Health Wearable

Future Health - 5 Digital Pharma Trends to watch for in 2020

  • 11 mins read
Jon Hume
by Jon Hume
Client Services Director

Jon is Client Services Director at Graphite Digital. An experienced digital strategist with a passion for helping big businesses leverage technology.

Published on Tuesday 15th October 2019

The pharma and healthcare industries have been undergoing a period of rapid change and digital transformation over the last few years, and this trend is expected to continue as established businesses race to catch up with other industries and new market entrants. 

We’ve been exploring how the expected changes can benefit both healthcare professionals and patients and how they might impact those in marketing and technology roles within pharma businesses. 

Pharmaceutical companies are running hard to keep up with the changes digital technology brings and some are advancing ever more quickly into new groundbreaking solutions. Is technology the key to a brighter and healthier future for all?

1. Beyond the Pill - Pharma companies will re-organise to develop alternative digital solutions that enhance patient care

Digital disruptors around the world are exploring treatment options that don’t involve medication. Traditional pharma and healthcare companies do not have a choice in whether or not they choose to innovate. The change is coming straight for them. It’s being driven both by demand from consumers and innovation from tech companies. 

Chronic disease is on the rise and it’s placing increased pressure on healthcare budgets. Many pharmaceutical companies and technology players are exploring additional options for prevention, treatment and cure. Digitally enabled ‘beyond the pill’ solutions are becoming a critical part of serving the needs of both patients and healthcare providers and we will see the use of technology in this area continue to create better outcomes in 2020 and beyond. Technology solutions can help patients make lifestyle changes to avoid worsening conditions and assist with adherence to treatment plans and provide vital feedback to healthcare providers. 

Wearables are often used to track people’s health and particularly heart rate, blood pressure, sleep, calories burned etc. There are several apps that help diabetic patients monitor blood glucose levels, insulin levels and diet. In 2020 and beyond apps and digital platforms will continue to develop into part of a wider health ecosystem that monitors patients and contributes positively towards their overall wellbeing. . 

  • Denmark based Leo Pharma have built a separate innovation lab which is testing applications, wearables and digital platforms that focus on people living with skin conditions. In the lab, they take a holistic, non-pharma approach to focus on the needs of patients with skin conditions beyond pills and regular treatments. They include diet, nutrition, health, mental health, fitness and even how to engage with doctors about their condition. They look at patients individual lives and needs to develop treatments that can work with their normal everyday. It has an enormous impact on how they act as a company as they look to work in more lean and agile ways and reduce the time to market for new innovations. 

  • Biogen have already discussed the use of trackers from Fitbit to monitor the walking activity of patients with multiple sclerosis. 

  • Novartis have developed groundbreaking ‘chip in a pill’ technology which monitors transplant patients adherence to medication. 

  • Google owned Alphabet is partnering with Alcon, (a Novartis subsidiary), to develop a smart contact lens that will monitor glucose. 

  • Apple, of course, is working alongside hospitals with the now established Health app and APIs {HealthKit} and is beginning to partner with the healthcare industry in order to provide access to anonymised data and help with studies through it’s enormous global install base of users.  

Medical wearable

We expect to see other Pharma companies re-organise themselves to develop ‘beyond the pill’ solutions. In the Deloitte pharma and connected patients report it highlights the reasons some ‘beyond the pill’ projects fail and the barriers faced. Some beyond the pill projects have failed because traditional pharmaceutical company product cultures make it difficult to move to an agile, customer-centric culture. Pharma’s regulatory environment can make it difficult to ‘fail forward’ and can impact the recruitment of digital expertise and skills. Many pharma companies are developing partnerships to support the deployment of digital technology.

When you consider all of the above it is essential that companies incorporate digital expertise within the traditional healthcare and pharma environment. The opportunities to improve patient care and gain access to data that can prove to be the catalyst for future innovations in the space are great. 

Learning to innovate within a regulatory environment and ensuring technical expertise are on hand will be essential beyond 2020. Developing digital first solutions for patient services and providing digital training for regulatory, legal and medical colleagues will allow teams to keep up to date with developments and push to be first to market with innovative services, while remaining compliant. The results of this should bring better outcomes for patients and will give pharmaceutical companies the opportunity to remain leaders in this space. Expect to see all the big pharma companies develop solutions beyond the pill either through collaboration with digital and UX agencies, smaller pharmaceutical innovators and tech start ups, or choosing to develop in-house expertise.

2. Patient Centricity

In 2020 and beyond it will become vital to put patients front and centre and engage as they make their healthcare choices. Historically, Pharmaceutical companies have prioritised feedback from Healthcare Professionals to find out what their patients feel, need and think. There is already change underway to prioritise and embrace patients and to design services and solutions around them. This change is partly patient-driven as many patients are starting to view healthcare like other services they purchase. They conduct extensive research on their conditions, treatment options and expect a simple and seamless experience similar to that they might expect in retail. 

