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Shift in consumer behaviour will change the game for the industry

Patients are also adapting to the use of digital health platforms, from online consultations to e-pharmacies

The unprecedented impact of covid-19 on the economy is transforming consumer behaviour. Consumption patterns of healthcare delivery and usage are also witnessing rapid changes. India’s pharmaceutical consumption has been resilient through the pandemic after an initial blip, and has now bounced back. Immunity, safety and risk avoidance are top concerns today.

The salient questions that healthcare businesses are pondering over now are: “how are healthcare consumption patterns changing?", “are these changes permanent or temporary?" and “what will be the implications for healthcare businesses?" The objective is not only to understand how enduring the road to recovery will be, but also to examine how behaviours have changed.

Following a spike in covid-19 cases and measures to suspend non-acute healthcare services, China witnessed patient visits had fallen by 60% as compared to the previous year in February.

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Graphic: Mint

As the situation started to come under control, March noted a 20% improvement and April another 20%. Within two months, patient visit volumes were up to 80% of the same levels as a year earlier.

If we go by the Chinese experience, consumption of healthcare services will resume rapidly to pre-crisis levels. It also shows that consumer behaviour will change drastically because of the covid-19 experience, the lockdown and its aftermath.

In India, a perceptible change is felt in doctors’ behaviours. They are now increasingly using the internet to find clinical information and engaging with medical representatives digitally.

At the same time, doctors will need to increase engagement with new prescription influencers and auxiliary stakeholders such as healthtech platforms, pharmacists, insurers and formularies.

Like most other businesses, the new influencers are also changing their business models to online, and it is imperative that these auxiliary stakeholders are included in their growth plans.

Interestingly, some of these shifts in consumer behaviour could be game-changers for the future. Non-metro cities and rural areas are showing a faster path to recovery than metros and larger cities. Online channels, such as vertical e-pharmacies, have been beneficiaries of the initial surge in doctor-led demand, thanks to the clarity in regulations that has allowed seamless delivery of medicines to the consumers’ doorstep.

The discounts at retail levels have also reduced by 4-5% across all players. This could well sustain as the new normal, even post-covid. Patients, too, are adapting to the use of digital health platforms—from online consultation, telemedicine, to e-pharmacies. Indeed, digital healthcare is going to be viable and popular even in India.

A poll of leading Indian pharmaceutical CEOs conducted by Bain and Co. during a webinar confirmed that 55% expected no change or fall in the quantum of healthcare spending, with 30% expecting it to grow 5-10% per person. Almost two-thirds of those polled expected that digital and omnichannel engagement with doctors will be key to future healthcare engagements. Almost 80% think that online channels will be very important for patients in the post-lockdown scenario.

Based on our analysis, we have listed five key imperatives for healthcare businesses in the days to come.

First, companies will need to capitalize on the changing patterns of consumption and health-seeking behaviour. Next, they will need to unlock the untapped demand from new regions for new consumers. Healthcare professionals and businesses cannot be limited to metros and prime urban areas; they will need to win in many Indias.

Third, providing “connected care" for patients that go beyond the product and the immediate care episodes is vital. They will also need to increase engagement with new prescription influencers and auxiliary stakeholders like healthtech platforms, pharmacists, insurers and formularies.

Finally, it is critical for businesses to build new omni-channel capabilities and route-to-market to deal with scale channel partners.

Parijat Ghosh and Arunava Saha Dalal are Partners based in Bain & Company’s New Delhi office. They are leaders in the firm’s healthcare practice.


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