GPS inhalers to Jawbone data-gathering: pharma's digital inspiration

Mobile apps and digital tracking and the quantified self. A world of opportunities for drugmakers, right? That's the hypothesis. Digital data-gathering and monitoring won't just help patients manage their conditions and take their meds on time, but also persuade skeptical payers that products are worth their cost.

The pharma analysts at McKinsey & Co. are the latest to enumerate the reasons why drugmakers need to get into the digital act--now, and in a big way. We'll let you read and consider them. What intrigued us, however, were a couple of examples that weren't big, just effective.

Several companies are coupling sensor technology with inhalers to track when patients use their respiratory drugs. But what about GPS? Propeller Health has inhalers with that location-finding tech built-in, McKinsey says. That way, patients can see when and where they use their inhalers--and hopefully identify any environmental triggers for their asthma. Sounds like a valuable value-added service for a respiratory drug--one that might win over patients and build brand loyalty.

On the payer side of things, there's the pain drug that lost its place on formularies. The drug's maker needed a way to prove that it worked, but suspected that using pain-perception questionnaires wouldn't fully capture the results. So, it put Jawbone fitness trackers on patients using the drug. The Jawbone devices kept track of patients' movements, showing their level of mobility. More pain relief, more movement. The drugmaker used that data to persuade payers to put the drug back on their formularies, McKinsey says.

Monique Levy

Single examples don't make an overarching digital strategy. They aren't the ticket to overhauling pharma's business model or harnessing the power of Big Data. But they're doable, and they can work. Recently FiercePharmaMarketing talked to Decision Resources analyst Monique Levy about "beyond-the-pill" strategies for drugmakers, and her immediate advice was this: Do something small.

So, develop a mobile app or set up a medication-reminder texting program. A little more ambitious? Gather observational data to prove a product's worth to payers.

"Whether low or high tech, patient services aimed at preventing acute episodes or supporting compliance deliver significant benefits to patients," McKinsey's analysts advise. And those benefits--even if they're not yet part of a grand digital design--bounce right back onto drugmakers in the form of brand loyalty.

- read the McKinsey article

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