Healthcare IT problems should provide some warning signs for pharma
In December 2015, UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt declared that all NHS buildings will soon provide free Wi-Fi. At present, many UK hospitals don't have Wi-Fi at all. I've had it in my front room since 1999. Welcome to 2016 - the year of the healthcare revolution. And also the year of the monkey. With Wi-Fi not expected to reach all NHS hospitals until 2020, don't be surprised if the monkey wins.
Last month also saw Amazon light a match beneath the UK grocery sector with the announcement that it plans to expand its grocery delivery service, Pantry. Beleaguered supermarket chains like Tesco and Sainsbury's are already preparing themselves for further market erosion. We've just had the pantomime season, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by what happens when giants fall asleep.
For major conglomerates fondly recalling their era of dominance, the cries of “it's behind you” are growing louder. And the shrieks of “oh no it isn't” are being met with cold facts. As 2015 drew to a close, Twitter feeds were being filled with an IBM PowerPoint slide showing how 'disruptor' brands such as Uber and Netflix are overtaking the old guard. And IBM should know. Years ago, no-one got fired for hiring IBM. They might today.
So as 2016 dawns, the warning signs are there for pharma. Consumer giants like Apple and Google are parking their tanks on healthcare's lawn. Armed with zettabytes of expertise in understanding customer experience, it will be no surprise when they transform healthcare models and develop disruptive innovations that match customers' needs and behaviours. It's what they do.
The belated NHS Wi-Fi revolution shows that the gap between healthcare and the 'new normal' remains wide. But it can't stay there forever. As technology reshapes communications and innovation becomes immersed in our daily routines, consumer expectations of healthcare services are changing. They're being dragged along by our day-to-day experiences in areas such as retail, banking and entertainment. To compete, pharma must learn to become as nimble as the technology giants that are leading the way forward and the start-ups that are inventing communication pathways of the future. Fundamentally, as technology transforms the way we live, pharma companies can no longer survive on reliving past glories. Only a bad pantomime fixates on what's behind you. It's what's in front that counts.
The new beanstalk
So what does the future look like for pharma? According to Forrester Research, the future of any business is digital. But perhaps, even in this respect, we're in danger of being bogged down by old language. Digital isn't new - it's normal. Maybe the best step towards pharma's digital future would be to eradicate the d-word altogether? Toby O'Brien, who as Digital Services Director at Lucid chuckles at the irony of his job title, thinks that pharma needs to dismantle its digital silos : “The digital future of pharma may be to lose 'digital' altogether - to get rid of digital roles and labels and just accept digital as the norm. The challenge is to develop a proper multichannel strategy that focuses on the appropriate delivery of content, products and services. We need to understand our audiences and use that knowledge to deliver better communications. The effective use of technology and data can help uncover valuable insights into our target audiences - and that's where the future lies for us as an industry. The smartest organisations don't proceed with a digital platform just for the sake of it, they'll garner enough insight to determine the most appropriate approaches for their audience. And digital can help generate that evidence.
“In the longer-term, pharma will increasingly partner with technology giants to develop innovations that change the way healthcare services are delivered. The advent of smart contact lenses, wearable technologies and personalised medicines offer a tantalising glimpse into the future and how we may understand and assess the patient. But in the near-term, pharma needs to focus on how it can leverage technology as a mechanism to develop programmes that change behaviours and improve outcomes. The iterative possibilities of technology can measure outcomes in real time, be adapted responsively and will be the cornerstone of delivering efficient and effective healthcare services. But to get there, pharma needs to stop fixating on digital and focus on the appropriate delivery of services that can positively change behaviours.”
If the slipper fits
The digital disruption that's occurring in other sectors will not be lost on pharma. But it's encroaching into the health and well-being space too. In 2014, more than €4bn VC investment went into healthcare companies. In 2015 it was even more. Naturally, pharma is sitting up and taking note. But despite the doom-mongers, digital disruption doesn't mean the death of pharma is nigh. The industry's challenge is not to develop Uber for Healthcare but to apply technology to its own specialist expertise and facilitate high-value services that drive better outcomes.
“Pharma's real opportunity is not likely to be in broad markets like wearables but in niche areas where existing expertise can be leveraged,” says James Atherton, Managing Consultant, Blue Latitude. “The drivers are clear; patients and HCPs are demanding a better experience while governing bodies want to reduce healthcare costs. The shift between acute to chronic care is also a massive challenge; this combined with ageing populations and rising long-term conditions will cripple healthcare systems if not properly addressed. While alarming, this represents a prime opportunity for pharma to leverage technology, and combine it with their wealth of expertise.
