Digital technology is changing the way we consume products, the way we use data… in fact, almost every strand of lifestyle is being enhanced by digital.
For the healthcare and life sciences industry, it has come just in time, as the increasing burden of chronic disease among ever-ageing global populations threatens to overwhelm already overstretched systems and services.
Digital has the capacity to deliver efficiencies and cost savings that will make healthcare viable again. Not only that, it offers the prospect of a transformation in the way pharmaceutical companies research, produce and market their products, and how patients receive many of them.
The term to conjure with is ‘mHealth’. Mobile health is not only coming to the rescue of healthcare in the developed world, it has the power to transform healthcare across the developing world, leading to increased longevity, still bigger urban populations and increased opportunity for investment.
As the number of mobile tariff subscribers rises, (in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, subscriber penetration has been predicted to reach 42.2% by 2020) the accessibility of apps such as Med Africa, which gives users in Kenya access to health information, will increase the level of patient education and improve disease outcomes.
mHealth is behind reductions in child mortality rates in the developing world. In 2000, out of every 1,000 live births, 90 children died before the age of five. Now the average is 46. The United Nations (UN) says 17,000 fewer children are dying every day. Childcare charity UNICEF calls this “one of the most significant achievements in human history”.
One of the biggest success stories is in Rwanda. Between 2000 and 2015, Rwanda achieved the world’s highest average annual reduction in both the under-five mortality rate and the maternal mortality ratio.
The UN estimates that 590,000 children have been saved in Rwanda from the four top killers – malaria, diarrhoea, pneumonia and malnutrition: diseases which can be treated by simple intervention.
Community health workers at each village (with the one job requirement that they had to be able to read and write) were trained in simple intervention skills, not given a regular salary, but paid for what they achieved, such as the number of vaccinations they gave to children.
A mobile technology company working with the government introduced ‘RapidSMS’, enabling the 45,000 community health workers to have rapid communication with healthcare professionals further up the healthcare chain through a simple picture message format on a cell phone.
The child or mother is registered in the system. The community health worker keys in codes to register symptoms.
If any immediate feedback is required, messages are relayed back to the community health worker, enabling him or her to accompany the patient to a clinic for treatment, avoiding delay which in the past was often a cause of death.
But digital is also revolutionising healthcare provision in developed markets, as basics such as appointment bookings go online, and people take more control of their own health through fitness and nutrition apps.
mHealth has the potential to change almost every aspect of the ‘patient journey’, improving both the efficiency of healthcare provision and outcomes for those who receive it.
Digital is already fulfilling elements of diagnosis. For example, one app turns a smartphone into a lab test reader for conditions such as kidney disease and diabetes.
Digital has also had a role to play in communicating with patients about their diagnosis and ensuring that all professionals involved are fully informed.
Digital makes it easier for people to be paid promptly: the InstaMed Go app collects payments at each stage of treatment and helps patients understand the financial implications of alternative approaches to treatment.
mHealth has probably made the biggest impact so far on healthcare maintenance – tools and technologies, such as app-based reminders designed to ensure patients take their medication as prescribed – reducing waste, improving patient outcomes and collecting data.
Developers are using video gameplay technology to create interactive tools that enable pharmaceutical companies to engage and interact with patients.
Better data leads to better choices by professionals. Pharmaceutical companies use apps to educate physicians about their drugs and build greater brand loyalty, and QR codes to track inventory along the supply chain.
A patient with diabetes, for example, can upload their blood glucose reading automatically from their monitoring device to their phone and share it with their physician, using apps which help with disease management and diet. Patients can connect with fellow patients via digital tools and monitor early warning signs of complications such as diabetic foot-ulcers via home-based diagnostic systems.
Digital allows the collection and real-time analysis of vast volumes of data about the performance and potential side-effects
of specific drugs, which could not only help fulfil regulatory requirements in areas like pharmacovigilance, but enable pharmaceutical companies to prove the real value of the products they sell, and thereby support more evidence-based pricing models.
