Digital Health: Gaining a Competitive Advantage

Apr 21, 2017

Imagine asking someone who their primary care physician is, and them responding by saying it’s their iPhone.

That could be the future of digital health.

Digital health is one of those industry buzzwords that make healthcare executives both excited and nervous. Excited, because it’s seen as innovative, cutting edge, and can create potential for new programs and ideas. Nervous, because of cost, regulations, and the reality that it could mean a complete overhaul of the way a pharmaceutical or healthcare company has traditionally done business.

What’s driving the digital health trend? It’s actually very simple. The answer is, mobile devices.

“We no longer go online, we live online,” said David Blair, head of industry–health for Google, during his presentation at eyeforpharma’s Philadelphia conference this week. “It’s no wonder you can’t list your iPhone as your primary care doctor.”

If you think this isn’t the case, consider the statistic Blair cited–there are four-times as many Android devices activated every minute than babies born. He also explained that time spent online is up 33 percent in just four years.

Patients are increasingly taking more control of their healthcare options, and as they spend more time on their mobile devices, they can, “swipe you out of the way, or click on you, and engage.”

“There is a massive shift in point-of-care,” Blair explained. “We can provide care anywhere. We no longer have to go to a physical location.”

Now that we know mobile devices are playing such a large part in healthcare these days, what’s the secret sauce to capitalizing on it?

“Make the patient’s life easier,” said Blair. “How many people would wait three weeks for Amazon to deliver?”

Consumers now expect, and want, things at the speed of light—“where I want, when I want, and how I want.” They get this in many other areas of their life, except, Blair noted, when it comes to healthcare.

The changing landscape

The patient journey is no longer linear, and companies need to understand, plan, and adapt to the new habits of their patients.

“[The key is] finding the right content to deliver at the right time,” said Joyce Ercolino, a digital business strategist. “Spend time to really map your customer’s journey, your audience, and their behavior needs.”

She pointed out that at different points of the journey, the patient will have different needs. For example, a patient’s needs will change as they get diagnosed, go on therapy, and then adhere to the protocol.

The problem can sometimes be that these habits are constantly evolving, or are evolving faster than companies and regulations can keep up with.

The average person looks at their mobile device 150 times a day, said Blair. These create micro-moments, and each of these micro-moments are opportunities to connect with that patient.

Blair suggested companies dive into user habits, and learn about sequential usage—when someone starts on one device and finished on another, with multi-screen usage—multitasking or augmenting one screen with another. Also, understand the context in which they are being used.

“Create a remarkable experience,” said Blair. “Are you delivering the right solution for each context and device?”

This doesn’t mean a company needs to go out and spend millions on a virtual reality experience, or start up a Snapchat account.

Start by getting back to basics. Make sure your website is truly mobile-friendly and works on all devices; reevaluate your advertising and content strategy.

“Think of your brand message as liquid content,” Blair said. “Conform to every screen the user touches. If you are just doing a TV or print ad, it is not going to work.”

Integrating digital company-wide

Digital health is about more than just the patient experience. It also refers to company-wide initiatives, and integrating digital into everything the company does—from clinical trials and adherence solutions to Internet search results and the way people are hired.

Everyone has a different definition of digital.

Will Reese, president and chief innovation officer at Cadient, a Cognizant Company, explained that digital represents the human interaction with technology.

Like Blair, Reese pointed out that the “sense of immediacy is not there” when it comes to healthcare, like it is in other industries.

“This is a real-time economy,” he said. “The expectation is that it should take seconds. No grocery store should deliver better customer service than a healthcare company.”

To do this, a company must commit to fundamentally changing their business, he suggested.

“When you digitally transform a company, it changes everything from how people are hired to their interaction with the company,” said Reese.

One of Reese’s suggestions was to hire a digital showrunner, someone who has the overall creative authority and responsibility for digital integration in a company.

While technology is already impacting the pharma industry, he predicted automation and the Internet of things (IoT) will intensify over the next two years, and those companies that experiment and embrace it will have a “dramatic and competitive advantage.”

“Intelligence is everywhere,” warned Reese.

He wasn’t alone in that thought.

“If you use Alexa to add eggs to your grocery list, why can’t it remind you to take your medication,” questioned Joshua Palau, senior director of digital innovation, social media and search at Johnson & Johnson.

The question raised more than a few eyebrows in the room about data and confidentiality concerns, but after a short discussion among panelists, the conclusion was made that most likely the person who is taking the medication would be the one programming the reminders.

Digital internists

As Reese mentioned, digital health and being a digital company goes beyond the patient experience. Sometimes, it starts internally.

Companies like Teva have recognized the importance of digital data across all areas of its brand.

Christopher Pitcherella, director, clinical trial innovation and global clinical operations, explained that the company has started to mandate a digital thread on projects. The digital thread is able to be seen throughout a process and is a way to capture and maintain data that might be needed down the road.

For example, data collected by the R&D team might also provide commercial value as well. It can potentially be an asset to the company, he explained.

Digital initiatives can become overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be rocket science.

“Don’t overthink it,” said Palau. “Digital is what it is. Do what you normally do and translate it online. You would never have a shelf empty at Walmart, so why would you do that with Google?”

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