Using NHS Prescribing Data for Pharma Market Research
8th October 2021
By Vicci N
Prescribing data containing details of the prescriptions written across England and dispensed in the United Kingdom is released by the NHS every month. This data is freely available online and easily accessible, but the raw data can be difficult to work with due to the very large data volumes. Nevertheless, with the right tools, NHS prescribing data can be used to transform the UK pharma market and simplify the work of marketing professionals working in the pharma industry.
What is the English Prescribing Data?
Every month in England, the NHS releases anonymised open data about the drugs, medicines, and other prescribed items that have been dispensed by GPs across the country. This data should be considered extremely valuable to the UK pharma market, as well as to medicine and healthcare professionals working across all sectors of public and private healthcare in Britain.
The prescribing data includes various data points, including:
- Which medicine has been prescribed
- How much medicine has been prescribed
- What kind of condition the medicine is typically used to treat
- Where the prescription was made
Each monthly dataset is vast, incorporating over 700 million rows each month, which can mean this published data is difficult to process. However, using contemporary machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) technology, even the biggest datasets can be tidied up and analysed. Monthly NHS prescribing data can be used by professionals in the pharma market to identify trends, gain insight into the prescribing behaviours of medical professionals, and use this data to inform decision-making across all business operations.
Making the Most of Very Large Data
Huge volumes of data containing hundreds of millions of individual data points, is often thought to be too complex for data analysts to work with directly. We can't gain any meaningful insights from such large datasets manually because there is simply too much information to consider.
But data services that are designed with analytics productivity in mind, like the services we offer at Open Data Blend, can make unwieldy raw data much easier to work with, enabling a data analyst to quickly unlock insights from overwhelming volumes of data. Data scientists can also use these data services to train ML and AI models, revealing patterns, trends, and insights that a data analyst would completely miss.
From here, pharma market research professionals can draw their own conclusions from the data. Whether you're using prescribing data to inform marketing decisions relating to the way a product is advertised or who a particular drug is targeted at, there is no reason not to take full advantage of the open data offered by the NHS every month. It's free, comprehensive data that contains almost everything pharma marketers need to know about the current UK drugs market and how it operates.
How Can NHS Prescribing Data be Used in Pharma Market Research?
NHS prescribing data is used every day across the UK by professionals in healthcare and pharmacy to inform decision-making. GPs, managers, pharmacists, and chemists will all use this data to guide their work and direct their efforts, ensuring that British patients have affordable access to those drugs and medicines they are most likely to need, whenever they need them.
Understanding Prescribing Behaviours
Using prescribing data, pharma market researchers can gain unique insights into the prescribing behaviours of GPs and doctors around the country. Prescribing behaviours are, of course, dictated by patient needs, but they also offer insights into the effectiveness of pharma marketing strategies.
When the majority of doctors are choosing one brand of medicine over another with identical ingredients, what's the reason for this? Is it purely related to cost, is one drug marketed more successfully than another, or does one have a more desirable set of characteristics than another? In some cases, it may be that GPs are choosing one brand of medicine over another, while in others it may even be that patients are requesting a particular brand. Understanding why this might be is key to developing effective marketing strategies to bolster medicines that are effective but unpopular.
Prescribing data isn't the end of the road when it comes to understanding prescribing behaviours, but it can be used to effectively identify which areas need more research. If drugs are being prescribed in a way that pharma marketing teams don't expect - for example, if one medicine is underperforming or another is overperforming - it's worth conducting further research to identify the whys and the hows of these discrepancies.
Gaining Insight into Pharmaceutical Demand
Demand for particular medicines can and does change with surprising regularity. The most obvious example of this is the seasonal changes that affect prescription patterns; antivirals will be prescribed with increased frequency in the winter months when colds and flu bugs are rife, while topical and dermatological drugs are prescribed more frequently in summer when skin conditions like eczema might flare up or be more visible under a t-shirt.
But changes in the drugs that are prescribed with frequency can also change over a period of years or even decades. Changing lifestyles can affect the prevalence of certain diseases, and new research can affect which drugs doctors feel comfortable prescribing. For example, the percentage of adults who smoke in the UK has been steadily falling for decades; 45% of adults smoked in 1974, whereas in 2014 this figure had fallen to just 19%. This will result in a reduction in the number of antibiotics needed for lung infections and similar illnesses.
Understanding these long-term trends can help marketing teams to predict and pre-empt patterns in medicine and healthcare, informing the allocation of resources when developing new drugs to target those on the rise, as well as affecting decisions relating to the marketing and sale of drugs across the UK.
How to Use Prescribing Data in Data-driven Decision-making
If you're a professional working in pharma market research, it's important to understand exactly how prescribing data can be used in everyday decision-making. Understanding the ebbs and flows of the UK pharma market, including which drugs are most in-demand and when, can help pharma professionals to ensure that the resources they spend on marketing and product development are allocated correctly.
To illustrate this, let's take a look at some examples of how exactly prescribing data, and the insights that can be gained from it, can affect daily decision-making in pharma offices. Below are some of the questions that prescribing data insights can help you to answer quickly and accurately.
- Which drugs are most in-demand by UK patients? Are these drugs affordable, or is there a clear case for spending time and money researching superior alternatives to these medicines?
- *Which practices prescribe a particular drug most often? What do these practices have in common? What can this tell us about the way that this drug is marketed, and how we should market this drug in the future?
- How do prescription patterns differ month-to-month, and which drugs are most affected by season? Are these drugs being produced in the correct amounts each month to ensure that supply and demand are in sync all year through?
- How is a particular brand of drug faring when compared to other brands of the same drug? Which brands are most successful, and is there a reason why?
- Has the recent marketing push for a particular drug been successful, and has it resulted in a higher number of prescriptions of this brand being made in the past few months? Should the marketing push for this drug be increased or reduced?
These examples provide just a small glimpse into the full potential of NHS prescribing data. However, in order to use prescribing data to answer these questions and ensure that decisions are supported by real-life data, it's important to give your company the tools to enable the efficient extraction of meaningful insights from the millions of data points released every month.
What is Open Data Blend?
At Open Data Blend, we offer high-value data services to companies across the UK who are keen to boost their data analytics capability and help them to take advantage of the data that's all around us. We specialise in taking large and complex open data, like that published each month by the NHS, and making it easier to understand, analyse, and extract value from.
While our customers may have their own in-house data analysts and data scientists, they often lack the resources and tools to adequately analyse huge open datasets in-house. This is where we step in. Our data analytics expertise is here to help you to gain real, useful insights from open prescribing data. Not only does our hosted analytics service enable data analysts to unlock insights in seconds, but your data engineers and data scientists can interactively query our datasets after ingesting them into your data lake or data lakehouse.
We can help you to streamline your business operations and unlock unique insights, bringing more value from open data to your business every day. If you'd like to know more about Open Data Blend and how we can help with your pharma market research scenario, take a look at the Pharma Market Research use case.
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Blog hero image by Myriam Zilles on Unsplash.