Pharma's digital desires thwarted by clunky organizations, lack of skilled employees

While pharma lags in some areas of digital adoption, it's generally not for lack of ambition. It's what market researcher eConsultancy called healthcare companies' "fits and starts" in their embrace of digital technology, in a recent study done with Ogilvy CommonHealth and OgilvyRED.

While healthcare marketers--mostly pharma, medical device companies and direct HCPs--in the study noted organizational issues, tech adoption lags and skill gaps, they also agreed that they are committed to investing and want to move forward on customer experience, content marketing and mobile opportunities.

Still, they're hesitant, partly out of fear and partly because of legacy organization issues. More than one-third (34%) said they are threatened by disruptive forces in the healthcare industry. The good news? That's on par with the way other industry executives feel. The bad news, however, is that digital remains a separate function at a big chunk of healthcare companies, with 30% noting that separation, compared with 19% in other industries. Only 5% of healthcare executives surveyed said they are a "digital-first" organization, compared to 14% in other industries.

Stefan Tornquist, VP of research at eConsultancy

"Fear of change is the number one threat--at all companies, not just healthcare," said Stefan Tornquist, VP of research at eConsultancy, speaking about the study at a recent Ogilvy CommonHealth digital summit. "… Does your company think that trends are threats, or a chance to lead?"

The problem begins with company organizational structures that haven't yet evolved. Eighty-three percent said their organization is limited in its ability to be digitally effective, while another 89% said they lack internal marketing people with the sufficient digital skills.

However, change is not as simple as flipping a marketing switch, noted eConsultancy in the report.

"To support an effective and evolving digital practice, organizations have to evaluate themselves from the ground up. To be 'customer centric' is to reexamine everything, not just marketing. To be 'digital' is to rethink products, sales, support and service as well as the strategy supporting them," according to the study.

Yet that doesn't mean change won't come, like it or not. Three-fourths of respondents acknowledged that changing consumer behaviors will force them to innovate.

"Every study of consumer behavior, every new mobile app in healthcare, every new innovation in treatment…these are the levers that can be used to encourage innovation and investment," the study noted.

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