Digital health tools have become an important part of the health landscape, with more than 90,000 digital health apps released last year alone.1
The vast quantity of new digital solutions on the market, however, raises the question about how many of them are really effective. IQVIA’s Digital Health Trends 2021 Report,2 for example, reveals that 83% of apps have been installed fewer than 5000 times; while 51% of those pulled from app stores recently had fewer than one hundred downloads.
So, how can pharma create solutions that are effective, can provide long-term value, and will actually be adopted by HCPs and patients?
Pharma companies of all types are increasingly making efforts to engage with digital, whether that’s forging partnerships, building internal capabilities to drive transformation, making investments, acquisitions and more.
The problem is that these can quickly become token efforts that drive little actual impact. Executing digital solutions effectively requires a significant level of commitment, not just when bringing the product to market, but gauging reactions to any initial launch, and continuing to reinvest in second or third versions, if not further into the future. It’s not simply a case of committing an initial capital investment for V1.0 and waiting for the success to roll in.
This is where many digital health apps fail. IQVIA research also found that 61% of those health apps3 eventually removed from app stores had never been updated, while 25% had only been updated for a year.
Ultimately, if pharma companies aren’t able to secure the long-term resourcing and capital investment required, their efforts to create a successful digital offering are unlikely to succeed.
So how can that commitment be secured?
Firstly, it’s important engagement comes right from the top. If you’re not bringing senior advocates to conversations from a very early stage, the chances are you don’t have the backing or commitment to make a success of the end product.
That engagement needs to include more than capital investment, too; senior input into resources and planning at the highest levels are essential to the best possible launch.
As well as going from the top down, a successful digital offering will require lateral engagement across the business, with multiple streams operating in parallel: put simply, digital solutions are complex and will require input and support from departments across the business, from sales and marketing to comms, legal, and others.
Of course, making that happen requires proper planning, especially when multiple markets are involved. But cross-functional support is vital to creating solutions instead of barriers, and without assigning and committing the necessary resources in advance, the peripheral services that are key to effective digital solutions simply won’t be ready in time, if at all.
Given the size and fragmented nature of some pharma companies, teams risk working at cross purposes without proper alignment. This could result in a large number of ineffective solutions, whereas focusing efforts on one may create better results.
The other key to success is a correctly balanced value proposition.
Any digital offering must benefit clinicians, patients, and businesses. Focusing too much on any one of these elements will mean your solution may struggle to get the buy-in of all three.
Getting it right will require a fair exchange of value. Patients, for example, want to know they can gain immediate benefits by engaging with the solution and that it will address their most pressing problems. HCPs, who are tasked with prescribing or recommending the solution, see value in the data it might produce to enable better patient care. And business leaders will want to know that any solution4 you create has value for the brand and will be used effectively.
There’s a simple litmus test to ensure you have the right balance of priorities and engagement from internal teams: anyone involved in a digital project should be able to offer a 30-second strategic elevator about the benefits of your solution to patients, clinicians, and ultimately to the organization.
You might even go so far as to template it to ensure every function is grounded in the needs of the end user and other stakeholders: what are value propositions for the organization, for patients, and for clinicians, respectively?
If team members are unable to clarify how their efforts contribute strategic value to the project, this needs to be clarified. Otherwise, the solution risks being ineffectual.
At the end of the day, pharma companies are experts at managing this kind of process for drugs and other pharmaceutical products; the strategy for a digital health solution is not all that different. Rather than being tempted to keep thinking bigger and increasing spend, it’s a case of focusing on the value you can bring to all stakeholders and recognizing and communicating that value.
Creating a successful digital solution relies on three things: the right goals, the right support, and the right advocacy.
Simply launching something into the app store without establishing the right teams and processes is a huge missed opportunity, and one that is likely to negatively impact the long-term results of that solution.
But getting it right doesn’t have to be immensely complicated. While pharma companies already possess some of the necessary knowledge internally, working with an external partner is essential to bridge any expertise gaps, build the right processes, and unlock success.
That, ultimately, will ensure patients and clinicians get the care, the tools, and the outcomes they need as promptly as possible.
Brian Flatley is VP Consulting Services at S3 Connected Health.