“There's an important nuance here; at the moment, pharmacos are developing digital services that are packaged into the pricing of new therapies with the promise that they'll transform outcomes - with these outcomes sometimes backed up by evidence. But payers are savvy. Increasingly, they'll dismiss the service and simply ask for a cheaper drug. Presenting a value-based argument is difficult when a key part of your proposition is perceived to be 'free'. Payers just don't fall for it. The answer is for pharma to consider charging for every service it provides. If you place a value on a service and provide empirical data that evidences that value - for example showing how using it can meet an outcome goal - payers have a choice. They can just buy the drug, or they can maximise the benefits for patients and the healthcare system. Companies often don't do enough to demonstrate the value of their added-services, leaving sales teams hamstrung by a lack of evidence. By charging for every service they create, companies can more clearly demonstrate value to all stakeholders - and underline the true value of their innovative services.”
Going to the ball
Innovation 'beyond the pill' is becoming pivotal to brand differentiation and it's perhaps here where pharma needs to take a more sophisticated, collaborative approach to harnessing technology. “As technology advances, consumers are beginning to demand the same levels of control and choice around healthcare that they have in other areas,” says Glynn Godwin, VP, Interactive & Design, Ashfield Healthcare Communications. “Expectations for wrap-around services that support the treatment of disease are increasing. This is where pharma needs to focus - and patients need to be at the heart of those discussions. For patients and care-givers, treatment is no longer just about the medicine, it's about being able to understand and manage conditions - in partnership with their healthcare professionals. Patients want to be able to track their progress, communicate with clinicians and like-minded individuals, and gain fast access to information that's going to help them. The development of technology and tools to support this are therefore dependent on being patient-focused and connected.
“UX and customer experience methodologies are now a major requirement as pharma companies strive to ensure their products and services are patient-centred. The best partners will create patient personas that acknowledge individual drivers and lifestyles, so that applications can be modelled around users as well as balancing with business' goals. The key to success is to make sure that everything - and everyone - is connected and represented. Across numerous pharma hackathons of 2015, the importance of connectivity was a common theme. The most successful teams had patients, HCPs, engineers and designers all working together - developing solutions that factored in the patient, technical and commercial drivers. Moreover, the end solutions, in whatever format, connected every single stakeholder - giving everyone visibility of the same data. Pharma's 'digital future' must be similarly collaborative.”
The magic lamp
The industry is well-versed in the principles of collaboration, with many successful brands emerging through partnership and multi-stakeholder engagement. However, although all drug companies now claim to be patient-centric, it remains to be seen how many are currently fit for purpose in the new era of consumer empowerment. It's an attribute that needs to be quickly acquired if pharma is to unlock the opportunity of digital transformation. “The pharma industry cannot hide away from the fact that the consumer is King,” says Tina Woods, Head of Lansons Health. “Understanding consumer empowerment is absolutely critical. It's not just about technology, it's about the democratisation of knowledge and data. There's huge variability in how companies are approaching this, not only in how they talk about 'getting close to the consumer', but also in how they're walking the walk. It goes way beyond developing patient support programmes - it's about thinking and operating completely differently.
“Optimising technology means starting with the human being at the centre. As an industry, we have to observe and understand our consumers' world before we can really get inside what will give them meaningful information that can support them. Pharma is beginning to talk about Customer Experience - but the travel, banking and retail worlds have been doing it for years. It's time we got it right in health because consumers now expect it. Uptake in devices like Jawbone and Fitbit shows that technology can deliver real behavioural change in motivating people to become fitter. We must now do the same for patients with chronic disease where the challenges are more complex. Whatever the technology, the successful solutions will be those that are built on an understanding of the people who will benefit from using them and the systems in which they are cared for. Consumer empowerment in health is here to stay - we ignore it at our peril. After all, as Daniel Kraft, founder of Exponential Medicine, says: 'the new drug is the empowered patient'.”
And so as we journey into a New Year where some NHS patients will gain access to free Wi-Fi while Amazon quietly puts Morrisons to sleep, pharma must end its reliance on an old operating model and look for new ways of engaging a more empowered audience. The pantomime season may be over, but sleeping giants don't just live in fairy tales.