Even before the global pandemic forced healthcare to more rapidly adapt technology to let us continue practicing medicine while working to contain the spread of COVID-19, it was clear technology was becoming a more important part of the healthcare experience. That was made evident by the fact that large tech companies saw a tremendous opportunity in healthcare as Amazon, Alphabet, and Apple have all made various investments in this area over the past few years.
Now as telemedicine use has surged, digital pharmacies and delivery services are becoming more prominent, and clinical trials are using more wearables and remote-monitoring technology to safely collect data, the transition to more technology-infused healthcare is no longer a thing of the future. It is now. It is what healthcare will continue to be after COVID-19. And will we only see the addition of more technology and digital tools to healthcare in the future now that we have experienced the promise they can offer.
To get a better idea of what this future will look like and what technology we can expect, PM360 asked 10 experts:
- How are life sciences marketers using new technology to offer patients a better healthcare experience or to better help and/or educate HCPs? Is there any specific technology you think offers marketers the most promise now and/or in the future?
- How is the growing involvement of technology companies such as Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, etc., in healthcare impacting how life sciences companies must operate moving forward? What opportunities does this potentially open up for life sciences companies? What challenges will arise from their involvement? How will healthcare change as a result?
- How can life sciences companies best assess the need, proper functionality, and potential success in the marketplace for different digital health solutions or digital therapeutics? Can you share any examples of solutions that have proven to be effective?
- What areas of healthcare are being impacted the most by the advancement of technology? How will patients, HCPs, life sciences, or other healthcare stakeholders need to adjust as a result?
The one new technology that tops the list for me would be artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML), which are often used interchangeably although they are not really the same. To define the two—all ML is AI, but all AI is not ML as ML is a subset of AI. I have often said “If Content is King, then Data is Queen.”
Data has quickly become one of the most valuable assets for pharma companies and the ability to quickly and accurately analyze it and develop insights is critical today and will become increasingly more important moving forward. These insights are currently providing next best actions for our field associates and could be used in both drug research as well as creation of marketing content and campaigns. In order to do this, we must continue to invest in and use both AI and ML.
Tech Companies Transforming Healthcare
Amazon and other tech companies such as Alphabet and Apple will create the largest disruption and transformation we have ever seen. Amazon already is to some degree, and will continue to disrupt pharmacy and the distribution model thanks to its acquisition of PillPak in 2018. And I don’t need to mention the examples of Apple and Alphabet partnering with companies in the pharma space on efforts that range from drug development to clinical trials.
Now that we are all thinking of life in the “new normal,” it is not too forward thinking to imagine Amazon accelerating their entry into digital health by using Alexa and developing tools for telemedicine and remote patient monitoring. You could see your doctor virtually through an Amazon app, get your prescription filled by tapping a button or just confirming via a voice acknowledgement, and have it delivered—all without leaving the comforts of your living room.
I thought I knew which technology would most impact healthcare. Digital health, digital therapeutics, ML&AI, and other “buzzword bingo” capabilities had the opportunity to drive the transformation the healthcare industry needed. Then came COVID-19.
Enter the new reality—healthcare systems that primarily focus on recovery will not recover. Rather healthcare players focused on re-architecture where technology is core to transformation will be the winners in building and thriving in the new normal. So, the three biggest healthcare areas that technology will re-architect post COVID are:
1. Shift from Consumer-centric Models to Contributor-centric Models: New partnerships will form. Contributions anywhere and from anyone will win over mass consumerism. Convenience will drive adoption and new norms. Technologies will not be radically different (e.g., cloud, apps, etc.), but unlike traditional digital consumer engagements, contribution engagements will be underwritten by trust-tech—blockchain enabled, verified sources of information.
2. The X-Men Team of Healthcare Professionals Will Rise: Welcome to the age of armchair science. The notion of an expert will be put to the test and the new healthcare professional will be required to distance learn essential skills such as tech-enabled journalism, data science interpretation, regulatory understanding, and sourcing citizen manufacturing. Office hours will be dead.
3. Zombie Apocalypse Clauses Become Front Page: Healthcare businesses have been severely impacted. From stopped trials to inadequately supplied hospitals, it’s clear that contingency planning will be a top agenda item for any resource allocation discussion. As such, minimal healthcare technology requirements will be closely evaluated for virtual capabilities, mental health management, lowered regulatory requirements, and speed of manufacturing.
Healthcare stakeholders will adopt digital and technology not as an afterthought, but as a matter of thriving in the post-COVID world. Resistance is futile.
Healthcare ultimately must improve the human condition. Technology enables that improvement, but does not replace the human touch. Patients will increasingly be pushed to self-serve. That is, all their lab data, patient care information, and communication with their care team will be through healthcare portals. A major concern here is the digital divide: Patients that do not have access to technology or are not reasonably facile with mobile devices or computers will be at a disadvantage.
