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Q&A: Artificial Intelligence (AI) Still Requires Human Intelligence (HI)


Artificial intelligence (AI) is a rapidly developing technology, and pharma is catching up fast with an exponential increase in the adoption of machine learning into marketing and sales strategies. When used right, AI has the potential to revolutionize the pharma marketing industry, especially in terms of real-time insights and predictions based on customer data. It’s not a magic bullet though, and pharma must focus on harnessing the power of AI to get the marketing basics right and better engage HCPs through personalized, targeted messaging via the right channels at the right time.

However, the early adopters of this powerful tool are set to reap the benefits and enjoy a significant competitive advantage in the future.

Pharmaceutical Executive caught up with Jason Bernstein, Director & Head, Medical Communications Strategy, Epocrates to discuss.

Pharm Exec: Artificial intelligence (AI) is definitely a buzzword in healthcare, but how is this tech being applied to pharma marketing?

Jason Bernstein: AI is touching nearly every aspect of healthcare in some way, and pharma marketing is certainly no exception. This is becoming especially true with the increasing number of regulations as well as declining HCP face time, which is limiting the opportunities that medical sales representatives have to interact with their existing and potential prescribers. Moreover, the expectations of HCPs are no different than regular consumers on the digital experiences that they receive.

Jason Bernstein, Epocrates

Jason Bernstein, Epocrates

As such, the broadly targeted mass emails that have lingered for far too long are now things of the past, and the future revolves around hypertargeting prescribers with AI and machine learning to cut through the growing amount of noise and engage HCPs with a new level of precision. This technology has the potential to transform the commercial pharma landscape by helping marketers predict prescribing patterns and the impact of marketing channels and messaging strategies.

What will it take for pharma to successfully embrace AI?

There’s no doubt that AI can have a profound impact in pharma marketing efforts, but it’s crucial that marketers recognize that healthcare is different from the traditional consumer space in more ways than one.

A successful AI strategy in healthcare requires advanced machine learning and analytics technology, access to integrated global industry data, deep healthcare industry knowledge, and the technical expertise to build algorithms that generate meaningful insights. Machine learning is not an off-the-shelf solution that can be easily rolled out. It takes time, ongoing adaption via learnt experiences, and access to continuously evolving data sets based on audience behavior.

Many technology companies have attempted to create solutions for the pharmaceutical industry, but too often these efforts have fallen short because they lack the data and pharmaceutical domain expertise necessary to understand the complexities of the healthcare analytics environment.

How can AI be an independent marketing tool for pharma marketing?

While AI is very good at taking data and analyzing it within assigned parameters, it may not be nimble enough at working outside of its lane, or even recognizing other lanes in which to work. Human inventiveness is still required to take it to the next level.

There is a growing trend in the pharma industry to let AI make the marketing decisions. Complete confidence in this approach could lead to undue reliance on its algorithms, which in turn increases the risk of missed opportunities. Pharma marketers can consider the importance of “being present” when an HCP is interacting with one of their messages in one channel, and following it up with a personalized response right at that moment, rather than vacating that space, blindly feeding in the data to the AI engine, and letting it plan the next course of action based on the HCP profiling. Even though the latter approach may be mathematically accurate, we are still losing the ability to be nimble and “seize the moment,” a strategy that is important while interacting with HCPs.

For instance, we’ve learned that when users were delivered a triggered second message, there was a 75% open rate, and 74% of users opened that second message on the same day as the first. These two tactics have shown strong results in pharma marketing in terms of open rates. Additionally, completion of customer journeys is improving surround sound and personalizing re-engagement based on HCP response to existing promotional triggers.

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