In 2014, Accenture published a paper outlining 5 strategies that can help with increasing patient access to medications. Those 5 key strategies reinforced mPharma’s vision and approach to medicine accessibility, affordability and availability in Africa. I would like to elaborate on how mPharma embraces each strategy.
1) Start with the Patient
The mPharma journey began by trying to answer a simple question, “How do we make it easy for patients to know where their prescription drugs can be filled?” Our answer to that question was building an electronic prescription network that enabled doctors to know in real-time, the exact location and availability of any medicine of interest. Electronic prescriptions enabled doctors to do more than just tell their patients where their medication could be found. It helped them follow the patient journey from the point of prescription to the point of dispensation and consumption. Doctors received confirmation from mPharma when their patients picked up their medication. We built a communication layer on top of our e-prescription system that enabled any pharmacy on the network to chat with any doctor who sent a prescription to their pharmacy without having to send the patient back to the hospital if the pharmacist had any questions. In Q2 of this year, we will be releasing an ADR reporting system to automate the pharmacovigilance process. Pharmacovigilance is next to non-existent in most African countries. We believe that an electronic prescription platform provides the data and direct engagement to collect ADR reports.
2) Turn Insight into Action
Digitizing the prescription paper enabled us to build powerful anonymized datasets that gave us real-time insights to the patient journey from prescription to consumption. For example, we are able to identify in real time which drugs are dispensed fully, partially or not dispensed at all. We are able to compare patient demand for specific medications to supply. This allows us to identify where demand outpaces supply or vice versa. We track substitutions and the reasons for them. We are using indication data to build real-time disease prevalence profiles for the cities, neighbourhoods and demographic groups in which mPharma is utilized. As we expand our network, we envisage a time where we can create proactive instead of reactive healthcare delivery systems.
One powerful insight that has led to a new product we are building with a number of mobile telecom operators is partial dispensations. Since an overwhelming number of patients paid out of pocket for their drugs, cost is a huge factor in determining the type of drugs a patient gets. Doctors consider cost when determining what drugs to prescribe and pharmacists select it quite often as a reason for substitutions. A patient who receives a 30 day prescription but cannot afford to pay upfront for it will opt to pay for 10 days and come back on the 10th day with enough money to pay for another 10 days. These micro-payments for partial dispensation gave us the insight into developing our new access product called mPharma Mutti. mPharma Mutti enables patients to purchase high-quality medications at lower prices through flexible payment terms. Patients who are on chronic medications create predictable recurring revenue which enables mPharma to implement a micropayment plan for patients. We plan to share more details of the program soon after the pilot phase ends with our launch partner(one of the top 10 biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world). Such a payment plan will reduce the high upfront cost that patients have to make before they receive their medications at pharmacies. Our vision is that cost should never become a barrier in preventing a patient from receiving the best drug that their doctor wants to prescribe for them.
3) Take it over the last mile
This is an area of particular importance when it comes to medicine affordability and accessibility. Pharmaceutical companies have traditionally confused market access strategies with patient access goals. This becomes interesting when health insurers and HMO’s are brought into the equation. In many situations, providers have over-billed payors which has led to many payors restricting the types of drugs and services they reimburse. To bring enormous cost-savings to payors and out of pocket patients, mPharma developed a Pharmacy Benefits CRM software that enables us to aggregate the buying clout of thousands of enrollees through their insurance plans and out of pocket expenditure, thus enabling insurance companies and individuals to obtain lower prices for high quality prescription drugs. We are already delivering 30–40% savings to health insurers in Ghana.
4) Tap into mobile as a connector
I believe it is now a cliche to say that Africa is the 1st post PC continent in the world. I could go on and on about the mobile revolution in Africa but you get it, we are more connected as a continent today than we have ever been in history. The ability to connect directly with patients through their mobile phones enables mPharma to deliver high value services like prescription routing, ADR reporting, real world evidence solutions and micro-payments. This also enables pharmaceutical companies to leverage our products to build effective patient access campaigns and generate real-time market insights.
5) Create Shared Value
This is a strategy dear to our heart at mPharma. We believe in doing well commercially by doing good socially. Our journey began in Zambia through a partnership with the Zambian government to digitise the prescription system in the country at no cost to Health Ministry. Creating shared values allows us to think about our work not in terms of short-term profits but rather enabling patients to purchase their drugs at almost wholesale prices. While this does not look like good business in the short term due to lower margins, we believe that by continuing to aggregate consumption and increasing patient volumes, we can deliver enormous financial value to our shareholders. In the report, Accenture found that pharmaceutical manufacturers who prioritised increasing medicine access in the developing world “outperformed their peers by 20 percentage points of stock price growth each year.” At mPharma, our vision is that doctors should be able to prescribe the best drug for their patients and mPharma will help the patients afford that medication.
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