Five strategies for delivering digital that makes a difference
Digital innovation has the power to transform healthcare, but there are challenges that stand in the way of pharma companies and other providers realising their visions.
Evidence and regulatory requirements are more stringent than those in traditional therapeutics, data and privacy rules differ across regions, and many companies are finding themselves overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge in front of them.
Realising the opportunity of digital experiences can be difficult, but there are some simple strategies that can help to make a difference to companies, as well as the healthcare providers (HCPs) and patients they serve.
1. Prioritise purpose
Knowing ‘why’ you and your organisation are pursuing an idea is critical. Is it to improve patient outcomes? Is it to enhance your customer experience, or your brand awareness? What are you trying to achieve: profit, impact, or recognition? Often, failing products are those where the purpose and opportunity have not truly been considered.
Just because you can, doesn't mean you should — and if your motivation is to tick a box, then it’s worth rethinking your approach. It’s important to consider if your organisation can genuinely meet patients’ needs and sustain them by providing a trusted resource. If you are unable to manage their expectations and make promises that you can keep in the long-term, you risk damaging your end-users’ trust in your brand.
2. Know your audience
Sir William Osler is credited with saying, “The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.” These are words to live by in the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors, and digital innovation brings new opportunities to create successful solutions that stand apart from others.
Never before has it been easier to connect with people who are living with life-inhibiting conditions. Through user research programmes, you can meet people and understand them, not just as patients, but as people. What are the factors that most impact their lives, when are the critical points on their treatment journey, and what can your digital products do to support them more effectively?
It is critical to look beyond the illness or symptoms to the real, lived experiences of people. As well as addressing their conditions, you should use the human factors to inform the design of your digital solution, from usability to functionality, and from tone of voice to the design itself.
There are plenty of myths about user research, particularly that it's expensive and hard to recruit participants — but that’s not always the case. And by not making the investment, you run the risk of creating something that your end-user does not want or care about. Ultimately, that’s why only 4% of executives in the sector agree that their product launches regularly succeed.
3. Think big, start small.
I’ve heard it said that the health and pharma sector has more pilots than the airline industry, but maybe the sector should be thinking even smaller when it comes to digital products.
With so much pressure to test and meet prescriptive rules, it is no surprise. Often, the process of testing a new product takes so long that launching in itself becomes the end goal, and momentum or appetite can lapse by the time it’s ready — and if that product fails to meet expectations it can be extremely disappointing.
Demonstrating that you are able to meet a user’s unmet need before scaling the solution to a wider audience can help to build confidence in a risk-averse sector. Issues can be avoided by starting with a small-scale prototype that proves the purpose and value of the product, long before the pilot phase.
In a matter of days, you can create products that look real, but do not have a scrap of code behind them. You can then test this prototype in working groups to ensure that they meet end users’ needs, which means you can evaluate your ‘why’ without having to develop costly and time-consuming solutions.
4. Test and learn, always
Remaining connected with your target audience — whose needs are constantly evolving — gives you the ability to continually test and learn what works for the end user, and what does not. By testing functionality, features, brand, usability, and accessibility consistently, you can refine your product and make it more effective.
When it comes to DTx, we always strongly recommend that our clients do usability testing before clinical trials, especially when there ‘wasn’t time’ to use user testing in the development stage. This type of research is a fraction of the cost of full clinical trials for DTx, and it can make more than a fractional difference to the efficacy.
When effectiveness and impact are informed by the ability for people to interact with a digital solution, it is far better to optimise the journey before your DTx is approved and it becomes significantly harder to make changes to the User Experience (UX).
5. Scale up and prepare for the long haul
Measuring what matters is critical, and yet, so often measurement is overlooked until it’s too late. Set KPIs that represent your purpose right at the beginning of the process, so that when taking the next stage you can look at and measure the impact you are making.
When you are confident that your solution is working — having the desired impact in your test groups and they agree that it is making a difference — it is time to think about scaling up. This could mean anything from changing the back-end to ensure scalability or it could be big ad campaigns, but don’t forget that you may need to adjust your user experience for different markets, as what works in one will not necessarily work in another.
However, you cannot expect overnight success — it’s a crowded market and your audience is not necessarily waiting for your solution. You have to go and find them, convince them, and look after them.