Talking to doctors via video chat is the future. A new partnership in the US between an insurance provider and three leading telemedicine companies will make virtual doctors’ visits a reality for many Americans.
Video ‘visits’ will make quality healthcare more accessible to people in rural areas, says the partnership – or, simply, they will become more convenient for everyone.
In readiness, doctors are being encouraged to create a suitable backdrop for video appointments, perhaps by hanging diplomas on the wall within the frame. They are also being offered training on appropriate ‘webside manners’ involving eye contact and attentive listening.
Other suppliers are advocating that patients engage via text message through a website and app. Doctors, they say, can resolve 70% of patient queries through text and picture messages. With a typical text ‘appointment’, patients could pay for
15 minutes of a doctor’s valuable (and expensive) time. Patients could get answers to all of their questions in one text exchange.
Importantly, such developments enable the doctor to check in on a patient after a few hours, and again the next day, and again the day after that, if needed.
Realistically, say healthcare commentators, the future will probably involve a mix of face-to-face appointments and video/text ‘visits’.
Innovative start-ups, previously outside the healthcare sector, have been exploiting the potential by finding ways to monetise data and sell it to the pharmaceuticals industry. Some new competitors are not start-ups but big established tech players, such as Google, Apple and Samsung, who have the skills and trusted brands to develop and scale digital health apps quickly.
To take full advantage of the opportunities digital technology offers, pharmaceutical companies are taking a hard look at the industry’s value chain and identifying where to play and, critically, who to collaborate with. They are looking to establish operating models and strategies to maximise the value of the data they collect. Further ahead, pharmaceutical companies could move into another digital wave, making the shift from selling products to selling outcomes – a new and potentially more profitable business model which takes on more of the risk of healthcare provision.
Tools exist already enabling the pharmaceuticals industry to become not just a pill provider but a health and disease manager, and take ownership of the whole patient journey, from beginning to end.
But will they dare?
Services to the life sciences industry
UHY Deutschland AG, Germany, provides extensive services to the life sciences industry such as to Scienion AG, with headquarters in Berlin and operations in Germany and the US, which provides products for ultra-low volume liquid handling systems and devices that detect biological material. “We appreciate the timely, competent and personal attention we receive from this flexible consultancy,” says Horst Müller, the company’s CFO. He adds:
“UHY member firms give us a global presence but at the same time a non-bureaucratic approach tailored to our needs at a very good price-performance ratio.”
Contact: Ulla Peters – email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Trusted advisors in research & development
DR Healthcare, a client of UHY’s Spanish member firm, UHY Fay & Co, researches, develops and licences bio functional products with a focus on chronic pathologies such as migraine, chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome. DR Healthcare has two operating centres in Spain and France. CEO Juanjo Duelo says:
“UHY Fay & Co’s most important role has been helping the company develop its strategy, generating a flow of new ideas, delivering exceptional value with integrity, sharing knowledge and bringing fresh insights. They are our trusted advisors – a team that is positive and transmits its positive energy to us.”
Contact: Bernard Fay – email: email@example.com
Support services for innovative technology
UHY Dawgen, Jamaica, is engaged by the IHS Group, which provides specialised healthcare in the Caribbean and Africa, leveraging technology advances to pioneer innovative solutions. IHS created the first use of telemedicine and remote image management in the Caribbean, enabling patients to access specialists from other countries remotely. The company has also established cardiac centres in Nigeria – one of them in the south/southeast serving 50 million people. IHS chairman Ernest Madu says:
“We were impressed with the ability [of UHY Dawgen] to understand our needs and their willingness with our company to ensure proper corporate structuring, financial and asset management. We appreciate that UHY Dawgen took time to understand our business model and craft an approach that was specifically designed for us.”
Contact: Dawkins Brown – email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dominique Maeremans, business development/marketing manager
Tel: +44 20 7767 2621