Besides all important brand attributes and how well those are communicated to the doctors, the ‘game winning’ differentiating factors in the prescription drug business, as it appears today, would revolve around overall quality of patient-centric approach and offerings of pharma companies, craftily tagged with the associated products.
To hasten business growth, being more and more patient-centric, in increasingly competitive, demanding and complex environment, pharma players would require to leverage the cutting-edge technology to its fullest for significant value addition in their respective sales and marketing models too.
Keeping pace with today’s ‘technology revolution’, rapid advent of various game-changing and user-friendly digital health applications for consumers are showing immense potential for a refreshing catalytic change in the overall landscape for patient-centric healthcare services as a key differentiating tool from the pharma players’ perspective.
The capability and capacity of ‘out of box’ thinking, professional expertise to choose and customize the right technological tools, making them key components of pharma sales and marketing models and above all, their effective implementation on the ground, would eventually differentiate men from the boys in the ball game of competitive excellence in the Indian pharma industry.
This emerging opportunity brings to the fore immense potential to revolutionize the treatment process of many serious chronic ailments with significant value creation, even in India, generating a unique synergy between the drugs and customized disease related digital tools.
In this evolving ball game; wearable, decent looking and user-friendly ‘Health Apps’, installable in smartphones having Internet and Bluetooth connectivity along with touch screens; signal a great potential for augmentation of the overall disease treatment process.
Consequently, it would kick-start a healthy competition within the pharma companies to continuously raising the bar of unique value offerings to patients, more than ever before.
A close experience:
Purely prompted by my keen interest in technology for a long while,the ‘Health App’ that I have bought and installed in my iPhone and wearing for sometime, is basically a multifunctional and multi-dimensional fitness tracker.
From the decent looking digital ‘Wrist Band’ that comes with it, the Health App tracks on a daily basis, kilometers that I have walked (from pre-calibrated steps), calories that I have consumed with intake of different food types and burnt up through physical workouts, total duration of time that I have slept in a day, quality of my sleep (sound and light sleep) with duration, number of times that I woke up at night, precise daily intake with quantity of nutrition, such as, fluid, carbohydrate, protein, fiber, different types of fat, salt etc., pulse rate, breathing and mood, besides many others.
Besides some global pharma companies that I shall deliberate below, the current users of ‘Health Apps’ are mostly those people who are increasingly becoming fitness and diet conscious (at any age) and also want to take proactive measures for prevention of many chronic ailments.
According to a report co-authored by an official of IMS Institute of Healthcare Informatics, a study based on nearly 43,700 purported Health or Medical Apps available on Apple’s iTunes App Store, found that 69 percent of those Apps targeted the consumers and patients, while 31 percent were built for use by clinicians. Most of the ‘Consumer Healthcare Apps’ were simple in design and do little more than provide information.
The study observes, a large number of Health Apps are being designed to track simpler data on health and fitness. However, the more sophisticated Apps are capable to perform advanced functions, such as, real-time monitoring and high-resolution imaging.
Possibility for much wider use in healthcare:
Although, many of these Apps have been devised as personal fitness and health trackers directly by the consumers, the information and hard data thus captured can possibly be shared with the medical practitioners by the patients, as and when required. This data could serve as valuable patient life-style information inputs for the doctors, while managing their serious chronic illnesses.
Health Apps could also help the users reduce, at least, the primary care costs through preventive self-monitoring measures and take control of their own basic health.
In tandem, I reckon, there is a good possibility for a much wider use of such Health Apps in India by the pharma companies, along with many drugs, especially those, which are used for chronic ailments.
For example, real-time data tracking on:
-Exercise, diet and Body Mass Index (BMI) for patients on anti-diabetic and anti-hypertensive drugs
- Quality of sleep for patients with sleep disorders and are on related medicines
- Mood for patients taking anti-depressant medications
The data captured by the Health Apps in all such related areas could be useful for both the doctors and the patients in the process of effective disease management along with the drugs.
Going beyond drugs:
Based on this emerging trend, it is envisaged that in not too distant future, it won’t be very uncommon for patients, suffering from especially serious chronic diseases, to get prescriptions for both the drug and an the related customized Health App, for better quality of life through effective disease control.
Similarly, some hospital discharge orders may possibly include downloading of related mobile Health App on patients’ smartphones, primarily to provide an ongoing link between the doctor and the patient for better patient care and more effective follow-up visits.
Pharma players showing interest in Health App market:
It is, therefore, no surprise that pharma players have started showing keen interest in Health App market. In fact, this emerging market is now dominated by the big pharma players, with Bayer having 11.2 percent market share, followed closely by Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, and Boehringer Ingelheim.
The top 20 Health App makers are as follows:
|No||Company||No. Of Health Apps|
|10.||Johnson &Johnson (J&J)||39|
(Source: Pocket.md as of 12/2/2013)
A novel business expansion opportunity:
Pharma players in India may consider to actively focus on, with requisite resource deployment, to collaboratively develop and market smartphones based digital Health Apps, for quantum value addition in their brand promotion.
Moving towards this direction, pharma sales and marketing strategy for a chronic disease treatment should consider making Health Apps an integral part of doctors’ prescription along with the related drugs of the company.
