Does Your Rigor Match Your Risk?

May 1, 2014

Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical Executive, Pharmaceutical Executive-05-01-2014, Volume 0, Issue 0

Digital technology has changed the risk relationship between brands, HCPs, and patients – it's vital to get that technology working right the first time.

Pharmaceutical companies are undergoing radical changes—they are no longer solely in the compound development and brand marketing businesses. Today, they're moving more and more into the patient care business. Along with that, comes different responsibilities.

Scott Hansen

Back in the day, the only relationship that mattered was the one between your brand and the physician. Simply put, doctors prescribed your drugs to help patients. Today, not only can doctors prescribe your brands, they can also recommend your technology.

Geoff Melick

However, the increasing complexity of technology leads to increasing risk and greater scrutiny.

What does this mean to Senior Directors and Franchise Leaders at pharmaceutical companies? It means that there is a need for better process and quality assurance benchmarks.

Technology is a double-edged sword

Technology offers the promise of engaging patients on a level never seen before. The benefits of an engaged patient start with increased compliance—a great thing for pharmaceutical companies—and extend to a more active and empowered consumer of healthcare, and ultimately to better and more affordable outcomes.

Your marketing teams and agencies have been rightly focused on developing up-to-date, innovative digital tools in order to engage healthcare providers and patients.

However, in their rush and excitement, have they ensured the correct infrastructure and processes are in place to mitigate risk? Clearly, digital requires a new level of rigor.

After all, what could go wrong?

Consider this scenario: As a Senior Director and Franchise Leader, you're responsible for the successful launch of a new drug for a chronic condition. In your tactical mix, you're including a downloadable monitoring app as part of the starter kit.

Your extended team executes what appears to be a flawless prelaunch-to-launch plan. All of the programs and tactics are successfully kicked off.

Or, so you thought.

Physicians begin writing new Rx's and handing out the starter kit. They're excited that their patients will have a digital monitoring app to go along with the new drug regimen.

However, like HealthCare.gov/, not enough time was put into the quality assurance process during development. Problems occur as soon as patients start using the app on their mobile phones. Quickly, it becomes clear that the app needs to be discontinued.

What was thought to be a successful launch turns into a mess when patients complain to their physicians about the poor performance of the monitoring app.

This negative feedback leads to lost revenues, damaged relationships with healthcare professionals, and increased scrutiny of your new brand—now compromised by a technological glitch.

And, unfortunately, you find yourself in ex-HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius's shoes.

Your brand Is liable

Cases like these are not atypical in today's world. Pharmaceutical executives need to think about evolving technology and be prepared for the impact when glitches happen. After all, the possibility exists that glitches may represent the same level of liability as a brand recall.

If your digital property is riddled with errors, your target is going to have a suboptimal experience. In other words, defects erode the relationship your target has with your brand.

Finally, when problems get big enough to make it to the boardroom, it doesn't matter how small the glitch was that occurred. The outcomes can be devastating to a brand's revenue and to how both the brand and company are perceived. Senior executives need to be more cognizant of the time and costs associated with providing appropriate quality assurance scrutiny for the development of digital communications and apps that, if not done correctly, can have a major impact on your business.

Quality assurance strikes a nerve

In October 2013, GA Communication Group and AbelsonTaylor hosted the first-ever Quality Assurance Summit for Digital Healthcare Marketing in Chicago. It brought together more than 50 senior marketing directors, QA professionals, and digital directors from some of the leading healthcare companies and advertising agencies to discuss, evaluate, and scrutinize how digital quality assurance processes are being handled by the industry.

The summit was followed by a panel discussion at South by Southwest (SXSW) in March. At SXSW, it became very apparent that QA is no small issue; attendance and the level of participation indicate that it's a major concern shared by pharmaceutical executives and agencies alike.

The focus of both meetings was to identify best practices for ensuring that quality assurance is an intrinsic part of the entire process. Quality assurance has to be an attribute of the process, not an afterthought.

This is the concept of "Shift Left."

Shift Left reduces liability

The principles of Shift Left state that quality assurance must be an integral part of the digital project development life-cycle—from planning to completion—and that QA must remain present even during maintenance.

Most importantly, Shift Left states that quality assurance is the responsibility of all stakeholders: marketing, regulatory, and ad agency personnel.

Shift Left: QA integral across digital project continuum

The goal of Shift Left is to be more nimble, accurate and inventive when creating digital projects (see chart above). If we're looking for defects up front, we can catch them and move on. That's nimble. If we catch defects as they occur, we improve accuracy. Finally, if we're both nimble and accurate, we allow ourselves the opportunity to be more inventive—creating better communications, better interface design, and projects that benefit both our brands and our customers.

The Benefit of Shift Left

The benefit of Shift Left is that we can now set and meet expectations for successful quality assurance across every browser, every operating system, and every device. And every brand.

And we can be efficient, because doing it right, at the right time, is faster than finding and fixing the problems just days before launch—or worse yet, after your app launches.

According to the American Society for Quality, "The 'cost of quality' isn't the price of creating a quality product or service. It's the cost of not creating a quality product or service." Adopting Shift Left allows you to protect brand equity, improve customer relationships, and save money, all while limiting liability.

For more information on Shift Left and quality assurance, visit www.stateofqa.com.

Scott Hansen is VP, Executive Director, Digital Creative, AbelsonTaylor. He can be reached at Scott.Hansen@abelsontaylor.com.

Geoff Melick is EVP, Chief Innovation Officer, GA Communication Group. He can be reached at gmelick@gacommunication.com.