Healthcare Marketing with Sheetal Sapale
Healthcare Marketing with Sheetal Sapale

Paul Writer recently interviewed Sheetal Sapale, Head of Marketing Science, Novartis Pharmaceutical Limited on the Healthcare Industry. Here is a quick Q&A with her on the changing dynamics of the Healthcare Market and Healthcare Marketing in India.

How has the Healthcare Market changed its dynamics of Healthcare Marketing in India?

The Healthcare market in India is one of the most upbeat sectors with revenue equivalent to Rs.6710 billion. Hospital sector contributes to around 70% of this revenue followed by pharma sector (Rs. 872 billion) which has around 15% share. The balance 15% is made up by Medical equipment, Insurance and Diagnostics. With more than 50,000 brands and 3,000 players in the pharmaceutical market today, for a marketer to be successful, one needs to have excellence in marketing, sales and commercial operations as well.

How has healthcare marketing changed in India with the fast paced ecosystem undergoing metamorphosis too?

The healthcare market has undergone a positive metamorphosis that throws opportunities across segments. Most notable ones would be (a) Government intention to increase healthcare spend to assure healthcare for all (b) Significant number of people (66% of population) in the age group of 15-64 years accompanied by expectation of Healthcare insurance penetration to increase to around 45% of the population by the year 2020 (c) Increase in demand and affordability for quality care treatment (d) Increase and early onset of chronic diseases with higher level of patient awareness on treatment options. (e) Focus and penetration of healthcare facilities in Tier 2-3 towns through Government initiatives as well as private players like Apollo, Fortis, etc. Today private players contribute to 40% of Hospital sector.

What are the few challenges in marketing that the Indian pharma industry is facing today?

Though the Healthcare scenario looks upbeat, there are a few challenges as well such as (a) Higher intervention of the price controlling authorities for putting a cap on prices of drugs leading to making production of some drugs unviable for manufacturers (b) Lack of patent protection – around 50% of the patented drugs face copycats in the first year of launch and round 85% face copycats by the third year of launch. (c) Delay in new drug registration and approvals and insistence on local trials on minimum 100 patients. (d) Inadequate infrastructure and resources to tap the rural opportunity (e) Need for adequate talent, both in sales as well as marketing, for evolving newer strategies to reach the patients.

How can digital medium be used by healthcare companies in their marketing mix?

With reduction in time that a sales person gets to spend with doctors, one needs to find innovative ways to reach the customer (doctor/stakeholder) who in turn influences the consumer (patients). Digital media plays an important role in educating the doctors on newer inventions in disease areas and proves to be an interactive platform for exposure to web ads, explore podcasts, video and white paper downloads. 40% of the Indians access internet for health information today, so most of the times the doctors face a self-diagnosed patients. Marketer’s need to partner with doctors by providing them online patient education tools. Marketing does not end with providing quality products. Engagement with doctors, patients and caregivers is needed to ensure patient retention and compliance. Learning the patient journey plays a very critical role to understand the need-gap as well as reason to prescribe. In many niche diseases it is not about tapping the market, but developing the market. Getting the product in a hospital formulary does not suffice, but helping the hospital to develop a therapy protocol goes a long way in partnering efforts. The consumer focus today is not just on the brand quality, but the brand experience i.e. how the company stands by the patient throughout the therapy journey. Most of the companies have patient support programs for niche therapy areas like cancer, diabetes, etc., which involves patient counselling, diet consultations, etc. Having a strong customer/consumer database assures stronger implementation of newer marketing strategies.

For a healthcare brand, what are few priorities to keep in mind when it comes to communications?

Greater focus today knows the potential of territories, doctor segmentation and targeting based on prescription patterns that ultimately lead to having an optimal market share. Focus on communication skills and knowledge of stakeholders is essential so that one is able to get a buy-in from all the stakeholders like chemists, hospital purchasing committees, payers, etc., which in turn would influence driving the therapy and brand choice. Therapy portfolio needs to be carefully segregated to tap the public/private sector, urban/extra-urban markets and hospital/trade components. Each one needs to have a different sales and marketing strategy. A dedicated field force strategy works in urban accessible areas, but for farther extra-urban markets Channel management and Franchisee models (similar to FMCG market) work as it would be too expensive to have a dedicated field force to cover these places.

The role of commercial operations in pharmaceutical today.

As profitability remains the core for any business, commercial operations becomes one of the core areas in any pharmaceutical company today. Cost containment initiatives by payers (government and insurance) have created challenging business environment, with controlled pricing, promotion of cheaper generic alternatives and greater obstacles to bringing innovative drugs to markets. In case of high value innovative products, understanding (and then promoting) the impact on the quality of life that the drug makes is extremely important coupled with patient/caregivers journey throughout the treatment cycle. While patients and their support groups might, historically have taken the burden side of effects of treatment complexity for granted, their increased literacy and connectivity to stakeholders is now enabling them to compare treatment alternatives and make their own judgements. Tie-up with hospitals, insurance companies and other key stakeholders becomes indispensable in such scenarios. Co-marketing with other companies to leverage on specialty/geographical reach helps in reaching more number of stakeholders and increasing the share of voice. Dual branding (same molecule with two brands – one premium priced and one slightly inexpensive) enables reaching wider patient pool but still maintaining profitability.

To summarize, marketing strategies in today’s healthcare segment need to evolve keeping in mind the empowered customer/consumer who is now not just able to demand and afford quality treatment but is knowledgeable enough to understand and investigate the options available to him.

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Profile: With over 16 years of experience in the healthcare industry and her expertise lies in sales, marketing, market research, business intelligence, strategy and sales force effectiveness.
Educational Background: Post graduation in Pharmacy with specialization in Quality Assurance followed by Post Graduation in Marketing.

Image courtesy of [cuteimage] at


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