Covid-19 is an opportunity for pharmaceutical companies to go beyond just medicines

Names of medicines like remdesivir, dexamethasone, and tocilizumab have slid into our lexicon over the last one year. Some of us may have taken these drugs, others might have bought them for family or friends, and many might have seen social media hunts for these much sought-after doses. But how many of us know who makes these medicines? Probably very few.

There has never been a time in recent history when people were as curious about healthcare and wellness as they are now. From immunity boosters to preventive medication and even lifesaving drugs, the Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a massive awareness about medicines among humans.

Pharma for all

In May, the prices of mustard oil in India rose over 30% simply because WhatsApp forwards claimed that applying it on the nose could prevent Covid-19. A similar viral message about lemons—putting two drops in the nostril to kill coronavirus—caused a sharp surge in the prices of the fruit. Then there were mass steam inhalation units set up in several parts of the country due to viral claims that warm water vapour could kill the virus.

None of these measures are scientific, as per doctors and researchers.

As the world fought the pandemic, there has been a burst of miscommunication around that could prove fatal. From the absence of knowledge about what medication is available to a lack of access to the drugs, humans have fought many battles even before they reached a hospital. This is especially true in the case of developing countries where hospitals and medical staff were brought to their knees as the cases outstripped the resources that were.

This is a great opportunity for the pharmaceutical industry to play a wider and stronger role in healthcare. To connect directly with the end-user and not only help the patients, but also doctors and nurses, who have been fighting a battle against Covid for over a year now.

Yes, all medication must always be prescribed by a doctor. But that does not mean the end-user can be ignored—especially not in a hyper-digital era where people Google their symptoms before dialling a doctor.

What can pharma companies do better?

Historically, large pharma companies have stuck to a business-to-business (B2B) approach to marketing, but as technology becomes a massive influencer, the time has come for these firms to reach out to the end users.

Pharma companies—big and small—need to start looking at business-to-consumer marketing as a tool to tap into.Take for instance Cipla, which launched a helpline number (8657311088) to help battle the shortage of remdesivir injections. If contacted, the company would provide the injections directly to the hospital where the patient was admitted in an attempt to avoid black marketing.

There are many benefits to be derived from this approach:

  1. Knowledge is power: Even as India strengthens its vaccination drive, there is a lot of hesitancy, especially in rural India, which stands as a hurdle against immunizing large numbers of people. It’s easy to blame the government for its lapses, but pharma companies can play a vital role in educating people by running awareness campaigns. Given that doctors are stretched thin right now, pharma companies can do their bit to support them by joining forces with medical practitioners to reach the end user.
  2. Eliminate the quacks: In the desperation to access treatment and medication, people are extremely vulnerable right now and could fall prey to quackery. This is where pharmaceutical companies could play a vital role in making people aware of what is scientifically accurate and what is fake.
  3. The power of data: Engaging directly with consumers can help pharma companies understand their target customers closely and map them directly. This could prove to be helpful even in research and development.
  4. Empowering doctors: At a time when doctors and nurses are struggling to cope with the waves of the pandemic, investment and work by pharma companies could come to their aid. The B2C marketing endeavours of pharma companies could include ready dossiers, snackable intel and also regionally sensitive information that doctors could pass on to their patients.

Beyond just these steps, the pharmaceutical industry is at an inflection point right now, and there’s a lot that can be achieved with the right communication and content strategy. If there was ever a good time for pharma companies to invest in these areas, it’s now.