A digital strategy is important for Pharma to remain relevant. The need to connect with both patients and providers via digital formats and via mobile devices has been dictated by the successful penetration of these types of marketing, educational, and engagement tools in other aspects of our daily lives. Healthcare providers expect this evolution in the workplace as well.
Pharma’s traditional collaboration with KOLs has been successful. The quickest way to facilitate adoption of a Digital Pharma model of interaction with providers is to utilize the KOL, who, like a traditional KOL is a trusted and respected leader. There is a need for physicians who champion online interactions, realize the value of social media, and are familiar with best practice digital and mobile health technologies to be involved in new industry initiatives. These initiatives include furnishing needed information to both providers and patients based on evidence and experience.
The business model Digital Pharma has heretofore been one of a direct to patient/consumer play. It is well-appreciated by industry that it is hard these days (if not impossible in many circumstances) for Pharma clinical liaisons (Pharma reps most trusted by physicians) or r other agents to engage physicians directly due to organizational policy restrictions, lack of available time in between those 15-minute patient visits, or worse, at the scrub sink or OR lounge. I would submit that these encounters need to be redesigned to be one of a ‘pull’ by the physician and not a ‘push’ by industry. Digital both allows for and encourages new business models. What if a provider could, by way of a digital profile created, determine what individualized type of encounter was preferred (in-person, secure text message, email, safety alert, published clinical study results, or a combination thereof)? This would save huge pieces of marketing budgets for industry while creating focused high value proposition interactions based on provider preference. Digital KOLs will be utilized to help design, implement, and lead adoption of content and presentations (both static and live). This would amount to an Amazon type one stop ‘shopping’ of Digital Pharma education for providers. These ideas are admittedly out of the box. But physicians are thirsty for meaningful information and data provided by Pharma while requiring convenient and trusted means of obtaining it. Digital KOLs will be helpful in creating awareness and presenting the value proposition of digital to their peers at professional society meetings. The FDA just presented its Guidance document on Pharma and social media. This should only serve to enhance the industry’s digital presence, not discourage it as some have hinted.
Digital as a DTC strategy needs to close the patient engagement loop. I submit that the only way that can happen is with involvement of clinicians. There is a historically low mistrust of the industry by the public. Healthcare providers must be involved. They are the ones who have the relationship (strained as it may be in 2015) with the patient. In addition, no digital technology is a solution. It only becomes a solution in the context of human interactions and processes built around it. Therefore, the technology necessarily involves a provider. Otherwise these tools never become solutions.
There is presently much industry buzz about quite a few prescription drugs going over the counter (OTC). This will necessitate significant efforts devoted to patient education focused on safety and self-management. There are great opportunities in this arena for digital technologies. The delivery (‘prescribing’) of digital tools to patients can take place with results monitored by both providers and industry. KOLs in this space are needed in this critical time of creating awareness not just of products, but of ways in which digital interactions between industry and providers will take place. Scientific liaisons, sales and technical support personnel will still be critical players in the process, but the means of interactions will evolve. Clinical trials are moving into the mobile technology arena (see Parallel 6). Physician KOLs need to help pave the way for this new model as well.
Pharma is doing progressively more marketing research and marketing via digital technology. The use of mobile devices is catching on in the industry (see Prolifiq) . Digital health advertizing is big business (see McCann Health and InTouch Solutions). Other targets of interest are online physician (Doximity, Medscape) and patient (Treatment Diaries, WEGO Health) communities, general social media sites (Facebook, Twitter), and even electronic records companies (Practice Fusion). I believe that the use of physician KOLs can markedly increase the success of these strategies. Many physicians do not encourage patients from seeking medical information online. They would if they had better tools to utilize. Therein lays the value proposition as a win-win for Pharma. KOLs will be provider champions of prescribing digital tools (including appropriate online sites, apps, and other tools). Ultimately, the primary objectives of better provider-patient, industry-provider, and industry-consumer relationships, improved patient outcomes we constantly hear about can be facilitated with the use of excellent digital tools.