To give an idea of the evolving trend, I am citing below a few examples, out of lot many, in this emerging area:
- Betaseron (interferon beta-1b) of Bayer: This drug is indicated for the treatment of relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis to reduce the frequency of clinical exacerbations. The company launched its first iPhone App, named ‘myBETAapp’ with ‘Personalized Tools’ to assist people on Betaseron (interferon beta-1b) in managing their Multiple Sclerosis (MS) treatment.
myBETAapp provides patients with injection reminders, injection site rotation assistance and injection history. Through Internet, myBETAapp also gives patients access to the BETAPLUS Web page on Betaseron.com, including links to educational tools, peer support and contacts listed on the site. With active phone service, patients enrolled in the BETAPLUS program can dial directly to speak to BETA Nurses, who are specially trained in MS.
- Tobi Podhaler (tobramycin inhalation powder) of Novartis: This drug is indicated for the treatment of Cystic Fibrosis.
Podhaler Pro App is an iPhone based navigation tool for patients and also the doctors during treatment with Tobi Podhaler. This Health App is a customizable digital pocket companion that helps, besides many others, with timely reminders to keep track of treatments, real patient stories and access to a live PodCare nurse to answer questions about taking treatment.
- Pradaxa (dabigatran etexilate)of Boehringer Ingelheim: This drug is indicated for ‘Reduction of Risk of Stroke and Systemic Embolism in Non-Valvular Atrial Fibrillation; Treatment of Deep Venous Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism and Reduction in the Risk of Recurrence of Deep Venous Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism’. It comes with a Health App, available in online ‘Apple Stores’. This is a tool providing healthcare professionals with information about stroke risk in Von-valvular Atrial Fibrillation.
Pradaxa Health App contains a ‘Stroke Risk Calculator’, ‘Bleeding Risk Calculator’, Renal function and dosing and administration information.
Pradaxa Health App also has a great resource section, split into ‘Patient and Health Care Professionals’ sections, which can be sent to patients via email.
- Xarelto (rivaroxaban) of Janssen Pharmaceuticals: This drug is indicated for ‘Reducing Stroke Risk in Patients With Non-valvular Atrial Fibrillation (AF); Treating Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and Pulmonary Embolism (PE) and Reducing the Risk of Recurrence; DVT Prophylaxis After Knee or Hip Replacement Surgery’. It also comes with a Health App, called Xarelto Patient Center and available in online ‘Apple Stores’.
Xarelto Patient Center App features include, personalize questions that help patients speak with their doctors about treatment with Xarelto, Appointment reminder, Xarelto ‘Savings Programs’, Registration to receive more information, Videos that share more information on Xarelto and hear from others who have been treated with the drug, After receiving a prescription the patient can enroll in the ‘XARELTO CarePath’ patient support and savings program.
Thus, especially for high-risk ailments, such iOS Apps directed at patients with information on the drug, including interactions with other medicines, dietary requirements, fitness/health trackers, besides many others, can add additional value both to the prescribers and the patients in the process of effective disease management.
Tightening the loose knots:
A 2014 report titled, ‘r2g mobile Health Economics’ by ‘Research2Guidance’ states, even though they try hard, most of the pharma companies fail to have a significant impact on the mHealth App market. Some pharma companies have published more than 100 Apps available for iOS and Android, but have generated only limited downloads and usage.
It states, pharma companies have created only little reach within the smartphone/tablet App user base. In fact, the leading pharma companies have been able to generate 6.6m downloads since 2008 and have less than 1m active users.
Analysis and comparison of the App activities of the top 12 Pharma companies in the report, gives reasons why pharma companies have not succeeded in becoming leading mHealth Apps providers, as follows:
- The App portfolios are not globally available: Almost half of the pharma companies’ Apps target only local markets. This means that their apps are available only in 3 or less countries.
- The App portfolio is built around the core products of the pharma companies and not around the actual market demand: For example, if a company specializes in the treatment of hematological diseases, the App portfolio reflects that. Apps in this case would provide references to the latest research, support diagnosis and facilitate information exchange with/between the experts. There exists an App market for such products, but there are other segments e.g. health tracking, weight loss, fitness or diabetes condition management, which attract more users.
- No cross-referencing or common and recognizable design: So far, pharma companies have not used the full potential of cross-referencing between their Apps. They also do not use common style guides for their App portfolio. Both of these could improve their App visibility as well as strengthen their corporate identity in the App market.
From this research analysis, it is quite evident that there is a need to tighten the loose knots in the Health Apps space by the pharma players. All improvement areas, as indicated above, should be addressed, sooner, especially, the need to targeting patients globally and inclusion of segments such as health/fitness tracking, weight loss, together with patient management focus areas of chronic illness conditions, such as, diabetes or hypertension, which have been attracting more users.
A comprehensive look and well thought-out action would help realizing true potential of the Health Apps market in India.
Based on the emerging trend, it appears, those days are not quite far off, when it will become quite common for the doctors and also for the hospitals to co-prescribe with the drugs, user-friendly, disease related smartphone based Health Apps for the patients. This practice would provide an ongoing link between the doctors and the patient, leading to not just better quality of treatment, but a comprehensive overall healthcare in that specific disease condition.
However, currently there does exist a down side to this approach, which can’t be totally ignored either. The reason being, such Health Apps are not quite affordable to many, just yet, especially in a country like India. This affordability barrier could probably be overcome, if Indian IT software and hardware development companies consider this area lucrative from an emerging business opportunity perspective, as the country moves on with its ‘Make in India’ campaign.
If it makes sense…probably it does, it needs to be tried out sooner, in a much larger scale, for a win-win outcome. To begin with, the interested pharma players can tailor these well differentiated value offerings, at least to suit those, who can afford such augmented treatment process for a better quality of life, going much beyond drugs.
By: Tapan J. Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.