Independent consultant Sundeep Karnik is a medical doctor who built his career delivering results in the business of healthcare. In our latest expert Q&A, he talks about the trends that are shaking the health and life science industries—and what companies can do to thrive in this fast-evolving market.
You’ve played key roles in clinical service, pharma and med device R&D, and market access and commercialization. How do you help your clients now that you’re an independent consultant?
I support senior health and life science executives on developing strategies and driving large scale strategic program initiatives. Examples might be developing a five-year business growth strategy, creating a product launch strategy, building the business case for a new growth platform, or managing a company-wide strategic transformation program.
Communicating the vision and a compelling story is critical for the success of every strategic plan and transformation program. I always work with business leaders to articulate an uplifting picture of the future state, including elements of “what’s in it for me” for key stakeholders—both internal and external. In healthcare, we can always be authentic about our commitment to improving health and make a positive impact on the world.
What are the most important trends affecting health and life science companies?
We have seen seismic shifts in healthcare over the past decade or more. These shifts demand that companies fundamentally re-invent:
- How to create new products & services: New technologies are driving discovery and development, and new requirements and regulations govern approvals.
- How these products are marketed and used: There are new stakeholders and new competitors. New complexities are also involved in communicating product benefits and in driving adoption and use, especially now that patients tend to hit Google before they set foot in a doctor’s office.
- How to capture value: New economic models and payment sources are changing the way companies make money. These are partly a result of technologies that enable new ways of creating and delivering value— and partly a response to market demand for alternatives to the traditional fee-for-service model that has given us rising costs without a proportionate improvement in key health outcomes for many.
Historically, our healthcare business models have been very transactional. Everything was fee-for-service. There was no guarantee that the advice or medication that your physician gave you would work. However, the products and services were billed and paid for regardless.
As healthcare expenditures keep rising, with questionable improvement in health outcomes, those who foot the bill are looking for a different approach. If your phone or car breaks, you can take it back to the store. There is a push to create something similar in healthcare. Who should bear the risk when a treatment doesn’t work? How do we strike the balance between fostering innovative new tests and treatments vs. ensuring that these innovations actually deliver better health outcomes at a better total cost?
What are some of the ways you’ve seen the industry start to respond to these shifts?
Successful companies opt to embrace these shifts as opportunities to drive step function improvements in creating and delivering value. If you’re a health insurer, can you find creative ways to incentivize delivery networks to manage people’s care more efficiently? If you’re a manufacturer, can you earn more for a therapy by proving that outcomes delivered are better?
Leading pharmaceutical and medical device companies are expanding their focus from serving the physicians to engaging all actors like patients, caregivers, and even a Payer’s care management services to create a coordinated program that improves therapy compliance and provides healthy behavioral nudges to collectively deliver good outcomes.
In the past, healthcare companies relied on product innovation alone. Leading companies have now realized that innovation needs to be a core value across all functions. They are methodically driving this via transformation programs. Leaders are demonstrating the behaviors they want to see—challenge the status quo, break out of comfortable patterns of problem solving, and seek new and unfamiliar perspectives.
They are actively adding new talent and advisors from successful disruptors from other industries as well as voices that represent the new stakeholder groups that they have not engaged in the past.
Finally, to institutionalize new behaviors, they are changing management systems, decision processes, incentives, and governance to demand and reward being maniacally customer-driven. They are also being iterative in their testing and treating “fast” failures as successful learning vs. a set-back.
How can clients get the most out of their engagements with you and other independent consultants?
On some projects, clients simply want an outside-in view of a particular issue. So, the consultant would spend some time in the company, but largely the work is external. In that case, the best thing you can do is simply let the consultant run on his or her own.
But the vast majority of projects require independent consultants to spend quite a bit of time working with internal teams—in fact, this is one of the biggest benefits of working with independents. It is critical to integrate the consultant into your team and make sure you communicate what their project is and why it’s important. Independents come in with a much lower profile than, say, a McKinsey. Clients need to foster their internal credibility to make sure that people are prepared to help with data collection and analyses. It’s almost like you’re onboarding a new leader into the company.
Do you have a favorite or most memorable project to date? If so, what was it?
It is very hard to pick one. The projects I recall most fondly are ones where I had the opportunity to build trust and that resulted in lasting relationships beyond the project. I feel great pride when I see that team members I worked with gain recognition and success, and when I see actions that we recommended and executed yield tangible wins in the market.
A few years ago, I helped a medical device manufacturer develop a competitive response strategy. The executive team suspected that a disruptive new entrant would cannibalize the company’s business, but the threat was not reflected in their current numbers.
So we analyzed the business in new ways to help quantify the threat and paint a few scenarios of what might happen if the company failed to respond effectively. Once we had agreement that the threat was credible, we worked to formulate a strategy to respond by combat the disruption with more innovative and comprehensive solutions, going beyond the device/product.
The business case included an objective assessment of their current strengths vs. competitors as well as market opportunities. We articulated user requirements built on extensive research and understanding of customers’ ‘jobs’ and pain points. We also detailed out options to execute the plan. Should they establish a new company or just create a new division within the current business? How would they recruit the talent they needed to execute? It was exciting to help launch the new group and jump-start development by identifying, performing diligence, and supporting the acquisition of foundational technologies to secure a couple of early wins.
When you’re not working, what are you most likely doing?
I love to travel. My wife and I have a goal of visiting at least one UNESCO world heritage site every year. I volunteer with students to help with academics and exploring career options. I also volunteer time with healthcare startups in biotech, devices and digital health. It might be a toss-up, on which direction the knowledge flows happen in both cases…
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