The pharmaceutical industry is currently in a perfect storm of change and uncertainty that may actually enable its greatest development in the way it communicates with its customers and adds value to key stakeholders.
Healthcare is facing tremendous challenges and pressures from forces such as the increasing prevalence and cost of chronic disease, the large and widening health inequality gap between the rich and poor, an ageing population and finally access to medicines as they become more specialised, targeted, personalised and expensive.
Add to this the explosion of communication channels and the increasing capacity for technology to improve the provision of care and clinical outcomes for patients, and many have been left unsure of how to tackle the challenge of communicating about and supporting the usage of their medicines.
The consumerisation of health and the greater control that patients demand in their care is not just a health phenomenon. The way we expect to engage with the world has changed dramatically - for example, we only do two things through digital channels: pass the time by entertaining ourselves or solve a problem. This problem could be as different as booking a holiday or integrating a new oncology medicine into the hospital action plan.
Many banking customers site the bank's application as one of the key reasons they feel loyalty, the same is true of airlines and it is starting to be just as key in insurance. We need to prioritise effective tools and services that solve real problems, not just fettle and refine marketing messages. The problems in health are complex but we can make a difference in three of these key challenges.
Keeping people well and preventing illness
Technology is only interesting socially when it is boring technologically; we have to have scale to begin to prevent disease on a population level. With the mass adoption of smartphones and the increasing use of wearable and sensor technologies, we are getting to the stage where we can have a real impact. Pharma should look beyond 'wellness' and basic proxy activity measures such as treatment steps and look instead at developing an end-to-end solution design for chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes, looking at preventing the disease from occurring. In mental health, there is also a growing body of evidence that mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy delivered through mobile applications can prevent and improve these issues.
Pharma should look at developing end-to-end solution design for chronic conditions
Managing disease and improving patient outcomes
We can now design and implement digital health solutions that move well beyond a simple concentration on adherence to become a key component of prescribed care. We have designed programmes that are being piloted and trialled with the intention of providing improved clinical outcomes beyond the medicine in conditions ranging from asthma and diabetes to rare cardiovascular disease and transplantation. In order to build these programmes they need to be designed with expertise in behavioural psychology as well as in technology. It is also essential that they are built in collaboration with clinical, academic and patient expertise, as well as with the pharmaceutical company. With integration into healthcare systems and a symmetry of data between HCPs, patients and carers, we are close to delivering support programmes that are crucial to the provision of care. This will give true value to HCPs that far exceeds the value that was delivered beyond medicines in the past.
Improving access to medicines
Demonstrating value in the real world is now central and essential to a medicines value proposition. The use of technology to support this could see a revolution in the way we conduct clinical trials, but especially in the post-marketing data collection. Oncology is a great example of this change, we are working on solutions that manage toxicities for specific medicines that if proven to work, would be essential to the medicines outcomes and therefore make it a more viable proposition. We are not far from a place where technology-based support programmes are part of the licence for every medicine and crucial to its access to patients.
I am not suggesting that everything we communicate to HCPs and patients should be a clinical tool. What I am saying is that whatever way we want to define 'marketing', the goal of building true engagement through value is core to all successful company strategy in 2017. Digital touchpoints are all about solving problems. Every important service that you use, online and offline will be remade and designed from the bottom up with people at their centre - the possibilities for pharma are challenging but truly exciting.
Alex Butler is a partner and managing director at The EarthWorks