The ‘digital health revolution’ is here: What pharma needs to know

Simon Young | 24th June 2015

Image Credit: Flickr // doctorow

Blue Latitude Director and Health of Commercial Simon Young attended the inaugural ‘Financial Times Digital Health Summit Europe’ in London on 10th June 2015. A day full of expert panel discussions around key themes in ‘digital healthcare’, the panellists delivered their insight and opinions on topics ranging from genomics and big data to ‘disruptive innovation’ and the digital health ‘revolution’. Simon takes us through some of the key themes of the day, outlining and expanding on where we feel the industry is heading as we get closer to the ‘digital health revolution’.

Disruptive Innovation: Not a silver bullet

We have all been blown away by the speed of new technology adoption, and the gargantuan valuations on disruptive tech companies only two years after their inception. The simplicity of the sharing economy’s business models have every industry looking for something that will fundamentally change their own business models. There’s a commonly-held belief in pharma companies that they’re lagging behind faster moving, less risk-averse competitors. This leads to a desire to leapfrog the competition by creating something revolutionary that will be massively differentiating in a highly regulated market. There is an important place for digital innovation and the huge opportunities presented by genomics and advances in device technology. It’s essential for organisations to invest in innovation, experiment, collaborate with tech partners, and take risks. Our concern is that the focus on technology and disruption as a way to catch up (or differentiate) leave pharma companies in danger of failing to meet real customer and patient needs today. The other risk inherent in constantly chasing technological innovation is that pharma companies can get bogged down in a cycle of experimentation, piloting, and failing to scale successful pilots. We see many companies struggle to meaningfully measure the results of their pilot initiatives, which leads to a lack of confidence in impact. This lack of information means that it becomes quite challenging to manage change effectively during the scaling up process, which is essential to successfully scaling up a pilot initiative.

Innovation is not all about technology, and should not be a distraction from, or an alternative to, delivering great products, services and content that meet real needs right now. Before embarking on innovation initiatives, it’s critical to ensure that measurement and change management are in hand.

Image Credit: Vicky Woodward

Digital health revolution: Patient or HCP-led?

It is incredibly difficult and complex for public bodies like the NHS to define, fund, and adopt an innovative service at scale. There are also large barriers to healthcare professionals (HCPs) adopting innovative techniques; the prohibitive training and education requirements mean that HCPs have to be reactive to what they see their patients adopting. We talk about the need of a healthcare professional being ‘help me help my patient’, which leads us to provide patient services and programs through the HCP. However, this leads to two issues with digital health practise adoption: 1. It automatically confines patient support to small groups of patient adopters who have been prescribed a product first and then introduced to the service; this means that digital patient services don’t achieve adoption rates reflective of their potential. 2. The focus of the patient support services becomes adherence focussed. While adherence is important, it should not be the sole focus when designing digital patient services. Adlai Goldberg of EY (Digital Practice Adoption panel) predicted that patients would begin to take the lead in digital adoption, as patients are able to adopt new technologies and services quickly. Assuming his prediction is accurate, our focus should be to help the patient directly, while educating the HCP so they are able to respond to the evolving needs and behaviours of their patients.

In order to see faster, broader adoption of digital patient services, we need to design them for well-rounded direct patient support, rather than HCP-led adherence programmes. Shifting focus to HCP education will bring greater utility to patients and relieve information burden on HCPs.

Patient Digital Services in action: Janssen’s Mobile Health Manager

Patient services for chronic conditions that serve to help manage the condition, improve lifestyle, and motivate the patient have clear benefits to stakeholders. Features like tracking real time data that can be automatically shared with physicians (for example, continuous glucose monitoring for diabetic patients) have the potential to completely change the relationship between physicians and patients, empowering both to have a more educated, grown up conversation about treatment. Janssen’s Mobile Health Manager application, for example, can be used as a reminder service for any medication in the group. The service is created above brand with the needs of the patient in mind; the challenge for the group’s brands now is around adding value to the basic service by providing valuable content and service provision to support patients. Unrestricted patient services can be a strong differentiator, demonstrate commitment to a therapy area, position pharma as a healthcare partner, and build trust.

There are existing, successful patient services that provide direct patient support according to current patient needs. The challenge now is for brands to leverage or partner with these existing services to provide value and achieve differentiation, rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel for each individual brand in a company’s portfolio.

Understanding health data: Interpreting the quantified self

Digital health enables us to capture a huge depth of data that simply was not possible before. The challenge, however, is drawing insight from this tsunami of data and acting on it. We frequently observe challenges in the pharma sector with the capability to draw actionable insight from data and having the focus to act upon it to continually improve services. Additionally, measures of success are often almost entirely focused on commercial objectives, with very little captured to indicate engagement and satisfaction. It takes a really good understanding of the data and continual adjustment to realise the full potential of digital health innovation. In order to get the most from the wealth of data available, there are a few basics that need to be nailed:

  • Focus, measure and report on the right things: those things that can actually be acted upon
  • Next, acquire and allocate the resource and capability to derive insights, to pull meaning from the data
  • Finally, act upon insights through a process of optimisation to evolve services and content to better meet needs

It is startling how infrequently these three things happen in large pharma companies, where the barrier is the complexity of iteration and re-approval.

It will require significant organisational change and skills development to measure and interpret the mountains of data being generated by all the health devices and applications available. At present, this is a huge missed opportunity in pharma.

The ‘digital health revolution' is here. It is patient-led and it employs data and digital services to empower both patients and healthcare professionals to have better conversations about treatments. As evidenced by forward thinking companies like Janssen, not only are digital patient services possible, they’re a successful reality. In order to stay competitive, pharma companies need to start working more holistically, do away with ‘disruptive’ innovation for innovation’s sake, and focus efforts on creating services designed to meet patient needs today.

The real innovation is in disrupting disease pathways, not ‘Uber-ising’ healthcare.

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