Applying Digital Technologies to Profit from Change in the Pharma Industry


Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly challenged to keep pace with the evolving demands of patients, physicians and payors. In particular, patients’ desires to be more involved in their treatments and the shift to value-based care are reshaping the industry. To remain competitive, pharma companies must leverage new digital technologies to address these two trends or risk losing market share and revenue to those who do.


Patients are increasingly seeking higher levels of involvement and understanding of their own treatment plans. In fact, a recent survey found that more than 85% of patients are confident in their ability to take responsibility for their health and knew where to access online resources to do so.1

Much of this information is sought after via mobile devices: over 60% of smartphone users use their mobile devices to search for information regarding a health condition.2 Furthermore, patients are increasingly favoring third party sites where they can obtain syndicated information on health conditions and related treatments.

The most well-known and highly-trafficked website of these third party sites – WebMD – had 148 million unique visits in September 20163 and is already being tapped into by pharma companies to connect their products to a targeted patient audience. For example, Takeda Oncology recently partnered with WebMD to establish an online/mobile-friendly myeloma education center, sponsored by two of their treatments for myeloma.4 This enables Takeda to provide educational and product information to an engaged audience via the forum of their choice.

In addition to third-party websites and mobile-friendly education tools, online communities are increasingly popular mediums through which patients learn about various ailments and corresponding treatments, while exchanging unfiltered information with others who share a similar situation or condition. A survey conducted by Pew Research Center found that nearly a quarter of those surveyed have gone online to find and speak with others who have similar health concerns.

By tapping into these communities, pharma companies have the opportunity to cultivate long-term relationships with patients by providing treatment options and information, while engaging with them on an individual level. Pharma companies who elect to participate in these online dialogues must be fully committed. This means allocating staff to monitor and engage with community members daily, or risk appearing superficial to a highly-engaged and influential audience.


As the shift to outcomes-based care permeates the healthcare industry; payors, regulators, lawmakers and patients all want pharma companies to demonstrate the value of their treatments and therapies. In particular, the growing penetration of high-deductible health plans is creating greater cost consciousness among healthcare consumers, as evidenced by a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation that found the average annual out-of-pocket costs per patient surveyed rose almost 230% between 2006 and 2015. As a result, patients are becoming more and more attuned to the effectiveness of the treatments for which they are paying.

One way to combat growing price concerns is through a strong and authentic value story: the reason why consumers should choose your product over competitors’. To create one, pharma companies need to know how their products are performing in the eyes of consumers, and not just what physicians report. The good news is that the data is out there. According to a recent survey, 37% of American adults use at least one website, app or wearable device to manage and track their general health and wellness.5 Using digital technologies to collect and analyze this data will allow pharma companies to gauge product success, understand what patients are missing in their current treatment plans, and strategically target their product messaging and educational programs.

Yet again, one of the most valuable resources for testing new value stories are online health communities. For pharma companies, they provide a candid environment to gauge consumer reaction to different brand or product messages. Furthermore, they enable brands to track consumer interaction with educational tools and obtain real-time insights regarding a patient’s health and treatment hurdles. One of the leading providers of these online discussion boards is MedHelp; a private corporation (with over 140 million users worldwide)6 that offers condition-specific online communities and health coaching capabilities via a mobile-optimized experience.


The old pharma model is rapidly evolving. Instead of physicians being the point of contact between pharma brands and patients, patients are now cutting out the middleman. This changes the way pharma companies need to communicate their products and unique benefits to patients. The most successful firms will provide this information in the ways patients want to absorb it – via mobile-friendly sites, online communities and health and wellness websites.


1 Ipsos, 2015

2 PharmaVOICE, Mobile Technology Increases Patient Engagement, June 2016

3 SimilarWeb, October 2016

4 PharmaVOICE, Mobile Technology Increases Patient Engagement, June 2016

5 Kantar Health, Early mHealth Adopters Want to Prevent, Control Chronic

Conditions, April 2016

6 MedHelp, 2016

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