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Digital disruption

The pressure to transform will come from all stakeholders, not just technologists
digital disruption

Many articles, conferences and presentations have been shared about the impact of digital on the communications of pharmaceutical products, how it has reinvented medical education, the role of the patient in our new interconnected world, the usefulness of social networks, viral marketing or even advanced analytics and big data. But in each case what we are really talking about is the trend behind some of the coming challenges and opportunities for our industry.

Digitally-driven transformations have changed entire industries along with the demise of once-mighty corporations, including such household names as EMI music, Polaroid, Kodak, Woolworths, Thomas Cook, Blockbuster and Encyclopaedia Britannica many of whom have radically restructured, or in some cases, gone into bankruptcy, as new digital entrants have disrupted their traditional business models. This disruptive thinking, defined by economist Joseph Schumpeter as the 'creative destruction' of established businesses, has led to new business practices.

My previous work in the gambling sector was initiated by the transformation of this industry allowing start-ups like my own to offer online casino and bingo solutions with the added convenience, interactivity and engagement that digital transformation brought to the consumer. Innovation flourished as new features and experiences were launched and adopted as industry best practices. Another classic example of this creative destruction has been the transformation of the travel industry that has led to a rapid growth in creativity within this sector. Much of this has been out of necessity for the incumbent flagship airlines, which, faced with upstart newcomers with innovative digital activities, had to react and find new ways to energise their business. The internet has facilitated a closer relationship between the airlines and their consumers, via direct selling or travel comparison websites, in the process negating the need to use travel agents as intermediaries.

Now we have companies engaging with consumers across multiple digital access points, allowing their customers to book tickets, check-in to flights and complete other functions from a website, mobile website or smartphone application. Many airlines offer check-in and flight status on Facebook and 24/7 customer service through Twitter, other innovators like KLM have introduced a 'Meet and Seat' programme, allowing passengers to share and view other (opted in) passenger Facebook or LinkedIn profiles when choosing their airline seating.

In the pharmaceutical industry many companies have taken large and commendable steps by adopting new technologies, developing digital assets and even listening to social media conversations on their products or disease areas. But often these adjustments to the new digital realities capture only a fraction of the shifting value as many organisations are challenged to do no more than inch toward digital, especially since nobody knows when, or from which source(s), the next disruption will come. It is clear that today's digital disruption involves not only evolving technologies, but a revolution in the way that patients, physicians, carers, scientists and others use technology. Innovation in communications today includes not only digitising content, but also interactions, experiences and relationships, digital networks and cloud computing for example offer access to large amounts of processing power and systems to screen potential new drugs, analyse complex diseases and develop new pharmaceutical products and services.

Snapping at pharma's heels

It could be argued that the pharmaceutical industry is unusual, in that it has a strict regulatory framework covering many aspects of its commercial, research and manufacturing activities. But the same is true for other industries, such as financial services, a sector that has also been transformed in many ways by the internet.

Agile young healthcare companies and start-ups are flourishing like Health Tap, which offers an online interactive physician network providing free online and mobile answers from thousands of physicians accessed via their website, social media and smartphone apps. Others such as Sharecare offer expert answers to healthcare questions via their website and social media platform using consumer-friendly language collaborating with leading US medical institutes, healthcare companies and renowned physicians.

Other healthcare companies such as iwantgreatcare.org, zocdoc.com and others have taken the idea of recommendations from online retailers like Amazon and iTunes and are allowing consumers to post reviews on different aspects of their healthcare, including clinics, hospitals, physicians and even treatments. PatientsLikeMe.com has over 220,000 patients sharing their medical records with others peer-to-peer with the consequence of this free service in that 10 per cent of those sharing their experiences have changed their primary care physician. This increase in the patient demand for better healthcare is radiating across all aspects of their treatment, including medication, and we are seeing many examples of patient communities leveraging the latest social media channels to discuss their treatment. We also have websites like DestinationRx.com making the first tentative steps in applying the concept of comparison price shopping websites to healthcare with online tools offering services like lower-cost medication alternatives to existing prescription choices.

