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How AI Is Carving UCB’s Path to Better Patient Insights


A look at how UCB is utilizing dynamic targeting via AI to improve overall patient experience.

As the healthcare landscape grows more multifaceted, ongoing innovation becomes crucial to managing the wealth of available data and generating actionable insights from it. For pharmaceutical companies, AI and advanced analytics are cornerstones to achieving the broader goal of digital transformation, which will affect the way patients experience care, how healthcare professionals (HCPs) practice medicine, and how companies like UCB develop solutions and bring them to the market. However, pharma’s data and analytics capabilities have begun to outpace the technology’s ability to put the necessary changes into practice.

At UCB, we sought to answer one facet of this problem at the top of 2020—how to collect better insights on the HCP’s customer journey to make sure that we were getting our solutions into the hands of the patients who need them. To that end, we made plans to roll out an advanced analytics and AI-enabled dynamic targeting tool within customer-facing roles. Dynamic targeting employs multiple complex algorithms to give UCB’s field force, the ecosystem engagement team, a nuanced portrait of individual HCPs. It also prioritizes markets based on insights into patient needs, without compromising patient privacy. By integrating different metrics, the tool empowers UCB to develop more precise and relevant HCP engagement strategies and surface the right opportunities in real time to get UCB’s medicines to patients faster. It represents a significant leap forward for us as we continue to develop our digital environment and puts us on the path to developing a true next-best-actions capability as well.

We’ve learned that a journey toward innovation takes multiple paths from concept to rollout. A truly agile business will have both visionary planning and the ability to adjust when circumstances change unexpectedly—such as the onset of a global pandemic and resulting market disruption. Conventional wisdom might have compelled us to put the initiative on pause, but instead we saw the situation as a catalyst to make sure that people living with severe diseases could continue to access their medicines. The sheer scope of the disruption also reinforced the need for more adaptive tools to better support fluctuations in business goals. We successfully made rapid and tangible progress on dynamic targeting by following these key principles for any innovation project:

  • Stay focused on utility. In practice, dynamic targeting acts as a type of GPS for call planning, offering turn-by-turn assistance and the power to adapt an approach when engaging an HCP. With that in mind, we were conscientious about the scope of our analytics agenda and aimed to keep the vision narrow. While it may have been tempting to overload the tool with a wide array of different features, we recognized that it was the specificity of its function that made it most useful.
  • Involve UCB’s ecosystem engagement team in the development process. One of the advantages of the capability is that it encourages UCB to form stronger relationships with their HCP customers and ultimately the patients they treat. Understanding that the ecosystem engagement team is the best source of information for understanding our customers, we encouraged them to help shape the product. Regular training sessions emphasized how the new technology would make daily routines easier and more efficient, encouraging adoption and allowing the team to hit the ground running as they began to use it.
  • Articulate how the capability will meet new needs. As the ecosystem engagement team negotiate the level of engagement with their HCPs, especially in this new environment, the dynamic targeting tool will become more valuable as a day-to-day—possibly even call-to-call—engagement tool. Whereas past interactions with HCPs might be conducted at a more generalized level—descriptions of product attributes for our epilepsy treatments, for example—the degree to which the tool characterizes and delivers insights enables UCB’s ecosystem engagement team to better understand each physician and their patients’ needs and, using these insights, allowed them to become even more specific in addressing them. The tool also supports a more multichannel approach to HCP engagement, which is being put to the test as more physicians operate within virtual or telehealth models. By equipping field teams with a tool that observes adjustments physicians are making in their practices, we give them greater agency to define how they reach out to those physicians.

The pandemic has created a challenging gap in care as HCP offices closed, and typical reporting tools could not provide a clear view as to when those offices might be available to see patients again. Dynamic targeting informed our reentry strategy within an uncertain healthcare landscape and gave us an avenue to resume treatment of our patient community sooner. The real-time insights ensured the ecosystem engagement team could prioritize and target the right physician to call on at the right time, which is especially critical as COVID-19 impacts the patient-HCP treatment journey. The impact was better engagement with physicians and increasing patient medication adherence during COVID.

Being able to realize these benefits underlines the importance of introducing new AI and advanced analytics tools as soon as possible and puts us in a strong position to enhance the capability’s value as market conditions improve. The path to any digital transformation will be unique to an individual pharmaceutical organization, but the drive toward digital is something that the industry as a whole must achieve. For UCB, that mandate serves the mission of advancing care for patients living with severe diseases, including epilepsy. We subscribe to a core tenet of “test, learn, iterate” as an engine for innovation and pursue breakthrough science using a disciplined yet flexible approach. Organizations must have champions at the leadership level who advocate for new capabilities and are prepared to lead teams on the journey. By making bold moves to launch dynamic targeting swiftly, we now have a better grasp on HCP needs, and we’ve gone one step further toward partnering directly with patients—which will, over time, lead to better healthcare outcomes.

Anita Moser is UCB’s head of assets and optimization for US Neurology, responsible for maximizing inline products as well as future planning of assets in development. Dharmendra Sahay leads ZS’s integrated analytics practice and has more than 25 years of experience helping healthcare organizations improve their commercial effectiveness through analytics and technology solutions.

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