Going beyond the drug

 In an age of rapidly developing technology, all businesses need to validate to the world a reason to exist. Pharmaceutical businesses have to work even harder as their audiences switch channels. The concept of the empowered patient is being widely embraced and the need for the pharmaceutical industry to reassure patients that they can keep up with digital activity and stay relevant is crucial. 

Reliance on standard clinical trials as ammunition for pharmaceutical debate is dissipating, as the dynamics of consumer-industry relationships change. Digital advancement has led us into a new world, now embraced by most markets, but pharmaceutical development has been slow to adapt to the switch of perceived authority and influence.

The practice of combining business and technology has become second nature to most – it is necessary to survive let alone to remain competitive. Coupled with the powerful concept of global communication and open sourcing of information, in the quest for satisfying our healthcare needs, the way the pharma industry operates is losing its relevancy.


With the rise of ‘The Empowered Patient’, medical establishments and pharmaceutical companies are commonly perceived as being primarily motivated by lucrative deals.  To avoid this unfair perception and protect company reputations,  business goals now need to refocus on nurturing real relationships and adopting principles of trust and   transparency.  In addition, they need to reach the same level of confidence and competence with technology as their patients and the global community.

“Empowered patients have high expectations and if not met they will find their own solutions”.

Patients use Internet forums to engage and communicate with people who have similar medical conditions.  This enables them to share knowledge and experiences.  Discovering about available treatments,  coupled with having a greater understanding of their condition inevitably leads to greater expectations from their healthcare providers.  

The essential concept to grasp is that pharmaceutical companies no longer control the creation of information about their products. They need to discover what their real value is instead of relying totally on easily replicated trial outcomes.


PharmaPhorum conducted anonymous interviews, which  revealed healthcare providers also want informative dialogue that allows them to:

  • learn about patients' experiences
  •  engage with professionals and pharmaceutical companies

It  would also expand knowledge about  upcoming drugs in the pipeline, the market and competitors and the level of research within the field.  There was also the suggestion of a pharma-physician correspondence Q&A portal. This is not surprising, considering the issue of reimbursement protocols shifting in favour of improved individual patient outcomes and daily quality of life.

 GlaxoSmithKleine have made the innovative move to cease offering all-expenses-paid international conference breaks, with the aim of marketing their products to HCPs.  As a consequence, there is an urgent need for the industry to transform business processes, with superior education, insights and technological capabilities. An opportunity presents for companies aspiring to stay relevant and meaningful, to take advantage of next-generation technology to thrive in the digital world. Data will always be needed, but clinical trials need to be innovated, and the data they produce invigorated.


Demonstrating  how technology can be of service to pharmaceutical companies can be difficult with the introduction of highly popular competing products, such as health apps and smart watches, that allow people to take their own readings – producing personalised but not completely accurate and considered data – in addition to wide misperception of opinion and support of these platforms by physicians.

Current opinion suggests that doctors’ concerns revolve around the poor quality and accuracy of commercial offerings, producing inaccurate and possibly harmful data, which patients use to self-assess and manage their health. Poorly designed mobile applications are feared to encourage hypochondria and strained doctor-patient relationships. Where physicians are in agreement, is the benefit of monitoring and management of chronic condition, in addition to real-time capabilities, allowing the observation of patient adherence and lifestyle factors during treatment.

73% of doctors admitted to not knowing what they want from digital health solutions.  By far the highest response  of those who saw a benefit in digital health solutions related to  ‘patient monitoring’, where there is limited potential for error.


For corporations electing to invest in building digital marketing and engagement systems, the benefits are highly valuable and adjustable. From streamlining workflows across R&D, office administration, supply chain and commercial processes, to innovative data analysis and deeper engagement possibilities. Collaborations partnering businesses with advanced digital technology can help deliver a sophisticated and resourceful pharmaceutical industry.

Companies should look at the distinctive value which can be created with the use of digital technology, within relevant areas of their operation. Pharmaceutical companies could develop their own branded and quality-approved digital sensors, health applications and related products, to gain real-time clinical trial data and real-world insights on adherence, side-effects and product efficacy, boosting the credibility of product evidence and improving analytical capabilities.

Building meaningful relationships takes time and resources, but it is also necessary to nurture brand preference in a target audience. Organisation is key to effectively strengthening these relationships. Communication management systems can be custom built, in line with the initiatives and goals of individual organisations, fostering a sense of community and membership through influencing brand perception, providing the user experience is well-designed and easily understood. Digital engagement can be functional in recruiting for trials, exchanging information, medical-science liaisons and patient and physician service portals.

Success cannot always be predicted in collaborative projects, but the need for the industry to make their business processes more immediate at least, can be helped by the fact that digital system prototypes can be scaled up as positive results are achieved. Such is the power of digital technology to provide bespoke solutions and dispel doubt surrounding the achievement of outcomes, before moving forward with official integration into the wider working process.