How Persona-based Value Chains and Design Thinking Can Help Solve...

Pharma Tech Outlook: Pharma Tech Magazine

How Persona-based Value Chains and Design Thinking Can Help Solve Life Sciences and Healthcare Industry Problems

Abhishek Shankar, VP, Industry Head, Life Sciences Americas, ‎HCL Technologies

Abhishek Shankar, VP, Industry Head, Life Sciences Americas, ‎HCL Technologies

The more things change, the more they remain the same. You could arguably apply this theory to the life sciences industry, whose core problems have remained pretty much the same over the last decade.

The onus lies on each one of us to adapt ourselves to the constantly changing rules of the game”

For those in low growth mode, containing costs–both fixed and variable–remains the principal challenge, not to mention boosting productivity across various dimensions of the value chain. Companies expanding at a moderate pace, meanwhile, are grappling with the issue of reducing cycle time for clinical trials, apart from enhancing sales force efficiency. And, the rapidly growing pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms keep focusing on competitive pricing, market access, shorter time to market for increased business agility, and superior customer centricity.

Time to rethink

I firmly believe we, as an industry, have got to fundamentally rethink our approach to solving these deep-rooted problems. For long, companies across the spectrum have relied on human expert-driven, technical templates for addressing key bottlenecks across the growth cycle.

The imperative in today’s digital era, where end user experience is emerging as a core driver of business value proposition across industries, is to embrace creative thinking.

Discover, Design, and Deliver

Like the "three arrows" that underpin the ongoing "Abenomics" economic reforms in Japan, the new creative thinking paradigm for life sciences should have three core elements–discover, design, and deliver.

First, discover problems by placing different types of persona at the front and center. Second, configure solutions using design thinking and other creative ways of problem resolution. And, finally, develop turnkey technology platforms that facilitate increased employee productivity through enhanced user experience. Let me elaborate.

Personas Matter

Many of you have traditionally designed your value chains around business processes, to maximize efficiency and throughput, as well as to increase responsiveness. However, that approach has not quite delivered when it comes to identifying the root cause of some of the persisting problems.

For example, imaging equipment of various kinds have conventionally been designed around functionalities, rather than patient experience. Many children find it a rather scary prospect when they have to go inside MRIs, X-ray machines and CT scanners.

So, General Electric took its cue from “Pirates of the Caribbean”, the fantasy film based on Walt Disney's theme park ride, and redesigned its Adventure Series of imaging equipment. The company reimagined the MRI suite as a “pirate ship” filled with colorful decals on the outside, also creating a script for machine operators to lead kids through the adventure.

The new MRI redesign led to a significant decline in the number of paediatric patients requiring sedation, boosting patient satisfaction scores by 90 percent, and also ensuring more individuals could get scanned daily.

Bottom line? Adopting a persona-based approach to problem identification can pave the way for breakthrough innovations that are centered around human experiences.

Design for Relevance

Once you have discovered a problem, the next step is to apply creative design principles for architecting a relevant solution. Some life sciences companies have already started experimenting on this front, using design thinking to enhance patient experience journeys. For instance, Merck’s keyplusyou program–aimed at patients consuming its Ketruda immuno-oncology drug–builds Uber connectivity and payer reimbursement options into a mobile app through API integration.

You could also apply design thinking for listening to customers’ needs better, and for reimagining sales and customer engagement initiatives. Estimating that between 30 percent and 40 percent  of diagnoses are missed, Konica Minolta, a medical imaging company that had historically catered to hospitals and clinics, has now made its solutions available at retail pharmacy outlets. The firm is betting patients visiting these stores would use the handheld ultrasound devices to get a scan to determine additional requirements if any.

Another great example of creative design is the Positive Deviance (PD) method, which Vietnam implemented in the 1990s to tackle children malnutrition in rural areas. Authorities shortlisted well nourished children from poor families in the most vulnerable populations, and then identified the factors contributing to the positive deviants’ outperformance as compared to other members of their cohort. In conjunction, the feeding and caring patterns associated with well-nourished kids were tracked for building a sustainable national nutrition program.

In short, by focusing on user behavior and psychology, you can design relevant solutions that address problems on the ground, and help you realize core business outcomes.

Platforms Help Scale

For you to be able to address your major challenges in a scalable manner, the “discover” and “design” components need to enable the creation of turnkey delivery platforms. As IT increasingly gets consumerized, you must focus on how your employees are using different tools and systems, and how these can be refined, optimized further for increased workforce productivity.


The pace of evolution in the industry dynamics will only accelerate going forward, as disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning become mainstream, and patient expectations get redefined.

The onus lies on each one of us to adapt ourselves to the constantly changing rules of the game, and accordingly come up with compelling solutions. And, those with a creative bent of mind will certainly have the edge.

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