The road to digital success in pharma

Pharmaceutical companies can play a central role in the digital revolution of healthcare. But capturing this opportunity requires identifying the right initiatives.

Pharmaceutical companies are running hard to keep pace with changes brought about by digital technology. Mobile communications, the cloud, advanced analytics, and the Internet of Things are among the innovations that are starting to transform the healthcare industry in the ways they have already transformed the media, retail, and banking industries. Pharma executives are well aware of the disruptive potential and are experimenting with a wide range of digital initiatives. Yet many find it hard to determine what initiatives to scale up and how, as they are still unclear what digital success will look like five years from now. This article aims to remedy that. We believe disruptive trends indicate where digital technology will drive the most value in the pharmaceutical industry, and they should guide companies as they build a strategy for digital success.

Trends reshaping healthcare

Outcomes-based care is moving to center stage

Payors and governments have an ever sharper focus on managing costs while delivering improved patient outcomes, putting an even greater onus on pharma companies to demonstrate the value of their drugs in the real world—not just in randomized controlled trials—if they are to retain market access and premium pricing. In this environment, digitally enabled “beyond the pill” solutions, which include not just drugs but also sensors to collect and analyze data to monitor a patient’s condition between visits to healthcare providers, are becoming critical to serving both parties’ needs. These solutions help drive the adherence to treatment and outcomes that payors and governments seek, and they generate the data that pharma companies need to demonstrate their drugs’ superior efficacy.

Patients are becoming more engaged

In a digital age, patients are much less dependent on their doctors for advice, increasingly able and willing to take greater control of their own health. They feel empowered by the vast amount of health information available online and on apps, and by the array of health and fitness wearables such as FitBit and Apple Watch. In one survey, more than 85 percent of patients said they were confident in their ability to take responsibility for their health and knew how to access online resources to help them do so.1 In addition, patients are becoming keener to evaluate different healthcare products and services given that they bear a growing proportion of the costs. In a digital world, the ability to engage with patients as they make such evaluations could be key to the success of a pharma company’s commercial model.

New competitors are moving in

Information and insights into patients’ histories and clinical pathways are no longer the preserve of the traditional healthcare establishment. Where once health providers’ paper-based medical records were the main source of patient health data, and drug research and development data were kept within the walls of the pharma companies, today, technology companies such as Apple, IBM, and Qualcomm Technologies are moving into healthcare. They are able to engage with patients through apps, health and fitness devices, and online communities, for example. And they are able to collect petabytes of data from these and other sources, such as electronic medical records and insurance claims, capturing valuable insights. For example, the IBM Watson Health platform—recently at the center of a partnership with Apple and its HealthKit health-sensor data platform—is using advanced analytics and natural-language-processing capabilities to deliver clinical decision support. Pharma companies will need to decide soon how to position themselves to compete or collaborate with these new players, or build complementary capabilities.

More information is available about product performance

Historically, pharma companies have controlled both the generation and dissemination of information about their products. Digital technologies have weakened that control, opening an array of new, independent information channels. There are online communities for sharing and discussing patients’ experiences, apps and sensors to monitor the impact of therapy on a patient’s daily life, and advanced data aggregation and analysis to link disparate, complex data sets and generate new insights into drug safety and efficacy. In response, pharma companies will have to build the capabilities to anticipate or react rapidly to these new sources of evidence, and remain the main source of authority on the performance of their products.

Process efficiency and agility is improving dramatically

Advanced analytics, sensors, and the automation of complex decisions are capable of delivering a step change in the efficiency, speed, quality, and responsiveness of business processes in all industries. The pharmaceutical industry is no exception. To thrive in a digital world, pharma companies will need to deploy next-generation technologies to streamline their business processes. They need to achieve near real-time transparency of their clinical-trials portfolio in R&D, for example, and frictionless sales and operations planning in the supply chain, as well as meet new expectations in efficiency and agility from customers, employees, patients, and suppliers.