Not all that glitters is gold so Paul Riley and Mark Davies share the three simple rules to help you choose the right digital health solutions for your company.
Imagine the scene. A strategy meeting for the UK arm of a global pharma company. At the top of the table someone expresses their concern about the lack of digital health capability within the company and the lack of vision. Someone mentions artificial intelligence, genomics, and data analytics, while others sit there, uncertain, not sure how to contribute. In many companies, key decision makers lack the depth of knowledge and experience of digital technology to understand the range of options in this increasingly digital age, and how to leverage digital technology to provide new products and services and drive competitive advantage.
The consequence is that digital health strategies are often narrow and confined to outputs represented by a small section of products and services, driven by brand teams. This underplays the broader range of possibilities, where, for example, new technologies are being used to find more effective ways of identifying and treating patients, or to support clinicians in more effective decision making. The digital transformation agenda is well underway in the NHS and expectations from healthcare professionals (HCPs), payers, and patients are rising with regards to technology-enabled medicine.
Some pharma companies have already risen to meet these expectations. Anders Toft, Corporate Vice President of Commercial Innovation at Novo Nordisk, is responsible for creating and commissioning digital products and services that deliver real value for people with diabetes, HCPs and the company. He commented: “At Novo Nordisk, we are committed to helping people get the best out of our medicines. We are developing digital solutions to help people easily track and maintain their dosing data, so they can discuss the data and implications with their doctors and nurses. Ultimately, this can help offer a better experience for people with diabetes and their HCPs and maintains Novo Nordisk’s position at the cutting edge of diabetes management.”
Whilst some pharma companies are clear about how they respond to the changing expectations of stakeholders, other companies are undertaking wide-ranging strategic reviews to ensure they respond to the opportunities and threats that the rapid rise in digital health is posing. Mike Crosher, General Manager of Chugai Pharma in the UK, suggests that after years of relative stability, the coming of age of digital technology means that the pharma industry is now unsure of the value it is expected to create for the health service and patients. Chugai is responding by identifying technology partners to create new sources of value that meet the needs of a digital health service and citizens. Mike commented: “At Chugai we put our customers at the centre and ask them, ‘What keeps you awake at night?’ It sounds simple, but with this insight we create win-win outcomes beyond the pill, which we can only achieve by issuing open innovation challenges for digital and med-tech start-ups.”
Whilst Novo Nordisk, Chugai, and several other companies might be regarded as digital health pioneers, others risk falling behind, losing their competitive advantage in the process. Even pharma companies with effective and well tolerated medicines may find themselves out of favour if they do not complement their offerings with digital products and services that create added value for patients, payers, and the medical community.
Competition for patients and HCPs is no longer confined to other pharma companies; digital health companies are already becoming increasingly established in the space with innovative offerings that capture attention. Rory Cameron is CEO of Gendius Limited, a digital health company which has developed the Intellin® remote management platform, which guides people with diabetes to make good lifestyle choices every day to reduce their likelihood of complications.
Rory has a background in the pharma industry and understands how digital health is disrupting the industry. He commented: “At Gendius, we prove our technology with the end user – the patient – and then present it to insurers, pharma companies, and health providers in a framework of saving time, money and lives. A simple platform is no longer enough, we now focus on risk prediction and algorithm development to prevent the complications of chronic disease.”
Intellin is a great example of technology that is enabling patients to take a more active role in the self-management of their health, which is precisely what the NHS Long Term Plan is calling for. The fact that such technologies also have the potential to influence decisions by health professionals, payers, and patients about treatment options – including medicines – is an important reason why pharma companies are taking increasing interest in the rapidly evolving digital health field.
The digital transformation of healthcare is presenting a plethora of opportunities for the pharma industry to contribute more to citizens’ wellbeing. From solutions that can identify people with undiagnosed rare diseases using genomics, to apps that use gamification to nudge patients to stay well, there are growing numbers and varieties of digital health solutions for pharma to choose from to deliver value beyond the pill. However, there are also many examples of pharma digital health projects that have failed to realise the intended benefits for users or the company. So how do you make good choices about which digital health solutions to adopt? Follow these three simple rules:
1. Ensure senior decision makers have acquired the level of capability necessary
Once the decision has been made that digital health solutions will be a part of overall strategy, ensure that there is an honest internal appraisal of relevant capability. Given that around 70% of information technology projects fail to deliver improved corporate performance, investing in skills in this area is worthwhile. This can be through internal development or appointment, or through acquisition of external agencies. Either way, competence counts.
2. Ensure digital health solution specifications are aligned with business and brand strategy
Not uncommonly the driver for the digital health solution specification is the technology itself – in other words strategy ‘wraps around’ the technology rather than the other way round. A return on technology will only be realised if strategy is the start and end point of this process with regular sense-checking in between. Don’t be afraid to explore wider ideas and options at the inception stage – you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
3. Ensure digital health strategy and delivery is integrated cross-functionally
Companies that do not embrace digital health will be left behind. Transforming the company in the right way with the right business model means integrating strategic and operational thinking and delivery cross-functionally, so that marketing, medical and wider business functions are aligned. Digital health should not be conceived in and delivered from silos, it requires a crossfunctional approach to fully realise itscommercial potential.
By sticking to the three simple rules, companies can build the right capability, the right strategic alignment, and the right business model to get the most value out of what digital health solutions have to offer.