is already wildly successful and moving even more mainstream with specialty medicines, high value medicines, and new modalities that combine a patient experience with a drug product. As D2P expands more broadly, patients can often get their medications faster and at a reduced cost.

In parallel, manufacturers are prepared to disrupt their long-standing reliance on wholesale distributors whom they traditionally relied upon to gain market access.  Moving to D2P helps manufacturers to gain greater control of their distribution channels, inventories, and expand patient access while also proving added value beyond generics competitors (PharmaPhorum, n.d.).  As manufacturers move closer to patients, D2P is expected to expand, continuing a trend first identified 10+ years ago. 

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Overcoming challenges

Although manufacturers recognize the shift in patient preferences and are prepared to disrupt traditional market access channels, they are uncomfortable with the long history of counterfeiting and questionable practices that are justifiably embedded in the minds of the public.  The early boom in online pharmacies, many of whom distributed counterfeit products around the globe, has forever changed public opinion about receiving medicines in the mail.  Regulations like US Drug Supply Chain Security Act and EU Falsified Medicines Directive have done a lot to increase security of products in the pharmaceutical supply chain but have not yet been ‘patient facing’.

The solution to this inherent mistrust is quite simple, and the infrastructure is already in place.  Manufacturers today have the data to use serialization to authenticate products and to provide more robust traceability data.  In most developed markets in the world today, serialization is already in place and required by government mandate, and it would be a relatively “light lift” to expose this authentication data to patients to increase trust.

Some ways that this existing data could be leveraged to provide added trust in the D2P supply chain are:

  • Sharing authentication portals with patients to allow them to scan products to check their legitimacy with the manufacturer
  • Build applications that tap into Verification Router Service data from manufacturers to provide a means for authentication across manufacturer portfolios
  • Incorporate authentication avenues into new and existing patient experience methods for high value medicines and eventually share even more relevant information about product journeys, such as provenance, manufacturing journey, detailed track and trace information, etc.

Conclusion

The change in distribution is coming. As pharma manufacturers explore “direct to patient” distribution channels, providing avenues for authentication of products will become increasingly important to build trust with their patients and ensure the adoption of this new channel. Luckily, foundational elements for building this expanded trust with patients already exist and can unlock a fulfilling patient experience that builds trust, increases engagement, and ensure satisfaction with next generation therapies.

To learn more about the evolving patient service model read our recent research.

Sources:
How COVID-19 has permanently changed patient behavior
PharmaPhorum: Direct to patient distribution – helping brands fight against generics

Brandon Chamberlin

Senior Manager – Life Sciences, Supply Chain & Operations

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