Payer Research in the New NHS

The NHS has been going through a period of substantial change, resulting in new roles, greater involvement of local government and new kinds of payers. These changes have been brought about through the introduction of integrated care systems (ICS) with an aim to consolidate the planning, payment and delivery of care in each geographical area. By bringing together different stakeholders at the local level – providers, commissioners of NHS services, local authorities and other partners – the intention is to better meet the needs of the local population.

However, such changes have huge implications for the pharmaceutical industry and the consultancies that serve them, because people in those new NHS roles won’t be in their usual list of contacts. Managers and directors appointed to support transformation and improvement programmes across the NHS may have very general titles, such as project or programme manager, which presents a challenge for market researchers seeking to recruit contacts for specific purposes. How can you be sure those individuals are responsible for the activities for which you are conducting research?

Furthermore, there may be entirely different transformation or improvement managers across various areas, such as emergency care, planned care and cancer care. While this new environment creates complexities for researchers, finding these hard-to-reach contacts with a remit that covers the health products or innovations of the company that has requested the interview-based research is important.

Understanding Structural Nuances

For companies, these new structures mean that programme managers and directors are working across larger geographies and regions. If a company’s innovation meets with efficiency and improvement objectives within that programme, there is a huge opportunity to amplify the messaging beyond one hospital to an entire region.

Likewise at the primary care level, business managers (sometimes called business development managers or operations managers) within primary care networks are largely responsible for making sure that GP practices are working together, bringing discussions to GP board meetings and reaching a consensus for roll out beyond simply one GP practice. Reaching these managers is therefore important to any market research initiative.

Roles are also evolving at the pharmacy level. While medicines optimisation pharmacists and chief pharmacists within clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and trusts are still important local payers, there is a new breed of these pharmacists at the integrated care provider (ICP) level, (county) and ICS level (cross county/regional). These roles are just starting to emerge but are growing in importance. Their focus is on the value of new interventions within the budget for the whole region, which means companies will be selling to the system rather than pockets within it.

Two-Way Relationship

Often pharmaceutical companies can offer support to these transformation managers by way of data to analyse the current status and future impact of their measurements. In addition, directors of strategy or system re-design within individual CCGs need data to horizon scan and attempt to quantify and predict the medium to long-term population needs in an area.

Companies willing to provide this type of support will likely encourage these directors to engage in research and insight interviews. First, though, companies need to understand the goals, challenges and priorities of these roles.

Reaching these individuals is important on many levels. Not only does it allow for horizontal sharing of information, but also insight into national priorities that will filter to the local level as well as local changes in care delivery. This might include hot clinics, or consultant-led clinics, as a first stop to avoiding presentation at A&E and first contact practitioners, such as physiotherapists who patients can self-refer to. Understanding these developments is important when launching a therapeutic that needs to fit into the new model of local care as well as ticking the boxes of new national policy.

A Dedicated Team

The reason Gatehouse ICS is well-positioned to respond to these new roles and system-wide changes is that we have developed a systemised approach and a large, ever-growing network of LinkedIn and internal contacts, which allows us to quickly get the ball rolling on recruiting relevant contacts.

We have a team of researchers dedicated to looking for professionals with relevant titles on LinkedIn, which has given us a platform of between 11,000 and 12,000 first-degree contacts, and that in turn gives us the reach to look out for their contacts (our second- and third-degree contacts).

When we get requests to find professionals in niche specialities – whether from providers or payers – our researchers will spend days scouring LinkedIn and sending out requests. Once a list of contacts interested in participating is put together, our directors will carry out a screen to qualify those payers or providers for the programme.

While other organisations could do this type of research and screening, our contact network and mechanism for dealing with requests is already well-established. Our size as a small, agile agency also positions us well for this type of project. We have people specifically ringfenced for this role, so they can quickly pivot to a new search – regardless of project, speciality or geography – and find who is needed. In most consultancies, employees are assigned to a dedicated, fee-paying project. They don’t have the time to scope out potential resources across multiple disciplines and projects for what is likely to be just one small part of a larger project. We, on the other hand, have set ourselves up to carry out these services and can therefore quickly respond to research requests.

Now with the new roles within an ICS and the often complex groupings and layers within geographical organisations, finding those niche contacts has become harder for any consultancy that doesn’t have an established network or dedicate researchers to make new connections.