The five trends of a digital pharma future

Neil Osmond, Technologist and Founder of earthware, explores the five trends of a digital pharma future. Human and digital must work together to benefit both healthcare professionals and patients

After years of digital (or multichannel) being the Cinderella of marketing activities in pharmaceuticals, in the last few months I have seen this start to change, and change quite rapidly.

A world of digital-only launches, omnichannel strategies and the adoption of agile ways of working is arriving. However, I am not an advocate of digital replacing human interactions but instead combining human and digital together to create seamless experiences for healthcare professionals and patients.

“We are understanding how digital is increasingly where brand proposition and customer experience meet”

But why now? Well I wonder if we are reaching a point where the number of millennials in influential positions in pharmaceutical companies has reached a ‘tipping point’. Maybe these digital natives are replacing the establishment figures (who I heard once described as suffering from a condition known as ‘FOBO’ – the Fear of Being Outdated).

Digital is increasingly becoming the place where brand proposition and customer experience meet. Perhaps the theme of the next few years will be the gap emerging between those that ‘get it’ and steal a competitive advantage, and those that don’t.

Crystal balls are notoriously unreliable but as I stare into mine, here are five trends for a digital pharma future…

1) Less multichannel, or even omnichannel, more fully integrated customer experiences

We hear all the time that Amazon, Google etc. are going to enter the healthcare market and change it forever. Who knows if that will be true but I believe the best defence is for pharmaceutical companies to distil what makes these organisations popular and make it core to their value propositions. Increasingly this will mean combining insights from the real world, machine learning and artificial intelligence to deliver personalised experiences for healthcare professionals (HCPs) tailoring their patient experiences from pre-diagnosis to recovery or chronic disease management.

2) Less about channels, more about targeted content

There is nothing new about this, I just still see it done so badly, so often. Most brand websites look like the cross-functional brand team has taken existing content, added a bit and dumped it on a website – easier for approval, harder for the user! In the real world, HCPs and patients want answers to their specific questions using as few words as possible and preferably through videos, interactive visuals and chatbots. They don’t want promotional messages, difficult navigation and key info hidden in a Summary of Product Characteristics. Answer their questions first and maybe then they might be interested in what else you have to say.

 3) Less about point in time decisions and more about patient journeys

So much of our time, energy and effort goes into influencing the decision point where a HCP writes a prescription. It’s a zero-sum game – you versus your competitors – either you win or they do. We talk patient journeys, but very little of a promotional budget seems to be directed to the 24/7, lived experience of real patients. Do we really believe that the major factor in a prescribing decision is what they heard from a pharmaceutical representative? What if HCPs are more influenced by the lived experiences of their patients? Surely we should be finding ways to help HCPs create positive 24/7 experiences for all types of patients on your medicines, and the obvious way of doing this is digitally.

4) Less about rational, clinical and data and more about emotive, experiential and behavioural

If we even half believe the adage that ‘people buy on emotion and justify with logic’ then the rational arguments of safety, efficacy and tolerability, one brand versus another, will never fully unlock the motivations for a prescribing decision. My wife is a practice nurse and a five-minute conversation with her about how things work in the real world of clinical practice often gives a healthy perspective on this. You probably use Uber or Amazon, not because you like their ethics or tax behaviour but because it is easier, better and quicker with any cost saving being more of an added bonus.

5) Less about spending budgets, more about maximising outcomes

Whilst few brand teams would admit this, our experience is that when allocating marketing budgets in digital assets, it is more of a spend than an investment. This is probably because calculating the impact, and therefore the breakeven, is challenging.

However, I recently saw some research that attempts to value every promotional activity, including digital, comparing to the value of a representative contact. Whilst fraught with challenges, at least we may be entering an era where marketers are demanding an outcome and a return rather than box-ticking and creating digital gimmicks.


Case study

Teva Pharmaceuticals has recently won awards for pushing boundaries with digital. A brand team recently launched an augmented reality detail aid using digital and sales representatives together to demonstrate good inhaler practice and mode of action and they have seen tangible positive improvements in HCP engagement. An interactive chatbot ad, directly linked to a chatbot, has also featured on websites such as MIMS, to try and answer every HCP’s specific questions in seconds rather than several clicks and lots of reading. The company even repurposed the chatbot to be a physical bot that HCPs could interact with at congresses and meetings.

These are great examples of all five of the themes described above and demonstrate how a forward-thinking cross-functional brand team can transform the experience of a medicine for both HCPs and their patients digitally.



Neil Osmond is a Technologist and Founder of digital healthcare agency earthware. Go to


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