Pass the Ketchup (to Novartis)

The Wall Street Journal just reported on the "makeover" of Novartis. Part of that makeover was the appointment of a new leader for the company's pharmaceuticals division.
Joe Jimenez was running Novartis's consumer health-care business and had spent most of his career at packaged-goods companies, including H.J. Heinz Co., before Dr. Vasella tapped him to revamp Novartis's pharmaceuticals as the division's new chief.

On Mr Jiminez's accomplishments,

Mr. Jimenez, the pharmaceuticals chief, started four pilot projects in tough markets to try to improve Novartis's relations with payers. In the Pacific Northwest, Novartis is trying to develop closer relations with an HMO by paying to train its nurses in some aspects of heart disease.

Mr. Jimenez calls this 'key account management,' similar to a packaged-goods company trying to improve its relationship with a retailer. 'That tends to help your business over the long term,' he says.

As we have often noted, the movement to break up the physicians' "guild" and hand power in health care over to managers often has meant handing power over to people with little background or experience in or knowledge of health care (see post here). Thus an executive who used to sell products like ketchup is now in charge not just of pharmaceutical marketing, but apparently of pharmaceutical research and development, manufacturing etc.

One result is the curious analogy above. How a pharmaceutical company's relationship to a managed care organization is like a packaged food company's relationship to a supermarket chain is anything but obvious. (It does sort of remind me of all those analogies made in discussion of improving health care quality that liken hospitals to automobile assembly lines.)

People who have little understanding of what health care is about are not likely to make decisions that will improve it.

So would you like fries with that ketchup?

Hat tip to the WSJ Health Blog, and to Pharmalot.

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