James Chase, editor-at-large at industry magazine Medical Marketing & Media, recently said, “Pharma is not in the business of fixing things that ain’t broke.”

He was talking about the industry’s need to change from broadcast messaging to individualized, patient-specific promotions and communications. He said, “It takes a seismic shift to force the industry to rethink its historical organizational structures and to replot its tried-and-tested road maps for commercial success.”

An Ounce of Prevention
The idea of not fixing things that aren’t broken has a second — and perhaps larger — meaning for the industry, too. Pharma exists to create medical solutions that treat or cure disease. The industry works on biological brokenness. Historically, the only prevention that pharma has focused on has been in the realm of vaccines.

But the world is changing. Payers, employers and indeed even governments are realizing that disease prevention can be a better buy than disease treatment — and patients, of course, would rather spend time healthy than unwell.

As this focus shifts, the industry is coming to realize that it, too, must change its trajectory. The pharmaceutical industry hasn’t been in the business of working on wellness instead of illness. But it’s beginning to. Pharma is slowly moving from a business model strictly based on goods that treat illness to a model in which services promote wellness.

The Increasing Value of Services Over Goods
This also speaks to another paradigm shift in the industry and in society, as well — the movement from a focus on goods to services.

In an age where physical possession is increasingly irrelevant thanks to constant wireless access to the Internet and cloud-based storage, goods seem analog and quaint and services are what seem digital and relevant.

Millennials, in particular, “are continually changing the concept of ownership as the younger generations place less value on the ownership of hard assets” (source). They want to rent access rather than own as often as they can. This applies to their cars (Uber), their homes (AirBNB), their clothes (Rent the Runway and Gwynnie Bee), their music (Spotify) and more.

A Fast Company article called Why Millennials Don’t Want to Buy Stuff summed it up in a fascinating and pithy way. Here are a few of its key points:

“Humanity is experiencing an evolution in consciousness. We are starting to think differently about what it means to ‘own’ something.

Even in this strange new world, the economic laws of scarcity apply, and they are precisely what’s shifting. To ‘own something’ in the traditional sense is becoming less important, because what’s scarce has changed. Ownership just isn’t hard anymore. We can now find and own practically anything we want, at any time, through the unending flea market of the Internet.

The value now lies in doing. … Today, a product or service is powerful because of how it connects people to something — or someone — else. It has impact because we can do something worthwhile with it, tell others about it, or have it say something about us. As leaders and entrepreneurs, we can intentionally use this knowledge to our advantage. We just have to think about the ‘stuff’ we sell in a new way.”

Just think: that was written three years ago. Pharma usually takes a little while to catch up to more progressive industries. But if you look, you can already begin to see it in effect in a few smart places in pharma.

Just recently, Biogen Idec began using FitBit wearables with patients who have multiple sclerosis on a project to help them and their healthcare teams better quantify the disease progression (and help validate to payers the need to cover Biogen Idec’s MS treatment). It’s a service that helps all sides and provides patients a tangible connection to their care team.

That’s beyond-the-pill thinking. Millennials expect this. We’re all going to have to deliver.