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Does Pharma Need a Digital Makeover?

1st June, 2016

Category: Pricing & Market Access

We have watched technology rapidly revolutionize several global industries. While the healthcare sector is generally slow to absorb radical trends, we have begun seeing its effects here. For example, the telemedicine business model, based on electronic platforms has helped to increase patient reach and has improved operational efficiencies. Additionally, digital products like patient health devices are allowing people greater control and awareness of their health. This is undoubtedly an area of exciting potential. Pharmaceutical companies, given their in-depth disease knowledge, abundant patient information and marketing expertise, are in the best position to identify, develop and manage digital evolution; they are capable of being pioneers of beneficial reform of the healthcare industry and its stakeholders.

The primary motivation behind the digital evolution should be to increase patient knowledge and autonomy. Giving patients the power to track and monitor their health regularly, conveniently and at a low cost, will help them focus on prevention as well as cure. This will allow for patients to make relevant physician appointments, decrease unnecessary consultations and, increase patient-physician transparency. Consequently a more accurate diagnosis can be made and timely treatment can be delivered. Thus, digital patient engagement will eventually lead to better health and disease management.

As the use of digital health devices grow, manufacturers will be able to collect high volumes of patient information. This data will be an invaluable asset to the proprietor. Mining this data will allow companies to glean crucial insights which will form the basis of future business decisions and technological innovations. Additionally, this data can also reveal various unmet needs and gaps in markets that are ancillary or even unrelated to direct medical care. These insights can be shared with relevant businesses in order to comprehensively and universally use the available data.

However, pharmaceutical companies must act fast. Non-healthcare focused firms like Apple, Fitbit and Google have successfully entered this market with their various innovations that directly and indirectly aim to provide and harness health related information. While we have seen products vary across platforms like websites, wearables and smart phone applications – mobile technology seems to be the most convenient as people are constantly connected to their phones. Healthcare technologies so far have also been relatively diverse with respect to the service and information they provide. For example, there are portals that act as a liaison between patients and physicians in between formal appointments, as patients are able to track and upload their medical information that can be reviewed by physicians in between appointments. However, these technologies have been extended to providing business solutions – for example, a prescription scan at the point of purchase have enabled pharmacies to alert patients about their medications; they are thus able to better anticipate and fulfill specific patient needs and as well as personally engage with them.

These two small examples only touch upon the enormous potential of the digital health care. By applying their existing knowledge pharmaceutical companies can connect with patients through various digital health solutions in order to develop useful and patient centric products.

Pharmaceutical companies in the Middle Eastern markets should also follow the lead of the developed markets to test patient receptiveness to such technologies. Yes, it can be relatively challenging to implement such technologies; thorough knowledge of the market and the players will be of utmost importance. It is crucial to understand the business environment – the regulations, the formal and informal sets of stakeholders and the general culture. Additionally, it is useful to assess the unmet needs of physicians, payers, patients and consumers, which can generally be achieved through comprehensive primary and secondary research.  This will help interested firms identify the technologies that will best match the firms’ competencies as well as market demand. It will also help during the development phase as they will have insights on how their products can be made user friendly for the target segments. Finally, a strategic and comprehensive roll out plan tailored for each target segment is necessary to ensure that the product reaches the market and is appropriately used.

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The population of the Middle East is far ahead in terms of their internet and mobile usage and they must not be underestimated in their tech-savyness. They should receive care and support customized for their needs. It is thus upon the regional pharmaceutical companies to drive this digital revolution.