Looking 'beyond the pill'? Start with an app--and then follow this to-do list

Decision Resources VP Monique Levy

Everyone's telling pharma companies that they need to go "beyond the pill." It's not just about drug sales anymore. It's about listening. It's about outcomes. It's about relationships with payers and with patients.

And it's about expectations: 68% of physicians, for instance, agree that drugmakers will have to offer more resources and services alongside their treatments to stay relevant in the new healthcare landscape, a recent Manhattan Research survey shows.

Problem is, "beyond the pill" is uncharted territory, like the space outside the boundaries of medieval maps, beyond the edge of the (flat) earth. No established routes to follow, that's for sure. And let's face it: Here be monsters.

But as Decision Resources VP Monique Levy points out in an interview with FiercePharmaMarketing, drugmakers are braving the unknown, thanks to pricing pressures and skeptical payers. We've got wearable trackers, personal devices, professional devices, physician apps, consumer apps, electronic health records, patient portals, data consortia, and the like. "It's very messy," Levy acknowledges.

Like most messes--and most long journeys, uncharted or otherwise--this one is best dealt with in stages.

Stage 1: The app. Like Novartis ($NVS) and its recently introduced multiple sclerosis symptom tracker, or Sanofi ($SNY) and its blood sugar tracking device-plus-app, drugmakers are developing digital services and apps that help patients manage their conditions. They can self-report and self-track--sometimes even send data to their doctors.

It's not an end-to-end solution, Levy says, but it is the "safest, least regulatory-heavy way" to get started. "Any brand marketer can do it tomorrow," she says. And that's not to diminish their utility, either; though apps these days are fairly basic, Levy believes the next wave will be much more sophisticated, better able to track and inspire changes in behavior.

Still, the app can only take you so far. Drugmakers can't get involved in apps that share data with physicians; that data is private, and pharma companies don't want that kind of private data on their servers. "The mechanics are very risky for pharma," Levy explains.

So, on to Stage 2: The data partnership. Companies that are in the business of dealing with private information and integrating data can handle those hassles. So a pharma app becomes part of a system, linking patients and providers. Or a drugmaker signs on with an electronic health record provider like Manna Health, which is pulling together all provider records in the state of New York. "In that environment, brand X from company Y could set up an interactive support program that helps patients manage and stay on this drug," Levy says.

Time frame? Not exactly tomorrow. But 18 months out? Sure, she figures.

But the real payoff comes much farther off the map, in Stage 3: Convergence.

This is where clinical trial data and experiences segue into early stages of marketing, where companies are developing a molecule and a service simultaneously. Armed with the data from testing the drug-plus-assistance combo, a pharma company can go to a payer with a case for favorable pricing.

"Drug X is more expensive than generic Y, but if we add this 12-week program with nurses, it works better in the long term," Levy suggests as an example.

And according to Decision Resources research, payers are quite open to that kind of case. "You'd be surprised; we're hearing payers say they would give favorable formulary status to a drug that delivers some beneficial services toward a solution," Levy says.

Figuring all of this out--and pulling the trigger on the substantial investment required to set up with data partners and roll out new R&D-plus-marketing collaborations--is a work in progress. Far beyond a brand team's typical brief, Levy notes. "Day job, basic marketing," she says. "Night job, change pharma's commercial model."