Tech’s Impact on HCPs and Patient Care
Another major impact is the rapid emergence of over-the-counter healthcare diagnostic tools. Advancements in sensors linked to mobile devices will change how we think about health and how we interact with our doctors. Apps that measure and improve sleep, watches that measure calorie intake, devices that measure subcutaneous fat, and home blood tests are all on the market. This leaves aside the enormous impact of prescribed digital products—such as the artificial pancreas that is controlled by a mobile device.
HCPs have seen the shift from paper to online medical records. While largely a good thing, it has not been without its thorns. Continuous improvements in technology will make those records more useful and usable; however, the emergence of AI at both the surface level (e.g., chatbots) and algorithmic analysis of patient records in service of individual patient care will be an even bigger shift in diagnosis and treatment.
With the attitude of the companies designing and releasing these tools, there is hope that the adjustments will be minimal. The goal is to build the tools to fit the user and not the other way around. Design is intentional; designing for simplicity is hard.
The growing involvement of tech companies in healthcare will have a significant impact on life sciences companies in terms of data collection and ownership. The proliferation of smart devices, and their almost continuous cycle of upgrades and advances, will empower consumers to control and leverage their own healthcare data in previously unprecedented ways. Patients will be enabled to participate in clinical trials remotely and report outcomes and metrics directly. This will significantly decrease biopharma’s reliance on electronic data capture (EDC) companies, but dramatically increase their need for and reliance on data analytics companies that can quickly and effectively apply state-of-the-art AI to massive amounts of collected data for real-time insights and actions.
As tech companies continue to build immense ecosystems of personal health data from their customers, it is not a stretch to imagine them acquiring biopharma companies or licensing the rights to market medications and fulfill prescriptions. One resulting scenario involves the life sciences industry experiencing an uptick in mergers and divestitures to enable increased focus on particular therapeutic areas. Biopharma may choose to focus solely and exclusively on research and development, leaving production and marketing to their new tech partners.
But both the life sciences and technology industries must be vigilant against an ever-increasing risk of “tech-lash,” if people feel the level of insight into their personal and health data is becoming too intrusive. Such privacy concerns could translate to patients’ unwillingness to participate in clinical trials and report personal outcomes via their phones and tablets.
Amazing opportunities await life science companies from the healthcare data generated by tech companies. Such an unprecedented treasure trove will require the most advanced forms of AI, machine learning, and deep learning to analyze, interpret, and activate the information so sponsors can bring new therapies to market faster than ever before.
The ambition of life sciences companies to become digitally driven is no doubt growing. Given added pressure related to the coronavirus pandemic, the trend towards technology-enabled customer engagement and digital communication will continue. The companies that continue to grow their digital infrastructure and innovation-driven approaches during this time will come out on top.
One area that will see rapid and dramatic changes: The digital service experience in health. Consumer expectations for frictionless, personalized experiences have been wanting in the healthcare industry. With the forced move to digital precipitated by the virus, changes in how we engage with our health ecosystem have occurred in just weeks. Already, the ubiquity of telehealth and delivery-medicine provide essential customer convenience, but larger changes are on the horizon.
The Future of Digital Health Service Offerings
With consumers’ decreased appetite for promotion and information overload, service offerings will move towards more individual control over when and how care is received. Behind the scenes, machine learning-based tools can now rapidly collate consumer insight to quickly enhance product and service experience. And most powerfully, these new tools allow for near real-time precision modelling of patient journeys that can provide individuals with access to timely and relevant information from all touchpoints of the health ecosystem. While many of these innovations are already overdue and will need further refinement that fulfills an empathic engagement with the customer, the technical capabilities are rapidly advancing across health and wellness.
For marketers working in this space, the shift will move from a focus on messaging to building more helpful experiences. The good news is this is already well underway, but now, rather than being nice to have, it will be the beating heart of healthcare communications.
The use of machine learning and natural language processing in the analysis of social media data can transform the way the pharmaceutical industry understands patients. It can shine a light on how patients think, help us speak their language, understand their needs, and guide us on when to engage. At Novo Nordisk, we’re tapping into the latest technology to improve the lives of people living with obesity. Partnering is critical as we work to bring the right solutions to patients, their families, and society.
Using Social Media and Algorithms to Understand Patients
With this in mind, we have completed our first major initiative to query publicly available social media datasets to understand the language people use to describe their health journey, so we can better support them. With our partners at Concentric Health Experience, we have developed algorithms—now validated at approximately 94% accuracy—to identify people dealing with weight fluctuations at a time in their health journey when they are ready to seek out help. This will allow us to direct them to seek care from their healthcare providers to discuss their weight and health and develop a personalized treatment plan.
This innovative approach leverages the high volume of continuous data from social media platforms and the real conversations taking place in this native social environment. It enriches the insights typically generated in a healthcare interaction or in market research. Through this hyper-targeted approach, we can more effectively help people receive the care they deserve to address their weight and be their best and healthiest selves.
For more than 20 years, Amazon, Apple, and Google have turned nearly all consumers into digital natives, delivering digital consumer experiences that anticipate and predict our needs and deliver solutions that are fast, efficient, effective, and engaging. Why can’t our doctors, health systems, and health insurance companies, as well as pharmaceutical and medical device organizations, deliver digital value like we have come to expect and demand from our banks, restaurants, airlines, and media companies?
