Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Healthcare Industry: World’s Largest Hairball?

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Epharma Summit 2016 has been over for one week, but the ideas generated by exciting thinkers, disruptors and innovators are still burning holes in my notebook.

Upon reflection, themes that continue to reverberate are the slow pace of the healthcare industry and particularly the conservative pharmaceutical industry playing against the tension of the magnetic pull of the digital future that is dislodging old ways…one way or another.

In a panel discussion “Pharma and The Third Wave of the Internet,” CEO of WEGO Jack Barrette told attendees,  “You are working in large organizations trying to move an industry that has been described as the world’s largest hairball.”

Panelist Steve Case, CEO Revolution and Founder of AOL, said we are entering the Third Wave of the internet. During the First Wave, the internet was being built between 1985 to 2000. From 2000 until today, we are just leaving the Second Wave where software and apps drove the growth and utility of the internet. The Third Wave will be about using the power of the internet to solve social problems and make “larger plays,” Case said.

“How do you improve food, health? It’s a broader play, a harder play, it takes more engagement from government because those industries are more highly regulated. It will be more about partnerships, policy, and perseverance. The internet wouldn’t happen without partnerships.”

Creative marketing ideas and customer-centric digital health are coming up against a highly regulated pharmaceutical industry where not just the products – but the sales and marketing of those products – are tightly monitored and controlled.

Ideas follow where the dollars are spent, and most presenters and attendees at the ePharma conference agreed that few pharma dollars are dedicated to digital health initiatives partly because of fear of a new medium but also because digital dollars are often “stolen” from budgets dedicated for traditional sales and marketing initiatives. As the value of patient engagement using all-on, all-the-time digital tools becomes clearer, those dollars will start to move into more targeted campaigns.

Case said, “Some of these things just take awhile. The transition from TV to a more digital way, it is happening. When I watch TV and see an ad for drug that seems like it has narrow appeal, I wonder if that makes sense. Budgets should shift from (TV) to (digital marketing), but it will take time to happen.”

What is Case’s advice for people advocating for forging into the future inside a large organization? “Create a sense of possibility and momentum in a balanced way. Don’t come off as a crazy person looking too far in the future but provide clarity as to where this is going. Create a culture of possibility. Startups have a culture of experimentation and taking risk and shots on goal. Companies de-risk until it’s all about process and risk mitigation. But it’s not all about keeping bad things from happening. It’s tricky. In order to get an initiative supported, you need clarity about what will happen, but it is by definition guess work.

“One step at a time, momentum begets momentum. Get some traction, some initial beachhead. Accelerate the adoption and that will facilitate partnerships. Doing it together makes more sense than doing it separately. There is an African proverb: Go quickly, go alone; but go far, go together. That is the core idea of Third Wave,” he said.

Pfizer VP Head of Digital Strategy and Data Innovation Judy Sewards echoed his optimism and caution, “If the future was easy or clear, we’d be activating it right now. But we are only just beginning the digital health revolution,”


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