Sean Hartigan, Intouch’s senior director of multichannel marketing, attended IIR’s 2015 ePharma Summit conference last week in New York. Below are his key takeaways from two days of sessions and many lively peer discussions.

Of all its common threads I saw at ePharma 2015, it was this new reality that crystallized: healthcare and our industry are changing right under our feet. That’s a bit of a scary thought, but let’s break it down into digestible chunks of information and, more importantly, determine how we can adapt to these changing dynamics to have a meaningful impact.

The Power of Payers
It was clear from listening to healthcare provider and pharmaceutical executive presenters that gone are the days when we focused most of our attention and budgets on trying to convince HCPs  to write a prescription. It is also clearer than ever that the Affordable Care Act is here, and it is reshaping relationships among patients, caregivers, payers and pharmaceutical manufacturers. Stakeholders are being reprioritized. Patient health outcomes are the focus. This means we must rethink current approaches to educating patients so that they understand their condition and why they should take their medication as prescribed. We must evolve to meet the expectations of ALL stakeholders in the healthcare mix — and improved outcomes are the success metric that will matter most.

In this new era of the ACA, IDNs, ACOs and managed care, the role of the physician is evolving, too. According to Denise Strauss, executive director of managed markets marketing at Boehringer Ingelheim, 75% of physicians will be in a medical group by 2016. This means that the majority of HCPs on our target lists won’t have the final say on the prescriptions they want to write, as they once did. One speaker pointed out that those groups strongly push for use of generics, which isn’t surprising since it’s a means of keeping costs down (a provision of the ACA). This means we can expect a shift — indeed, should drive a shift — in marketing focus. The first line of defense is in connecting with and proving value to payer decision makers.

Digital as a Key Driver
It was also clear from the conference that, today, digital is at the core of HCP, consumer and payer programs, and represents the greatest opportunity to meet the needs of our new reality. The use of technology to facilitate collaboration among stakeholders is a provision of the ACA and its Meaningful Use II and is embodied in a model called “connected health.” This model is about using practical technology to connect HCPs, patients and payers in a collaborative dialog during treatment and ultimately improving overall healthcare quality, safety and efficiency. Electronic health records represent a new opportunity for marketers that wasn’t a reality just a few years ago. One speaker said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Let’s not talk about ‘beyond the pill’ anymore. Let’s speak more about the use of ubiquitous mobile to connect people and capture actionable data that we can use to help improve care and, ultimately, outcomes.”

For me, the standout presentations included two case studies that demonstrated that integration and collaboration is possible through technology and, when done well, can make a difference in patients’ lives:

  • My GI Health: A Progress Update. This case study demonstrated the role of technology in a new system that facilitates the collaboration and meaningful education needed to mop up our messy system and empower all stakeholders with useful data and more time to work together. Learn more about the project in this MM&M article.
  • Outcomes-Driven Marketing: Leveraging Mobile Technologies to Increase Engagement. Uniting HCPs, patients/caregivers and payers through the use of practical technologies and enabling a productive feedback loop that is used to provide personalized care.

Finally, I wanted to share these additional tidbits that capture the current mindset of the industry:

  • In addition to “beyond the pill” or “pill plus” phraseology, there is fatigue in the industry around the use of the phrases “customer-centric” and “data-driven.” There was a pervasive sense that in 2015, this kind of marketing is the cost of entry. (I don’t disagree, but I also know that, while everyone can talk about these things all day, few actually do them well.)
  • There were also a few speakers who cautioned against the proliferation of apps. The general consensus is that there are too many of them in the market and too few really being used. Also, the days of solo branded apps are over. The real opportunity for uptake is in unbranded apps (or portals) that provide meaningful, tailored help around disease education, health tips, et al, over time. Yes, the app or portal does lead back to the manufacturer and can lead back to the brand, but the star of the program is the end user.  This approach works well for franchise or portfolio sells, as well. Too many apps confuse HCPs and consumers.

Planning for the Changes to Come
Summing all this up, the key takeaways for marketing done well today is in marrying these four things:

  • Managed care. Truly understanding what matters and responding to the needs of the payers
  • Connected health. Integrating HCPs, consumers, and payers with convenient, easy-to-use, technology-based solutions (including electronic health records)  that foster dialog and data capture and enable relevant 1:1 exchanges of information. And those exchanges must happen where and when stakeholders need it most — at the point of care and throughout treatment.
  • The ubiquity of mobile
  • Partnerships. Credible HCPs and institutions/hospitals/ACOs/IDNs, et al, are looking for pharma and other agencies to help them help patients. It’s up to pharma marketers and those agencies to seize the opportunity to lead the programs that will both differentiate and make a difference.

Is healthcare changing right under our feet? Clearly. Are we an industry poised to respond? In terms of sentiment, yes, we are. But we are only beginning to take the steps that will enable us to meet the needs of stakeholders, the demands of new legislation and these new outcome-based expectations. The more we seek to understand the changing tides of these industries — both healthcare and technology — the more we are able to not only react, but also predict and proactively plan for the shifting sands to come.

Here’s to your good health!