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Igniting the Tipping Point between Digital Health and Pharma

May 2, 2016
[caption id="attachment_22135" align="alignright" width="200"]LIDT photo Jill Gilbert, Producer Digital Health Summit and Exhibit[/caption]

In 2016, the digital transformation in healthcare is poised to shift from a silently rising tide to a tumultuous, crashing wave. (The sound of innovation will be especially audible June 6 and 7 at BIO 2016 in San Francisco.)

A survey last year by the trend-watchers at Russell Reynolds Associates found that 47 percent of healthcare executives thought that their business would be “moderately or massively disrupted by digital in the next 12 months.” If the money pouring into digital health in the first quarter of 2016 is any indication, those feelings were correct.

During this period, digital health received $1.8 billion in funding, according to StartUp Health Insights, which observed that “Signs continue to point to a market transitioning from something reminiscent of the Wild West to the early stages of maturity.

Digital health is changing many of the old rules that once guided – and sometimes constrained – healthcare-related industries. It’s also giving patients, providers, payers, and pharmaceutical companies new tools that may help them thrive in a quickly evolving environment.

Digital offerings changing healthcare for consumers, providers, and payers

Do you have migraines, but your loved ones don’t understand your plight? A digital solution may help you get more sympathy. Recently, Excedrin unveiled a virtual reality simulator that replicates the experience in all its disorienting unpleasantness. Soon, virtual reality could help you relearn to walk after a brain injury or confront your phobias, or (gulp!) watch a surgery before you go under the knife.

Seeing your doctor is also becoming as easy as tapping your phone. Health care providers are investing in digital health as a way to provide more consistent care to patients outside of the traditional office visit. Recently, Texas-based Vivify, a company that helps healthcare providers manage patients’ chronic illnesses remotely, announced that it had raised $17 million in a round of funding. Patients can receive access to different technology depending on their level of risk, such as a mobile app that provides educational videos and videoconferencing with a provider, or home-based measuring devices such as a pulse oximeter or blood pressure cuff.

An article in a March 2016 issue of Nature Biotechnology offered an overview of a dazzling array of devices and apps that are helping healthcare providers manage many of our most common chronic conditions.

As the authors noted, “The US healthcare system is ill-equipped to handle our epidemic of chronic disease” partly because “patients with these conditions require continuous intervention to make the behavioral and lifestyle changes needed to effectively manage disease. Digital medicine, which enables broad scaling of frequent, high-touch, personalized, behavioral interventions at low cost, may thus become an essential component in preventing and managing chronic disorders.”

Health insurers have also deepened their digital connections in recent months. Initiatives include adding more options to their apps to provide customers with better access to health care and benefits information, offering lifestyle coaching through mobile devices and increasing customers’ access to health care providers via video.

In early 2016, two new payers entering the scene, Bright Health and Oscar, are emphasizing their “consumer-centric” features – in other words, mobile (according to Modern Healthcare). Both companies put their mobile features front and center, such as apps that allow customers to easily contact healthcare providers or access their medical history over their mobile devices.

Another big healthcare player that’s realizing the benefits of expanding into digital in 2016 is the pharmaceutical industry.

Changing times lead Big Pharma to digital

MobiHealthNews observed that in recent years, pharma “pharma has largely been moving in the shadows through investments, or dipping their toe in the water with small, autonomous innovation groups.” for mobile and digital health. “Not anymore.”

Pharma companies are realizing the computers that millions of people around the world carry and wear – including iPhones and Apple Watches – could provide much-needed innovation for clinical trials. Several big names are reportedly developing trials that use Apple’s ResearchKit technology, according to MobiHealthNews.  Apple says that apps built on ResearchKit can make trial enrollment easier and reduce subjects’ burdensome trips to research facilities (since prospective subjects could sign up for the trial and later send a wealth of medical data via their phones).

The company has posted links to apps that allow the public to join trials related to asthma, concussions, COPD, diabetes, melanoma, and other conditions, which collect data using the devices’ GPS, heart rate monitor, accelerometer, and camera.

Another digital endeavor in COPD treatment has grown from a collaboration between Novartis and Qualcomm. An enhanced inhaler will send patients’ medication usage data to the cloud via their smartphones, which may be useful in monitoring adherence.

Multiple factors are compelling pharma to accelerate its digital engagement. For one thing, according to the article, patients want more than medicines from pharmaceutical companies – they want pharma to go “beyond the pill.”

Other factors, according to a recent report from McKinsey and Company, include:

  • Better-informed patients who are more cost-conscious about their treatments and less loyal to pharma brands. ““In the future, no one will care what brand of drug they will take. And with device, behavior, and health-proxy data available, their method of selecting drugs will change dramatically,” noted one CEO.

  • Everyone else is doing it. If doctors and patients are at the table – sharing records and communicating digitally – where does that leave players who aren’t?

  • Players are claiming new responsibilities. “The healthcare industry will start to merge, and the lines across stakeholders will blur very quickly. Payers will become increasingly like providers in offering interventions and home care, and increasingly like pharma in analyzing data and pressure-testing value,” an industry-watcher said. The upshot: Data on the effectiveness of medications will be coming from many different sources, and pharma companies will need to work more collaboratively in sharing their data.

The authors concluded that as digitization changes the interaction between doctors and patients, pharma is being compelled to change how it does business. “Pharma companies that want to keep up—or move ahead—must be bold and adopt an act-now mentality. They must build innovative business models, invest in new capabilities, and transform their organizational cultures.”

The digital healthcare environment is changing quickly. Want to discover tomorrow’s innovations in EHRs, telehealth systems, diagnostics, mobile health applications and devices, sensor-based and wearable technologies, big data, chronic care management and more? Register to attend the Digital Health Summer Summit at BIO 2016 this June 6-8 in San Francisco