How to create value with beyond the pill services

Despite the crucial role drug companies play in combatting disease and improving life expectancy, the ‘bad pharma’ tag still hangs over the sector and it treads a delicate balance between prioritising profits or patient wellbeing. In this context, businesses considering going beyond the pill and developing new outcome-focused services must proceed with care to avoid their motives being misinterpreted.

This is something that Omada Health in the US appears to understand: they have designed a programme that helps employers and health insurance companies identify employees and customers at risk from diabetes and heart disease and offers tailored plans, health coaching and success tracking to keep them healthy. However, payment is based on clinical outcomes and engagement – customers only pay for participants who engage with and benefit from the plan.

Information generated by electronic health records, payer claims, pharmacy data, mobile health technologies, and more offer intriguing possibilities for data analytics in healthcare. Entities of all types are actively integrating and analysing disparate streams of data to improve the efficiency of everything from drug R&D to care coordination.

It’s hard to find evidence of the impact of services ‘beyond the pill’, however, here are some considerations for pharmas looking to begin:

Identify bigger patient problems you can solve

Pharma companies engaged in manufacturing drugs to combat chronic and life-threatening illnesses are already engaged in solving big problems.  However, a beyond the pill strategy is about asking “is there more of this problem that we can solve in a way that benefits our patients and is profitable?” As healthcare becomes more personal and digitised, pharma must decide which part of the patient’s care ecosystem it can add value to. Is it reminders to take their tablets? Providing chat-bot facilitated coaching? Referrals to other services such as AstraZeneca’s ‘day by day’? Or offering a remote monitoring system linking them with their GPs?  Ensuring a human centred approach is key – the patient and their experience must always be the starting point for any new service. How can pharma companies harness their own expertise and resources with emerging technologies to address the challenges that health conditions present to patients?

A successful beyond the pill strategy should also consider the impact and cost of managing chronic conditions on the entire health ecosystem so that any patient-centric solution provides value to all stakeholders. A good example is US digital service One Drop, which helps patients manage their type 2 diabetes. While patients are One Drop’s main users, the service also offers data around how patients manage their disease to providers.

Ensure your offer is unique

While beyond the pill services are relatively new, the broader market for health and wellness self-monitoring devices is proliferating. This can make it hard for pharma companies planning patient-centric coaching/tracking solutions around chronic illnesses to differentiate their offer from general health tracking ‘noise’.

Pharma companies considering digital wrap-around services also face competition from established technology brands such as IBM and Apple who can leverage their technical expertise to build new channels for engaging with customers and provide valuable insight for healthcare providers.

The key for pharma firms is to develop a branded offer that leverages their heritage and expertise into the medical condition in question. Faced with an array of health monitoring devices, patients are more likely to trust tailored services from companies that have a track record in treating their health condition, rather than start-ups or even big technology companies.

Form innovative partnerships

Tech companies are increasingly competing with pharma but there is no reason why they shouldn’t also collaborate. Pharma firms looking to create services should look to partner with companies that fill the gaps in their core capabilities and expertise to share costs, reduce risk and help get services to market more quickly. As the healthcare ecosystem grows to include an increasing number of varied organisations, technology, and data sources, traditional stakeholders should consider looking both internally and externally for new innovation opportunities and new ways of working.

Partnerships are already happening in sectors outside pharma; take GE’s initiative with Microsoft, the companies claim it will allow industrial businesses to connect data from their machines with Microsoft’s enterprise cloud applications and thus accelerate businesses’ digital transformation. Within pharma we are likely to see more tie-ups such as Sanofi’s partnership with Verily. The collaboration sees Sanofi combine its expertise in diabetes treatment and devices with Google’s know-how in analytics, miniaturised electronics and low-power chip design, to develop new tools to help patients with diabetes. The two companies hope they can also reduce complications and costs associated with diabetes and improve patient outcomes.

Educate your stakeholders and customers

Leo Pharma is one example of a growing trend to establish dedicated innovation centres with a view to transforming disease management. However, whereas the business model for researching, testing and manufacturing pills is tried and tested, monetising new services around them is much less so.

Publicly listed pharma companies are under pressure to demonstrate ROI and deliver value to shareholders or face budget cuts. Meanwhile, the market is driven by simple metrics and results. This means a competitor that claims, “My drug is less expensive” is likely to be more attractive to customers than one that says, “Our drug is more expensive but it includes a service that will help patients stick to their treatment and so reduce your costs.” For payers such as the NHS, who need to deliver both cost-efficiencies and improved outcomes, the value outlined in the second scenario is much harder to quantify.

Pharma firms wishing to secure the necessary resources to experiment with services need to educate shareholders and customers about the benefits of doing so, while managing their expectations about the likely timetable for bringing a service to market. This includes obtaining permission to fail, as not all experiments are successful, digital or otherwise. In securing board and shareholder buy-in, the underlying message needs to be that developing successful patient-centric solutions will add value by improving adherence to medication and extending life expectancy.

Learn from other industries

Digital disruption isn’t unique to the pharma industry, and consumers are increasingly comparing services across sectors and benchmarking, for example, a banking app with their experience of Netflix. For example we have worked with Ford to develop the Dynamic Shuttle concept which allows urban commuters to request trips on-demand through a smartphone app. What’s to stop senior figures at big pharmas reaching out to Ford, or another car manufacturer, to compare their experiences and responses to digital disruption?

Allow patients to co-create solutions

Patients are increasingly well informed about their health and want to take a more active role in managing it. Mobile technologies are empowering patients with more information and control over their personal health. Smartphone apps and wirelessly connected medical devices are creating real-time data, making way for real-time interventions, and wearable and implantable technologies are helping patients to manage their health, wherever they are. The prevalence of these factors in daily life will create new attitudes to decision-making in health among patients.

The competitive market means there is a need to engage more directly with patients, carers and patient advocacy groups. Inviting/incentivising them to suggest ideas for new services to help manage their conditions provides the ideal opportunity to build closer relationships with patients who are likely to demand a much greater say in decisions about their treatments going forward.

Pharma companies have a key role to play in the roll-out of services that go beyond the pill. Developing a clear strategy and securing stakeholder support is vital in determining whether efforts succeed or fail. Those that focus on human-centred solutions which have patient needs at their core will have a better chance of doing so than those that don’t.

Anna Soisalo is VP, strategy at strategic design company Smart Design