Digital health is one of the fastest-growing sectors in healthcare and is poised to create tremendous market and societal value.
This nascent industry reportedly has received $16 billion in venture capital funding over the last four years and boasts more than eight unicorns with a combined value exceeding $15 billion. Some researchers forecast that there will be several new markets each worth more than $100 million in revenue by 2020. The opportunity is real and compelling.
Outside of digital health startups, life sciences companies also are actively exploring and participating in digital health at varying levels of investment, leadership commitment, and strategic purpose. However, noteworthy commercial success in the industry has been limited. As a former business development and innovation executive at a large pharmaceutical company recently told us, “There are very few public examples that we can point to and say, ‘That actually delivered value.’ ”
Life sciences companies face a variety of hurdles with their digital health efforts, and many are dealing with real-world execution challenges. We recently interviewed life sciences executives about what it takes to succeed in digital health. Here are three common issues and focus areas.
Optimize your digital health operating model
Most life sciences companies have made investments in their digital operating models, adding or enhancing the capabilities, processes, and governance required to develop and commercialize connected hardware and software-based products and services. According to ZS research, 21 out of the 25 top pharmaceutical companies have established a dedicated digital health team. However, most life sciences companies have yet to fully realize the potential of these dedicated units. The vice president of a digital health business unit at a large pharma company told us that “pharma needs to outline effective work practices because the speed of tech vs. drug development is very different.” These impact organizational structure, roles, and responsibilities, process, governance and metrics.
In a fast-changing technology landscape, digital health units should learn how to lead brands to the leading edge while also understanding each brand’s action plan. At one large life sciences company, the digital health solution unit was perceived to be the “digital ivory tower” because it was better at listening to the corporate vision than to specific brands’ needs. Successful digital health units have effective planning processes for cross-brand alignment, ensuring that the company invests in core solutions that have common use cases across brands, such as adherence and lifestyle coaching solutions, peer-to-peer networks, and analytics and visualization tools.
Leading digital health teams provide resource leverage to brand teams. One large life sciences company took more than two years to launch a relatively simple provider technology integration because the technology wasn’t ready when it was transferred to the brand, and the brand lead had insufficient bandwidth and expertise to productize the digital solution. Centralized digital units should define clear job descriptions and roles to ensure that brand teams understand their own responsibilities and effort needed to commercialize a solution developed by the innovation team.
Understand that there’s no silver bullet for improving patient engagement
As with treatments and therapies, the efficacy of a digital health solution is dependent on how well the patient engages with the product, and life sciences companies entering the digital health space need to make a lot of headway on this front. One CEO of a digital health solution noted that it isn’t uncommon to expect a digital health app to garner 50 percent adherence, which isn’t that much better than chronic disease drug adherence.
Most life sciences companies historically haven’t invested in digital product management, but that’s starting to change. Leading companies are beginning to establish dedicated teams of digital product managers focused on product lifecycle management, bringing Silicon-Valley-type expertise in-house to focus on boosting user engagement. These product teams own content, user interface design, app promotion, and placement. They explore novel partnerships to drive member usage, as well as emerging technologies that leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to generate user awareness and optimize real-time engagement dynamically. “Digital product success is all about micro experiments to drive engagement,” said a digital health leader of a successful app.
Don’t just pilot. Plan for rollout.
While the majority of life sciences firms’ digital health apps and solutions thus far have been offered directly to patients, some joint solutions have been piloted by payers and providers first to prove efficacy before driving large-scale adoption. And before starting a pilot, payers and providers want digital solutions to be fully baked, rather than life sciences firms using payers and providers as guinea pigs to test a solution that’s not yet complete.
Life sciences companies should select the right strategic partner in the right location where local healthcare dynamics between payer and provider can enable a successful pilot, and they need to align incentives and motivations. The partner also should provide access to influential key opinion leaders, a representative patient mix where the ROI timeframe is acceptable, and access to outcomes data to ensure that the study can be designed properly and results can be measured. Finally, partners who can provide certain complementary resources—for example, a nurse call center—can augment the life sciences company’s role in the pilot and help create a true partnership.
Leading companies don’t stop at defining pilot endpoints. They secure commitments from the partner regarding rollout needs. Such relationships prepare the company with the right business and go-to-market model, and the service expertise (HIT integration, partner management) needed to launch at scale. For example, a leading medical device company spent two years working to demonstrate success with its value-based payment pilot with a national payer. During this time, the company created key commercial and service functions that prepared the company not only to scale up the pilot but also to expand and repeat successes with other payers.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, and life sciences companies face many more challenges, such as handling compliance and regulatory management, designing the right go-to-market model to promote the digital health solution, and developing the data access and ownership strategy.
However, our belief is that, fundamentally, life sciences companies that focus on getting the execution details right will gain momentum and secure leadership support for their digital health venture. And as the digital health industry matures, companies that not only determine where to play but also get really good at how to play will be best positioned to capitalize on the burgeoning opportunities in this space.
Photo: : a-image, Getty Images
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