Photo: Josué Careaga, Head of Customer Insights and Business Analytics at Bayer México

The pharmaceutical industry, despite initially lagging behind in digitization compared to other sectors such as finance, telecommunications, entertainment, has gained strong momentum in recent years on the path of innovation, in line with the new forms of remote interaction imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and with the leading role played by the sector in the context of a health crisis. Bayer Mexico is spearheading this process in Latin America and Josué Careaga, head of Customer Insights and Business Analytics at Bayer Mexico, explains how the technological changes introduced in various areas, both in talent and in technology itself, have helped them to better understand the needs and context of their customers -whether patients, doctors or any healthcare professional-, and to apply all this knowledge to the design of the value offer in their products. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified digitalization in the pharmaceutical industry. What technological tools have you developed to deal with this new reality? How have you harnessed them to tackle challenges?  

Without a doubt, adaptability, resilience, collaboration, and passion in our work led us hand in hand to be able to ramp up digitization and, in a way, bring forward the transformation we already had underway. No one was prepared for a global pandemic and, in an environment where physical interactions are an important link in our day-to-day lives, it meant a lot. So, a whole community (consisting of our strategic Marketing and Sales Operations and Digital support areas, and the teams in each franchise) managed to harness the use of digital channels to carry out those interactions. We also looked at how to more effectively measure the adoption and tendency of healthcare professionals to interact through these channels. We included new ways of organizing our activities, relying on more dynamic and adaptive approaches to streamline the development of prototypes for information analysis and integration. We have also ventured into different advanced analytics techniques to better understand our consumers' behavior and how we can provide them with more value. These techniques have allowed us to generate predictions to estimate, and in some cases understand unusual sales behavior, as the pandemic had a huge impact on drug purchases (both increases and decreases). 

How do patients perceive these changes, and do they mean improvements for them? 

Yes, I would think, above all, about the personalization of products. More and more adequate patient support and support programs that are really useful to the patient. 

This means a more individualized approach, I understand. 

Of course, for patients, the opportunity to have products within their reach that can be candidates for improvement in multiple factors: use and indication, treatment coverage, education, and awareness campaigns, in order to know the best way to generate products that provide tangible benefits to our stakeholders. 

For Bayer this is a great benefit, as it allows us to continue enriching the knowledge about diseases, their evolution, and follow-ups with certain indications. Likewise, in the future, new product launches will consider a broader knowledge environment (context) of the multiple conditions that are treated with our products, always focused on a significant improvement for the patient, in their quality of life, progress and control of the condition (as in the case of the innovation that Bayer is carrying out in different conditions with a strong focus on cell and gene therapy). 

We are developing advanced analytics models that suggest recommendations based on data findings that are not only quantitative, but also qualitative and go beyond historical performance. They incorporate aspects such as the economic situation of the country, the impact and adaptation to the pandemic, security, among others, and how they impact the local market. 

How would you say the Latin American pharmaceutical industry is doing in terms of digitization compared to other sectors? Has the intensification of innovation in the wake of the pandemic helped it to catch up with the most advanced sectors? 

The pharmaceutical industry in Latin America is constantly evolving. And absolutely, the digital push generated by the pandemic has helped to boost the industry's position. Before the pandemic we observed a more traditional handling of information if we compare it with industries such as finance or retail for example. In the specific case of Bayer, we have had a strong ramp-up in that aspect. All critical areas of the organization have grown up and have a more dynamic and action-oriented approach when it comes to asking what can be changed on a day-to-day basis to generate a more efficient process. This acceleration has translated, for example, into us being ready to launch our e-Commerce: Tienda Bayer and being the first pharmaceutical company in Mexico to have a marketplace. Likewise, our work approach is very agile and adaptable. 

The consumer has also evolved: the patient is now a different patient. A more digital patient. The pandemic posed a challenge: many people, due to care and prevention, did not go out and many doctors had to bet on telemedicine. We know that not all patients are skilled with technology; but, to our surprise, we conducted studies and some of the profiles with the most interaction with innovative channels turned out to be senior citizens. 

What role does social media play in active customer listening and data analysis? 

The use of digital sources – which can be social networks, digital campaigns, the Bayer Store or Google Analytics, for example – is fundamental for us. They are innovative means of contact through which the actors we interact with allow us to delve into their reality and their context in order to perform more enriching analyses, revealing findings that we could be leaving out. This is a great challenge, since there are different regulatory limitations to carry out a direct interaction with patients and Bayer takes great care to comply with these policies and regulations with standards validated by the compliance committees at country, regional and global level. 

Could you tell us about Bayer's strategy when it comes to understanding and obtaining market data? 

There is a close relationship between what you are looking for with a product that helps with healthcare and what each of the key stakeholders we interact with are looking for. A patient's perspective is not the same as that of a healthcare professional. Neither is that of an institution or a research group. However, all are valid and valuable to better understand them.  

Identifying the interrelationship of the findings of each stakeholder segment is what allows us to discover insights of real value, since they can reveal the turning points of each segment's expectations.  

What we have learned from previous experiences allows us to consider those particular findings, as well as those that the segments have in common – the turning point I was talking about previously – in order to trace user histories, conditions, indications, evolution generated by treatments, and so on. 

To achieve this, we seek to integrate the inputs of these findings. The alignment of all relevant data associated with the products, their use, the benefits they generate in patients, among others, lead us to the creation of specific strategies that are always focused on the benefit of our stakeholders. 

What do you mean by findings? 

By findings we refer to some custom or everyday habit that consumers, physicians or any of our stakeholders have. A proper and in-depth understanding of a behavior. A finding can be, for example, the identification of the criteria that contribute the most to the care of a condition and that can improve to a certain extent the experience of living with it and of course, desirably its cure. Another example can be cases in which the health professional detects an additional benefit of the product for the patient, among others. 

To achieve an understanding of the actors we interact with, it is essential to have a data strategy that is enriched not only with data collected from patients, health professionals and institutions, but also with findings from market studies, from our business partners and from the market and industry itself. 

What methods do you use that can provide insights into consumer needs, improve their experience, and bring internal value to the company? 

One of the major pillars to achieve patient learning are market research studies, as they not only allow us to measure what is currently happening in the market -competitor behavior, impact events in market segments- but we also seek to know in more detail the context of the conditions that impact their follow-up, and that can indicate various search criteria in a research study. 

Another relevant pillar is the constant evolution of our data ecosystem, as we seek to enrich it with not only internal data, but also external data that complement the knowledge of our stakeholders and give greater meaning to the hypotheses proposed and validated or rejected in market research studies.  

The last pillar that contributes to this knowledge is the analysis of the digital experiences of our stakeholders in order to have the necessary elements to know the appropriate context and improve the approaches that occur through these channels. In this way, we can understand the level of approach and assimilation with respect to innovative and digital environments and continue to improve the value we add to our stakeholders. 

How do you envision the future of the pharmaceutical sector in Latin America? 

The industry has great challenges ahead; but, guided strategically, they will lead to a robust digital evolution. With the enablement of collaborations that go beyond the boundaries of the organization, there will be a more connected ecosystem that will allow us to offer better solutions through our products and therefore achieve the definition of a health-tech environment that favors collaborations with external team forces (startups and technology partners) that fortunately Bayer is doing in a satisfactory way through our regional and local Digital Partnerships team (Armando Romero). All this and other ventures that are being generated in the industry will undoubtedly increase the complexity of competition in the sector, but in turn, will achieve significant advances and great benefits for society.