‘Tis the season for making annual predictions. Each year I publish predictions, and while fairly accurate, it can be a humbling experience at times too. It’s easy to look back on how I’ve done by visiting www.pm360online.com/10-predictions-for-how-the-healthcare-industry-will-change-in-2017. I give myself a solid B+ for 2017, but let me know what you think. Rarely do these things fit squarely into a 12-month window.  Here’s what I think we’ll see in 2018…

1. Pharmaceutical sales teams continue to get shut out of increasingly larger hospital groups and thus become increasingly less relevant and effective. While pharma reps aren’t quite “encyclopedia salesman” yet, they are on their way to oblivion. The handwriting is on the wall, and the best talent will continue to leave, making them even less useful, thus creating a vicious cycle in 2018.

2. The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) kicked off perhaps the largest agency review and auditing process our industry has seen with their release in 2016 of their report on media transparency and their subsequent reports on production work. Client trust of agencies is at an all-time low, and account movement has become a game of musical chairs.

Expect this to continue as clients dig into the details and don’t always like what they see. While this certainly does not pertain to every agency, the ANA report clearly defines the problem as “pervasive.” (www.ana.net/content/show/id/industry-initiative-media-transparency-report.)

3. Despite the conflicts of interest pointed out in the ANA report, when an agency holding company also owns/operates its own programmatic desk, programmatic will continue to grow. It will continue to grow because it’s efficient, clients will demand more transparency (making it even more efficient), and it works. Pharma is vastly underrepresented in programmatic today at about 34% of their digital advertising spend, while other industries are approaching 90% of their spend in programmatic.

4. In part due to a shift to programmatic, and in part due to the continual wringing out of efficiencies through the supply chain, there will be a continued shake out of DTC media properties. Putting aside the debate of whether this extreme capitalism is good or bad for the quality of our news, reporting, and information, this drive for efficiency of ad dollars will continue to change business models, as publishers oversee further cost cutting of editorial staff and more reliance on user-generated content.

5. Marketers’ insistence on physician level authentication and targeting, as well as their continued ask for engagement results and physician level data (PLD), is strengthening. 2018 is the year of PLD. Publishers who fail to deliver it in the HCP space will face significant revenue declines. Publishers who do will be rewarded. Physician authentication and list-match targeting have become table stakes in HCP digital advertising.

6. With the diffusion of professional medical content into every corner of the web across hundreds of websites, there will be a shake out of physician/HCP media properties. Those who can’t offer authentication or PLD will be left behind—and off media plans. The days of Run-Of-Site (ROS) advertising are over.

7. I won’t presume to predict how the Outcome Health allegations and subsequent investigations end, but suffice to say, the point of care (POC) market will never be the same again. Transparency and audited reporting at POC will be required going forward. As digital has been for decades, POC may now be held to an even higher standard of measurability and accountability than other channels.

8. Otsuka and Proteus made history this year with the approval of Abilify embedded with the Proteus ingestible sensor. In 2018, we will see promising results of this partnership and other nascent trials underway. We will see more marriages between pills and devices, pills and adherence programs, and all three combined.

We will see more FDA submissions that attempt to get beyond-the-pill programs written into the labeling. This is a defensible position that changes the landscape in a positive way, both in terms of profitability, and also the drive toward outcomes-based risk-sharing partnerships.

9. AI, Machine Learning, Big Data, & Chatbots, oh my. I could not make 2018 predictions without dropping these buzz words. The advancement of technology continues to disrupt industry after industry and form new business models. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will act as an accelerant in an already rapidly changing landscape. New companies will rise meteorically and astonish everyone. To win this land grab is to win the future of industry, as these companies may be uncatchable unless and until they stumble. Pharma will continue to play on the fringe and become increasingly reliant on large partners to benefit from these technologies.

10. AR/VR continues to be explored with some real “pharma” innovation shining through in multiple areas of the business from conferences to rep-delivered programs. AR/VR has been a long time coming, but is ideally suited for explaining complex concepts and educational messaging in a fun and memorable way.

In Summary

2018 will be packed with continual technical innovation and marketers embracing these technologies, while also holding each innovation and the partners who deliver them to an increasingly higher bar of accountability. The pharmaceutical business model, and the models of the supporting service and media companies that work with pharmaceutical brands will continue to be disrupted and required to adapt to an increasing pace of change.

All parties in the industry and who service the industry will need to face increasing requirements of accountability and prove their value and worth. From delivering better patient outcomes to adding real meaningful value to each physician engagement, the role of pharma brand managers is shifting to a more customer-centric partner.

Similarly, the role of the support organizations that surround pharma must adapt to this changing environment. Not all players will evolve. Some will fail. As Charles Darwin reportedly said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

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