The emergence of LifeTech companies are filling this market need. These companies take the best of what we have come to expect from digital solutions and deliver them in the form of:
- Digital clinical visits: Teladoc enables anyone to meet with a clinician without long wait times and in their own home.
- Digital appointment setting: Zocdoc delivers scheduling tools to decrease the time and hassle in finding a doctor and scheduling appointments.
- Digital therapies: Happify Health as well as other DTx companies (learn about more at dtxalliance.org/about-dta) develop digital self-administered therapies to address, prevent, manage, and treat many different medical conditions.
- Digital clinical trials: THREAD enables virtual clinical trials to eliminate unnecessary office and hospital visits.
- Digital diagnosis: Cognoa is obtaining FDA clearance for a diagnostic for Autism Spectrum Disorder that decreases the time to diagnosis by 90%, improves accuracy, and helps a patient get support and therapy much more quickly.
- Digital prescriptions: Roman provides immediate access to online doctors to provide you a prescription for medication to treat a large number of conditions.
While most pundits claim the healthcare industry is 10 to 20 years behind every other industry in adopting new technologies, most of these companies above are five to 10 years old, so it looks like we may be about halfway to a truly digital healthcare future.
Two technologies will have a profound impact on patients: AI and robotic process automation (RPA). Life sciences marketers will need to be able to leverage these technologies in the near future to be successful. Here are a few examples of how they will be able to use them:
1. Artificial Intelligence: AI will be the mainstay as the choice of analytic technique in many marketer’s strategy in terms of acquisition and retention of patients. For example, from any rare diseases to underserved vaccine markets to COVID-19 potential patient identification for preventive medicine, AI coupled with geospatial statistics and current transaction data will provide unparalleled potential in identifying patients for preventive healthcare strategies that will save lives. AI also provides tremendous potential with a higher level of accuracy in identifying key treatment centers/healthcare personnel (HCPs) who otherwise can go unnoticed.
2. Robotic Process Automation: This is the most promising tool for life sciences marketers in keeping track of competitive intelligence from pre-clinical to loss of exclusivity. RPA can set up alerts all throughout the product lifecycle, which could provide tremendous advantage in capturing relevant information from a breadth of sources and producing automated alerts within minutes. RPA is also critical for adverse events (AE) identification and other signal detection from social noise and data from meetings, both of which show up much earlier than publications.
From a planning perspective, technology will play a critical role in developing better stress tests that truly gauge the stability of institutions. Most healthcare systems, whether they are social paid or private insurance based, all spent their effort to build a lean, highly efficient model for healthcare with cost as a principal driver. We expect that in the same way that banks needed to deliver the ability to pass a stress test, healthcare will be similarly impacted. A more effective stress test will provide accurate windows into the ability to scale quickly around key assets such as beds, ICUs, nurses, and equipment.
Leaps in technology will also impact the application of day-to-day medicine. The pandemic has underscored the need to continue normal medical practice during abnormal times, necessitating the adoption of telemedicine by primary care physicians. But frankly, the current best practice is limited to video chats using Zoom. The future will need to see secure access to the Internet of Medical Things, with daily health monitoring and routine patient engagement—from weighing machines to blood-pressure cuffs to the ability to check lab work or take blood.
Life Sciences Approach to New Technology
The pandemic revealed several dire needs for life sciences to assess their approach to the marketplace. Predicting conditions on the ground during stressful periods proved lacking: I expect to see an electronic tripwire designed to detect emergent issues. Solutions will deploy machine learning/artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to pick up information from digital fingerprints such as Google queries and social media posts, and will avoid the political interference that is all too prevalent in healthcare.
To succeed in today’s value-based healthcare era, products must reduce waste and inefficiencies. This requires the personalization and coordination of health and care.
Big Data (Amazon, Apple, and Google) is best positioned to do just that. By applying AI and ML to massive patient datasets, Big Data can push care and lifestyle recommendations to both providers and consumers in real time.
Cerner is opening up its franchise by partnering with Amazon, giving the tech giant access to its huge EMR data repository. Meanwhile, Google has gained access to patient data by negotiating directly with health systems, and it’s also developing its own EMR to try to break the Cerner/Epic duopoly. (Epic, on the other hand, spurned a partnership with Apple that could have been a game changer.)
Transforming from Manufacturers to Solution Provider
In the value era, outcomes are king. And data insights are what drive them. For life sciences and medical device companies, the message is clear: To compete, you must stop seeing yourself as a manufacturer and become a disease-management solution provider instead.
Don’t just make a knee implant or drug. Integrate drugs, devices, data, and software with evidence-based care pathways to create a disease-management solution that drives demonstrably better outcomes. By owning your own disease-state data, and making it meaningful, life sciences companies can defend their franchises against Big Data and thrive.
But companies must first aggressively transform themselves. Device companies need to become software companies and vertically integrated companies need to become horizontally integrated to provide seamless, end-to-end solutions.
Who are the ultimate winners of a Big Data-disrupted healthcare system? We all are!