How pharma should harness mobile technology

A huge proportion of the adult population now carries a smartphone, so pharma and healthcare providers need to look to this ‘doctor in your pocket’ potential to augment the face-to-face consultation, improve medicines adherence and inform better lifestyle choices.

Keeping up with the latest news ought to be much easier nowadays, given that everyone has access to technology which can deliver it almost instantly. Yet this very technology can overwhelm us with information, making it harder to pick out the developments which are really going to impact daily life.

Permit me, then, to point out three themes featured recently. First, the political party conferences, when health was again, unsurprisingly, at the top of many agendas. In particular, access to GPs was much debated, including proposals that patients – already used to ‘always-on’ access to many services – would be able to access their GP more or less 24/7. Clearly, to make this happen will require a complete rethink of how patients access their doctor; and how they can make the most of every consultation to ensure that their, and their patients’, time is not wasted.

The second theme was a straightforward tech story. Apple product launches long ago moved from the specialist technology pages and websites to mainstream news, and so it proved when the company launched its latest mobile phone, the iPhone 6. Why is this important to us in the context of this article? Because the so-called ‘game changer’, which really got people talking, was the new phone’s much enhanced ability to help with health monitoring.

“Although the use of digital resources has grown substantially among healthcare providers (HCPs) over the past five years, face-to-face interactions still carry the biggest weight”

The third theme focuses on research, with 330 doctors, into the extent to which digital media and technology influence conversations around pharma and healthcare brands. Encapsulated in the report, ‘The Digital Health Debate’, it threw up some interesting and relevant insights, not least the fact that, although the use of digital resources has grown substantially among healthcare providers (HCPs) over the past five years, face-to-face interactions still carry the biggest weight.

Taking these three stories together, you can see that there is going to need to be a substantial change in doctors’ behaviour to meet both the political demands for greater access, and patients’ demands and enthusiasm for new technologies that helps them research, understand and monitor their health.

With one leading research firm predicting that 142 million health apps1 will be downloaded worldwide in 2016, a shift in the relationship between HCP and patient is inevitable. Like it or not, part of 24/7 access to healthcare will be the ‘doctor in your pocket’, and clinicians need to grasp the nettle and influence which apps patients use – and which they should avoid.

Already thousands of apps covering a multitude of conditions and illnesses have been downloaded, by millions of people who are keen to keep tabs on their health, using the increasingly ubiquitous smartphone, now carried by a staggering 72 per cent of the adult population.2

With other mobile technology companies such as Google and Samsung also jostling with Apple for position as leaders in this field, a huge number of patients are already carrying around a ‘pocket doctor’, with the potential to deliver and support GP-prescribed treatment – and raising the question of how these accessible technologies can be used beyond the consultation, to ensure compliance, increase consultation effectiveness, and encourage and inform patients to help them lead healthier lifestyles.

“By far the most useful application of this mass adoption technology is in the field of compliance, and it is here, more than anywhere else, that the agendas of pharma, clinicians and, indeed, patients coincide”

This is incredibly important for pharma, too. According to the report, by far the most useful application of this mass adoption technology is in the field of compliance, and it is here, more than anywhere else, that the agendas of pharma, clinicians and, indeed, patients coincide.

In fact, some 58 per cent of UK doctors agree that a compliance app would be helpful to ensure patients take their treatment correctly. Interestingly, and perhaps counter-intuitively, that figure grows to 63 per cent among doctors aged 45-54, and to 65 per cent among doctors aged over 55. So this is not just about young physicians pushing new ideas at the established opinion base; the value is accepted right across the spectrum.

“We shouldn’t be waiting for third-party technology companies to design and develop these apps; pharma needs to lead the way”

Here is an excellent opportunity for pharma: we shouldn’t be waiting for third-party technology companies to design and develop these apps; pharma needs to lead the way. What better way of increasing efficacy and offering greater value to HCPs in ‘after the pill’ services than by developing compliance apps for their products?

In addition, 40 per cent of UK doctors believe it would be beneficial for patients to use a diary app to record their symptoms ahead of a consultation. Doctors themselves see that increased access shouldn’t simply be about longer surgery opening hours; it is about maximising the effectiveness of consultations, and providing ‘access’ beyond the consultation. In fact, 30 per cent of UK doctors would recommend that their patients use a health app.

It is important to stress that the doctors who took part in the study still think that face-to-face interactions are the most effective way of communicating. No-one is suggesting that technology can replace that. But there is a growing consensus that technology, and in particular the doctor in the patient’s pocket, has an increasing role to play in the overall drive to improve the way patients interact with their GPs.

The challenge for pharma is two-fold. First it must understand the way that doctors want to harness technology. Second, it must provide the support, and the tools, to help clinicians offer their services through apps, in a way which benefits everyone. If pharma gets this right, it will have a powerful new way of demonstrating the value of what it offers.

References

1 Juniper Research: Mobile Healthcare Opportunities – Smartphone Apps, Monitoring and mHealth Strategies 2011-2016

2 The Deloitte Consumer Review, eighth edition, June 2014

Cello Health

About the author:

Dan Brilot is digital director at Cello Health Insight. He can be contacted at dbrilot@cellohealth.com. Twitter @brilotd.

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