Stay Ahead of the Technology Curve

Mar 01, 2010
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

We live in the digital age, where information is abundantly available at a keystroke. Many industries have adapted to the revolution in information technology, but the healthcare industry still relies to a substantial extent on data capture and analysis methods that are outmoded or hobbled by proprietary formats that inhibit connectivity among data sources and technology platforms.

The good news is that the situation is changing as life sciences research becomes dependent on computational power, as governments invest in the healthcare information infrastructure, and as information-based innovators such as Microsoft and Google shape the way consumers and healthcare professionals interact with data. Research shows that effective use of information has become a driver of competitive advantage, provided that companies fulfill two key responsibilities: understanding the business impact of changes in the way information is collected and processed, and making wise tactical investments in the tools required to stay ahead of the technology curve.

Harnessing Transformative Forces

Three transformative phenomena are the catalysts for defining both the new opportunities and the risks to existing business models. These include an information explosion, enhanced connectivity, and a shift in information advantage.

» Information Explosion. Not just the quantity of information, but also the types of information available to stakeholders is increasing exponentially. Leading the way are technological advances such as genomics data, digitization of patient data, and new techniques for taking diagnostic images. And the digital universe is expected to double in size every two years; major medical centers must be equipped to handle billions of terabytes of data (an information output equivalent to trillions of filing cabinets).

» Enhanced Connectivity. Through a proliferation of channels and networks derived from such developments as HL7-enabled Regional Health Information Organizations (RHIOs), Web 2.0 communities, and remote access to patients, stakeholders are interacting better than ever before. Connectivity is also improving via new forms of collaboration and emerging standards for interoperability, permitting a smooth flow of clinical information across clinical and research organizations.

» Shift in Information Advantage. Changes in the source and ownership of relevant information are creating a shift in the market. Healthcare is an information business, and the advantages from possessing the relevant information will open up as clinical data becomes more accessible and transparent to a variety of stakeholders, or as medical histories become more fully available to patients.

To control these three transformative forces, a biopharma company needs the proper strategy. Without a strategy, these forces will shift the relative influence and advantage toward others in the health system. Historically, a biopharma company could attribute its proprietary edge to the fact that it had more information about a product (efficacy, side effects, and optimal dosages for various indications) than other stakeholders. That familiar information advantage is partly responsible for the current model of developing and marketing medicines—from the design of clinical trials to the prevalence of sales representatives in doctors' offices.

But with the shift in information advantage, other stakeholders are gaining the initiative. Payers now have a wealth of outcomes information that they are leveraging to create treatment and reimbursement protocols. Physicians are becoming less amenable to the traditional sales rep, and more inclined to favor the "neutral, honest broker." Add the other two transformative phenomena—the information explosion (from research labs and elsewhere) and enhanced connectivity (rapidly spreading information not just within a company but also between companies and with other stakeholders)—and you have a blueprint for significant change: a set of new opportunities and the obligation to compete for them.

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