Many pharmaceutical companies are re-organising the way they work to ensure they are putting patients first and changing how they engage with patients for the best possible experiences and outcomes. 

Happy patient and doctors

To make the true change to a patient-centric approach, pharma companies need to learn to coordinate across cross-functional teams and to adopt the right digital talent. True patient centricity involves providing the services and support that patients need to manage their conditions along their whole customer journey to manage disease. It will be increasingly important in 2020 to map patient customer journeys and identify pain points that can be improved upon. This involves identifying how patients feel about an experience from Pre-Diagnosis to Diagnosis through initial treatment and learning to live with and manage conditions. 

However, a recent eyeforpharma study suggested that there are still barriers that are preventing Pharma companies from moving to a fully patient-centric organisation. 19% of respondents cited a lack of resources as the biggest barrier to moving towards this. A shift in mindset is required if Pharma and Healthcare providers are to keep pace with the tech giants that naturally work in this way, and already have the ability to personalise interactions with users. We believe that there will be an increasing need for patient portals, automated processes to support patient-centric initiatives and a need to build collaborative relationships with healthcare providers to assist with health outcomes and digital literacy. 

3. Personalisation & the single customer view

With the rise of big data, and more recently blockchain, you’ll be hard pushed to find a pharma business without at least one team dedicated to investigating the potential of these technologies to impact their work. Somewhere that pharma appears to be somewhat behind the curve, that could benefit from a more data lead approach, is in the pursuit of providing a more personalised experience for HCPs.

Whether you are a specialist in Oncology that is only interested in seeing the latest content in your subject area, or a procurement pharmacist working in an NHS hospital, you often have very specific data needs. Those needs could be answered far more efficiently if the organisations providing this data had a more personal relationship with you. Traditionally this work would be done by building a personal relationship with a pharma rep, but as businesses look to improve efficiency and reduce costs, there are huge opportunities available to achieve this through digital channels.

By learning about the behaviour, specialisms and preferences of your customers, it is possible to combine these data points into a valuable and memorable experience for HCP’s, allowing them quick and efficient access to commonly required assets and making them aware of new content in a non-disruptive and value driven fashion. The goal for pharma businesses should be to provide an experience that enhances the work of the HCP, saving them time or adding to their knowledge with the core goal of enhancing the outcomes for patients.

4. Customer Experience & Content Strategy

Aptus Health conducted a piece of research called “The State of Customer Experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry”. They interviewed more than 2,600 physicians located across Europe and the US and included GPs and pharmacists in the research. The research found a huge gap in information that HCPs expect from Pharma and what they actually receive. The research suggested that HCPs receive lots of information about prescription drugs, but less of what they need in terms of materials to give to patients, and medical education-led material. 

In 2020 we expect to see leading Pharma companies leverage CX to differentiate themselves in the market and gain trust through relevant and valuable content. This will help HCPs to improve outcomes for their patients through providing relevant and high value services that complement the work they do. It will save HCPs both time and effort and ensure better adherence to treatment plans once patients go home and begin to take more control in managing their own care

HCP talking to patient

5. Using digital product development practices - ‘Product over Project’

As large pharmaceutical companies adapt to the changes technology is driving, we expect to see working practices change. Technology companies have for years been using lean and agile working practices, design thinking and design sprints to test, learn and launch new products. 

As pharma and digital healthcare companies step towards this new era, they will need to learn to experiment and prototype before running with an entire project end to end. This should herald a new way of thinking and operating for many, and might pose a challenge in such a tightly regulated environment. Collaboration is key, and adopting digital processes and ways of working will help teams embrace the challenges that lie ahead.

You only need to ask a pharma marketer how they feel about doing something even as simple as a basic split test and you’ll hear stories about how hard it is to get even one solution approved by their medical, legal and regulatory colleagues. Let alone getting them to understand the need to approve two, with the hope that one will emerge as a more effective solution, and the other saving the business money by ruling it out early before spending the time to fully develop it. 

The term ‘digital transformation’ has been kicking about in pharma for at least a decade now, but simply transforming your digital team isn’t enough. Teams need to push for progressive outcomes throughout the business in everything from procurement through to implementation, as this is the only way to truly benefit from these new ways of working. 

Digital technology has the power to change and improve the health of people all over the world and to make life easier for the healthcare professionals that serve patients. At Graphite, we will certainly be focusing our energy on building new and better experiences in healthcare and pharma. We’re passionate about using technology to make a positive impact on people’s lives. 

We’ve recently been working with healthcare and pharma businesses to design better experiences for the healthcare professionals they work with. If you want to discuss how Graphite could help you to ensure that your user is at the centre of everything you do, we’d love to chat with you about helping your teams run design sprintsUX research and review your existing technology stack to get you ready for the challenges that lie in 2020 and beyond. Please contact us if you’d like to find out more.

Get in touch