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Pharma’s Relationship With Tech: Denial, Adoption or Survival?

Wendy Blackburn

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When the Digital Health Coalition (DHC) surveyed its pharma marketing constituents (40 respondents from 20 pharma companies) on what’s driving the most radical changes in their space — and therefore what’s keeping them up at night — three themes rose to the top:

  1. Big data
  2. Hypertargeting
  3. Electronic health records

It came as no surprise that the disruptive topics causing the most angst are digitally driven. It was an interesting view into pharma’s relationship with technology when it comes to both health tech and marketing tech. To explore these themes further, DHC held an invitation-only event on June 25, 2015, called DHC DISRUPT. Watch for more information and a white paper to come from our friends at DHC soon, but in the meantime, below are the takeaways I captured from the event.

1.  Big data: It’s … well, a big topic. These speakers provided three viewpoints on why it matters:

  • Erik Feingold, founder and CEO of Feingold Technologies, spoke of “frictionless” technology that helps people live healthier by gathering data in ambient ways and serving up actionable insights. For example, his technology (recently purchased by Dr. Oz’s Sharecare) analyzes voice and text conversations for stress levels and is able to tell you who and what stresses you out the most. This isn’t the future — it’s the now: The smartphone has the power to be your personal health coach though ambient technologies, ultrapersonalization, and data aggregation and analysis.
  • Siva Nadarajah, general manager of social media at IMS Health, highlighted the power of information embedded in “unstructured data.” Relevant examples include the data that comes from call center conversations, social listening and CLM call notes. Just because the data isn’t (yet) represented by numbers doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. By structuring and funneling these types of data, there is even more we can learn. He shared an example in multiple sclerosis where they were able to predict and prevent switching away from the clients’ medication. Impressive!
  • I appreciated the levity from Sastry Chilukuri of McKinsey who joked, “From big to huge to humongous data — we’ll run out of adjectives soon.” He acknowledged that the phenomenon of big data is “over-hyped, but also still … there is indeed huge value.” One piece of advice he gave was to hire now for critical roles, including data scientists, data strategists and analytics experts.

2.  Hypertargeting: Underscore Marketing and Crossix shared HCP and consumer case studies, respectively, around how predictive data helps marketers create lookalike models for more efficient and effective media targeting.

Underscore partner and CEO Lauren Boyer shared an HCP-targeted case study where lookalike models helped them reach key physicians via non-personal promotion. Physicians reached with the campaign had a 20% incremental lift in writing prescriptions over the control group.

Through a similar consumer case study, Shannon Gallagher, vice president of analytics services at Crossix, explained their methodology for reaching consumers “based on a lookalike model, but rooted in real behaviors.” In a recent example from Intouch Solutions and Crossix, a program was established to test and compare a lookalike audience-targeted campaign with a contextually-targeted campaign. Consumers who were exposed to the audience-targeted campaign had three times higher the number of visits to the right specialist than those exposed to the contextually-targeted campaign. And the estimated cost per new start in the audience-targeted segment was one-twentieth the cost of the contextual segments of the media buy. For more on the Crossix/Intouch case study, see the article, “Get with the Program(matic): How predictive targeting is transforming the online media buying landscape for healthcare marketers.”

Boyer admitted behavioral targeting can feel “very Big Brother” and we must be careful as an industry. Predictive targeting won’t completely replace contextual media buying in the near future. But done well, this is big data in action. It’s privacy-safe, it’s customer-centric, and many believe it’s the next phase of customer targeting and engagement online.

3.  Electronic health records: A review of technology trends and discussion of where the space is headed.

I enjoyed the lively panel on EMRs which closed out the day at DHC DISRUPT. Consisting of (left to right, below), Dr. Jordan Safirstein, Cardiology Consultants; Joe Meadows, president of Think Patients LLC; Dave Guiga, global director of partnerships at AstraZeneca; Cathy DuRei, health IT and patient medication adherence director at Pfizer; Dorothy Gemmell, senior vice president of life science practice and strategic partnerships at Practice Fusion; and moderated by Robert Palmer, executive vice president and managing director at JUICE Pharma (not pictured), the panel was a diverse mix of perspectives and proved each party had its own opinion of where EMRs are headed and pharma’s opportunity in this space.

Some bulleted key takeaways included:

  • Dr. Saffirstein shared the antagonist physicians’ viewpoint, and it turned out to be a healthy one for pharma to hear. “EMRs are not testing well with physicians,” he pointed out. “Physicians don’t want more sales and marketing. They don’t even want your ‘education.’” Dr. Saffirstein said he doesn’t even like giving out coupons. “The way pharma can get involved in EMR is to help patients — find ways to help the patient directly. Educational materials thru multimedia, apps, financial solutions. There’s a lot of ways that patients need help.”
  • Guiga agreed. “Just repurposing existing content for EHR is not the right way to go. We need to tee up more patient-friendly materials in the workflow.”
  • Simple language can make a difference, too. Panelists suggested EMRs should help make sure patients know how to take medications correctly.
  • The concept of interventions was also discussed. Driving an action from third-party guidelines is most often good for the patient, and if EMR can measure the intervention rate and show a lift, then that’s a success.
  • Don’t forget payers are a customer, too. Depending on the product and the market, there may be partnership and collaboration opportunities.
  • Gemmell gave the cautionary point that the feeling right now around EMRs reminded her of the late ‘90s excitement over the Internet. “People are excited, but we have to be careful.”

Inspiration for Disruption
Tying it all together, several times during the day, speakers highlighted the power of behavioral data. This was evident in the predictive targeting case studies, as well as Feingold’s presentation. In fact, it was explained: “Behavioral data is a better predictor of health than genetics. Credit card data tells us a lot more about someone’s health status than an EMR.”

One thing is for sure: technology continues to have a tremendous impact on marketing. Is pharma figuring it all out? Is technology making marketing easier or more complicated? Is technology helping pharma market better or smarter … or worse? Is the industry taking full advantage of all technology has to offer? And dare I ask … is pharma largely ignoring the impact of technology on both marketing and healthcare?

Though there’s a lot of talk about the application of modern and futuristic technologies, we’re still seeing little action. Speaker Dave Chase, entrepreneur and author, brought this reality home: “I’m hearing the words out of health and pharma execs now that are similar to newspapers of the ‘80s.” In other words, they’re in denial.

Pharma execs: let that be fair warning.

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