Although the pharmaceutical industry in many cases has the benefit of being a physical consumable, healthcare has the attention of a number of start-up companies, many of which are focused on helping consumers attain fitness and well-being with the goal of disease prevention.

Examples include Massive Health, which supports consumers in managing their health using smartphone apps that leverage the latest social and design trends; another interesting example is Stickk, which seeks to integrate consumers' social media relationships and activities to drive positive behavioural change in personal well-being and health. We also have Skimble, providing consumers with exercise, dietary and well-being advice and support. Many of these digital solutions work across multiple platforms and are heavily influenced by the latest smartphone technology and design trends.

Included in this mix are the growing list of new and established technology companies offering and developing wearable devices which seek to help manage well-being and fitness with bracelets, watches and other smart devices. The market is currently segmented between consumer devices improving health with digital pedometers, sleep and heart monitoring and other tools and medical devices. We are seeing a growing number of examples of the latter; these include ECG Check and AliverCor for CVD patients and iBGStar and Glooko, all of which have received FDA approval for their respective disease management tools.

Many analysts are expecting 2014 to be a step change year in this category with the potential launch of wearable devices from both Apple and Google expecting to lead the charge complemented by existing devices from a diverse group of companies including Sony, Samsung, LG, Pebble and Polar. Offering seamless integration with individual smartphones could revolutionise preventive healthcare with patients, carers and physicians receiving warnings of CVD and other risk levels.

We have even had demonstrated an intelligent baby-suit from Intel, allowing parents to monitor and be alerted to changes in their babies' breathing and other information, and a smart contact lens from Google that can monitor glucose levels in tears of people with diabetes and then wirelessly transmit them to a handheld device. As the world of science fiction moves closer to reality others are looking to push boundaries further, for example the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE, a $10m competition to develop a portable, wireless device like the original Star Trek medical device to monitor and diagnose your health condition. This may seem farfetched but we have already have an early front runner in the Scanadu Scout which can read a person's temperature, heart rate, blood oxygen levels and more, simply by being held against the forehead.

Moving closer to the heart of the pharmaceutical industry, we have start-up companies looking at transforming the drug discovery model by developing intelligent algorithms and predictive analysis harnessed with big data, and abundant processing power to map the mechanisms and workings of human diseases as mathematical equations. NuMedii is one of many using this new thinking to identify new treatments and also discover new uses for old and rejected drugs; an early example of this approach is desipramine, previously marketed as an antidepressant it is now nearing proof-of-concept in a cancer trial.

More recently Google, which has already transformed the advertising industry, announced a new medical company called Calico, whose explicit aim is to take on ageing itself. With its proliferation of businesses, products and services, it would be easy to forget that not so very long ago Google was just a search engine. Today, offshoots of the company can be found researching self-driving cars, developing their own smart phones and tablets and even launching giant balloons into near space. Many commentators have speculated that Calico will pursue a 'big-data' approach to health, gathering massive amounts of information and 'crunching it' to help speed the way to healthcare discoveries.

There are numerous other examples in healthcare where new entrants and incumbents have borrowed ideas from other industries to improve or shape the pharmaceutical industry, and this trend will only increase as we acknowledge that we like others are in a state of transformation. The challenge for many companies is to recognise this disruption across all aspects of their business from drug discovery to delivery, and accept that in our interconnected world the lines of communication between customers and consumers is blurring more and more. We must recognise the growing number of start-ups and new entrants in healthcare who are seeking to reshape our industry by applying ideas and concepts from external sources like Silicon Valley and the wider digital ecosystem. These innovations and others to come will help shape our industry for tomorrow, not just processes but relationships and even existing business models, thus the pressure to transform enterprises will come not just from technologists or number-crunchers but all stakeholders.

It is an exciting future for those who can identify the right opportunities and trends relevant for our industry and with the passion to implement these ideas in their organisations.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views, strategies or opinions of Roche

Article by
Kaush Gandhi

Roche Global Digital Group, kaushgandhi@yahoo.com. The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views, strategies or opinions of Roche

15th May 2014

From: Sales, Marketing

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Rainmaker Healthcare Communications

Rainmaker is an independent, award-winning communications agency with offices in London and Atlanta. Our experience across pharmaceuticals, generics, OTC, medical...

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