How pharma can stay ahead during health care’s digital revolution

February 18, 2016

Digital has found a place in health care and is here to stay. Now, the traditionally more conservative pharmaceutical industry must quickly adapt. If they don’t, many leading executives predict they will risk losing their profitability to smaller, more innovative companies who can provide the same solutions, at a lower cost, to customers. Let’s take a look at the main ways technology is revolutionizing the industry — and how pharma can stay ahead.

Consumers are taking a more active role in their health.

Wearable devices, such as FitBit, the Apple Watch, and Garmin’s vivo series are transforming how people manage their own health. Consumers are monitoring their fitness activity, eating habits, and even biometrics like heart rate and body composition in real-time, and bringing this information to their physicians. Innovative companies are exploring how people with chronic and complex health issues, like diabetes and congestive heart failure, can benefit from remote monitoring using wearables.

This consumer demand for more “connectedness” and information is empowering patients to research treatments on their own and connect with other people online. For example, forums like PatientsLikeMe help people with the same diseases connect, exchange tips, and share support – all outside of the doctor’s office.

What pharma can do to adapt: Embrace it. The best thing pharmaceutical companies can do is develop technology that empowers consumers and supports their desire to participate in managing their own care. For example, avoid creating technology solely to meet the brand’s needs, and instead focus on solutions that improve communication between patients and physicians. This is what consumers truly seek.

Providers are spending more time managing consumer data.

The digital health care revolution is generating a significant amount of consumer health data and enabling the trend toward consumers taking a more more active role in managing their care. And patients are bringing this real-time health data obtained through wearables to their physicians to interpret. Increasingly, physicians and pharma companies will need access to tools that will help them navigate and make use of a growing stream of data.

What pharma can do to adapt: Partner with innovative technology companies that can provide comprehensive data about treatments, and how physicians and patients interact with them to inform future business and clinical development opportunities, identify training needs, and improve the overall experience for providers and patients. Then, feel comfortable sharing this data.

The pharmaceutical industry, lead by politicians, payers and the public’s general reaction to drug pricing, is facing tremendous threats and scrutiny from all sides. Greater transparency, fueled by comprehensive market and utilization data, must occupy an increasingly important part of the industry’s strategy.

Patients care less about brands and more about costs.

This one turns marketers and brand managers upside down and is related to the aforementioned data transparency. The truth is, now consumers are less loyal to health insurance and pharmaceutical brands. For example, the average time a person stays on any given health plan is only 2 to 3 years. This is largely to due job changes, employers switching health plans, and consumers increasingly taking on larger percentages of their health care costs.1

Instead, patients are pursuing cost-effective treatments, and online cost comparison tools have made it easier than ever to do so. It makes sense. The average cost of a year’s worth of specialty medications ($53,384) is now higher than the median U.S. household income.2
What pharma can do to adapt: Move away from being a product and brand-focused company and evolve into a solution-focused company. Consider partnering with other pharmaceutical companies, or technology and service companies, to develop end-to-end experiences for patients with complex health issues, like diabetes or cancer. If you give providers and patients an easy-to-use, cost-effective experience, they’re more likely to stay loyal to your brand.

Payers are stepping into roles traditionally owned by providers and drug companies.

An increasing desire for outcomes data, which describes how certain patients respond to treatments over time, is changing how payers do business. For example, more payers are offering home care services and other interventions that have been traditionally delivered by providers.

Payers are also using outcomes data to inform and drive value-based pricing. They can see which drugs do best with certain types of patients, and then make those drugs more readily available to consumers. As a result, the pharmaceutical industry will lose a bit of control over their brand messaging. The outcome of the treatment, instead of the marketing message, will become a buying factor.

What pharma can do to adapt: Seek to collect and share outcomes data. When you share outcomes data with payers and providers, you’re more likely to build long-term relationships,encourage industry collaboration, and put the focus back on patients. You can even consider sharing more health data with patients, too. This is similar to how providers interact with patients, and inspires a deep level of trust.

Successful companies will embrace experimentation.

The pharmaceutical industry tends to embrace new ideas only when they see competitors jump on board. But health care’s digital revolution is moving quickly and needs innovators. The companies that will do the best will be the ones open to experimentation.

The digital revolution is underway and moving at lightening speed. The good news is that pharmaceutical industry executives can use these disruptive changes to their advantage, as long as they have the right tools, team, and most importantly, the right vision.

1 David Champagne, Amy Hung, and Olivier Leclerc, “How pharma can win in a digital world,” McKinsey & Company (December 2015).
2 Carolyn Y. Johnson, “Specialty drugs now cost more than the median household income,” The Washington Post (November 2015).