Perhaps no industry has recently experienced a digital boost as powerful as the healthcare industry. Digitization has penetrated every part of healthcare, making it more efficient, smooth, patient-centered, and, most of all, remote. Healthcare welcomed the multiple possibilities of smartphones, electronic wearables, data analytics, and IoT, connecting patients and doctors, doctors and pharmacists, patients and pharmaceutical companies, and everyone in between. This change has been welcomed by the people: according to the Accenture report, 62% of respondents would choose virtual health advisors and 57% would be open to remote health monitoring.
For the pharma industry, the shift to mobile has been as life-changing as for the rest of the healthcare field. And in this article, we’ll talk about why. We’ll see how pharmaceutical companies benefit from mobile health tools, and, in the end, how everyone wins when mobile is involved.
What are mHealth solutions?
Together with the Global Observatory for eHealth, the World Health Organization (WHO), has defined mHealth as “medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices, such as mobile phones, patient monitoring devices, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and other wireless devices”. mHealth solutions collect health information, nutrition information, genetic data, medication history, etc. with the help of wearable devices, mobile phones, and apps. They help people with their health conditions and wellbeing by introducing constant diagnostic, assessment, intervention, and communication options. Just as in almost any other field, mobile saves time and money, and it collects plenty of data.
In recent years, mHealth tools have been getting more and more advanced. They’ve developed together with and mostly due to improved mobile communication (hello, 5G), data analytics, and artificial intelligence. The pandemic has boosted the adoption rate, and now mHealth tools experience the beginning of their own golden age. The global mHealth apps market was valued at $40.05 billion in 2020 and should grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17.7% from 2021 to 2028.
How does pharma use mHealth tools?
Pharma divides its spendings into two main categories: Research and Development (R & D) and marketing. mHealth tools help with both of these categories, making both R&D and marketing more effective, less costly, and generally better.
Research and development
There are multiple ways in which mobile health can improve the lengthy, costly, and vital processes of drug research and development.
1.Recruitment for clinical trials
In the US, clinical trials account for nearly 40% of the pharma research budget and total around $7B per year. The estimated cost of patient recruitment is 40% of the total budget, or $1.89B. Mobile health applications provide different channels for communication and increase visibility for pharma companies. With the help of apps such as Clinical Trial Seek, My Clinical Study Buddy, and Study Scavenger, as well as social media, pharma companies can now disclose clinical trials, recruit participants easier, faster and more precisely, and recruit worldwide.
2. More data for better precision
mHealth tools provide a constant flow of information. They share information that can be useful for identifying symptoms, side effects, adverse reactions and possible outcomes. Thanks to mHealth tools, researchers receive much more data than they used to, and they also receive it much faster. For example, mSafety mobile health platform collects data from the user and displays it to her, while sending real time updates to researchers. Using this platform, researchers could contact the patients and gather even more insights whenever required. This obviously makes clinical trials more accurate and comprehensive, and it also makes them shorter.
3. Patient-centric approach
Mobile health allowed the healthcare industry to make a shift that’s often described as a shift from a manufacturing-centered business model to a patient-centric model. Before mHealth, researchers would receive data that’s averaged out, generalized, and says little about every specific patient. By having constant access and interaction with the patient, companies can use patient-specific information, get insight into patient-specific diagnosis and treatment, and ensure every patient’s needs are met.
4. Increased participant’s adherence to medication
Health apps, wearables, and digital platforms ensure patient’s medication adherence during clinical trials. Researchers can monitor a patient’s compliance to medication, while the app sends reminders and uses gamification to nudge the user. For example, Moodfit, a mobile mental health app, has medication log and medication reminder among its features. Not only does the app remind the user to take the meds, it also sends the log to the therapist or the researcher.
Selling drugs (pun not intended) is harder than one might expect given the pharma’s reputation. Pharma companies face many challenges when it comes to marketing their products. It usually takes a new drug 10 to 12 years from discovery to market, costing between $1.5 billion and $2.5 billion for the company. As a result, pharma companies have only 8-10 years on the patent to profit from their drugs. Besides, neither doctors nor patients are especially loyal to any drugs or brands.
To raise awareness of new drugs or treatment plans, pharma companies have to market to either health professionals or consumers. Mostly, marketing efforts are directed towards physicians. But as you can imagine, doctors are very hard to find. They are busy, and they don’t waste the little free time they have on listening to a sales rep, no matter how convincing she might be. They spend less time scrolling through social media feeds, making social media marketing more or less irrelevant. They aren’t likely to google new drugs, making SEO and search advertising also irrelevant. Neither do they watch TV or use plenty of apps. By now, you should see how hard it is for the pharma companies to reach their most beloved target audience.
It would be wrong to say that mobile applications have transformed this situation completely. However, they have made pharma marketing easier and more promising. Mobile has helped pharma reps digitize their portfolios. For example, InfoCepts developed a Pharma Enablement App that is used to integrate patient information, analytics and sales from multiple systems all in one place. In another example, e-detailing digitizes sales content and shows it on a mobile device, which makes it easier to market to doctors and ensures presentations are trackable.
Besides, patients can now easily discover whatever they need to know about the treatment from a trusted source. They can access medica data, get online customer service, as well as compare prices, quality, packaging, etc. across different pharma brands.
What are the challenges of mHealth adoption?
We’ve mentioned in the introduction how people aren’t opposed to mobile health tools and how the rate of adoption is growing year by year. However, some vital challenges still exist.
1.Data safety and privacy
As per usual, digitization of any kinds of services raises concerns about data safety and privacy. This might be even more problematic in the healthcare industry, since the data shared through mHealth tools is sensitive to the highest extent. The solution usually lies within anonymising the data ― you can look up Elinext’s case study to see how healthcare data anonymization is done.
Pharma and everything around it are heavily regulated, but despite the rapid growth of the number of mHealth tools, there are still no proper regulations that they could follow. At the moment, there is no understanding as to who and when and on what conditions can use the tools.
3. Lack of trust
Pharma companies are often not trusted. This means many consumers won’t be willing to engage with pharma companies by using digital tools that collect data constantly. In fact, only 32% of patient groups surveyed in a Deloitte report trusted pharma apps.
4. Lack of digital skills
For pharma companies to benefit from mHealth apps, people of all age, gender, SES status, etc. should be able to use the apps. Otherwise, results would be biased towards groups of people who do use the apps. Yet, 76% of industry experts identified lack of digital talent as the main challenge for the adoption of mHealth tools.
What does the future of pharma behold?
Digitization of pharma and its movement to mobile is happening right now. What we see is just the beginning. What is likely to happen is a full digital healthcare ecosystem that connects pharma companies, doctors, and patients. This will result in better communication between all parties and better understanding of the needs, wishes and pain points everyone faces. Medication will become better, more patient-centered, and more focused on disease prevention. This will also result in a faster and more common FDA and other types of approval due to more data available on treatment, side effects, and long term effects of every proposed medication. In truth, we can’t wait for pharma and the rest of healthcare to become even more mobile, as it’s this niche precisely that makes everyone’s lives longer and better.