The road ahead: where digital communications are leading the industry

Morten Hjelmsoe of Agnitio continues pharmaphorum’s theme of health technology by exploring where digital communications are leading the pharmaceutical industry.

Historically, pharma communication has followed the pattern of representatives ‘pushing’ product information that they wanted the doctors to know – a blanket of information that they hoped would stick. There were many reasons for this, including the fact that the existing technology encouraged this behavior. Earlier technology was designed to efficiently transport just a few global campaigns, but didn’t have the ability to produce materials distinct to specific needs, and thus lacked the capability to create anything truly innovative. But the situation is finally changing. We can now access – and are increasingly implementing – digital technologies that enter us into a user-focused dialogue and deliver what is important for each specific customer. As more and more companies make this switch to ‘pull communication’ new opportunities arise, and a picture of the industry as it will function in the future gradually emerges.

So where are we heading? Well, in my mind, there is no doubt that digital technologies are enabling a complete change in how the industry operates. We are shifting from the role of product peddlers – whether pharmaceuticals or medical devices – to solutions / outcomes providers.

“We can now access – and are increasingly implementing – digital technologies that enter us into a user-focused dialogue”

In the future, the industry will be measured – and more importantly, paid – by the outcome of their treatments. In other words, it won’t be the products that we are selling, but the results they are achieving. So you may have the best drug in the world with amazing data from clinical studies, but if the patient doesn’t take it correctly for whatever reason, the process is broken and the industry won’t accumulate any money or value for its effort.

Sales reps have traditionally been measured based on their campaign delivery, which generally fails to engage healthcare professionals on the particular issues that concern them. But this new digital technology has completely altered what we as an industry are capable of when connecting with medical professionals – enabling both the rep and the doctor to escape the monotonous campaign cycle and establish a system of outcome measurement. In order to best achieve this, the industry must move ‘downstream’ – getting closer to the doctors and helping them overcome specific problems in their treatment of individual patients. Ultimately, this will heal the broken process that is occurring when companies focus exclusively on pushing the product, not the ideas, process, and end result that support its success.

The fact is that thanks to technology, we can now engage more deeply with medical professionals. We can stop broadcasting to groups and start slimcasting or interacting with individuals. This isn’t ‘selling’ in the traditional sense, but is actually about providing valuable information and services that meet physicians’ and their patients’ specific needs. Each doctor will get a personal experience, all provided in a format that suits them best. Outcome measurement will only make this more important.

So to take a hypothetical case study, let’s say compliance is a challenge doctors and pharma companies are experiencing. The next step would be to leverage technology to co-create a solution with the doctor. This might be a mobile device app that the patient uses to achieve better adherence. It might be one-on-one training for the doctor with compliance experts provided through online video conferencing. Or it might be another solution entirely. The answer will depend on the specific situation of both the doctor and the patient.

“As more and more companies make this switch to ‘pull communication’ new opportunities arise…”

What’s important is that the trend towards measured outcomes gives both medical professionals and industry the same initiative – how best to treat patients and demonstrate results. As our goals align, we are losing the adversarial aspect that has historically colored the relationship. And that means that medical professionals will be more willing to partner with the industry throughout the treatment pathway – which in turn will further encourage companies to take a 360 degree view of their customer engagement.

So the road ahead? It will most certainly be built upon digital technology – but it won’t be a single digital superhighway. Instead, the flexibility of technology and the increasing focus on measured outcomes means that we will see a fostering of individual pathways that help healthcare professionals lead their patients towards the best outcomes possible.


About the author:

Morten Hjelmsoe is the founder and CEO of Agnitio, the global leader in closed loop marketing, and an expert and visionary within technology-enabled pull communication. Morten also serves as a regular speaker on the potential of digital technology, and advises senior executives on how to apply responsive communication to their outreach.

Closing thought: Where is digital communications leading the industry?