The Future of Pharma and Social Media is Beyond the Pill

lwarburt    November 16, 2015

Title of Post: The Future of Pharma and Social Media is Beyond the Pill

Industry: Pharmaceuticals

Name of Contact: Ray Chepesiuk CEO Pharmaceutical Advertising Advisory Board

Web references: Health Works Collective , Eye for Pharma, FiercePharma, Drug Store News, Healthcare Informatics, iMedicalApps, Wall Street Journal , Proteus Digital Health,  PubMed Central, Medical Marketing and Media, Wikipedia, Dictionary Reference.comFree Dictionary , CDC, IBM Research, FDA, Executive Insights via Slide Share, YouTube,

Traditionally, pharmaceutical industry companies have been the researcher, developer and manufacturer of medicines. The marriage of unprecedented amounts of scientific health data and innovative technology is propelling pharma into an expanded new role “Beyond the Pill“.  The implications and possibilities for healthcare improvement is seemingly endless due to these two factors. Digitally enhanced therapeutics is the future of pharma.

Imagine a world where a small implant can measure a diabetic’s blood metrics and adjust his insulin supply to compensate. Or where a smartwatch can alert a man in his 50s about an impending heart attack. 


The potential impact of pharma in our digital era is undeniable. The real question is when pharma will step up this major shift in their business culture by  moving away from the “selling ” of a pill to a wider more “holistic” approach of providing comprehensive “health care” beyond the pill.


Ray Chepesiuk, CEO of the Pharmaceutical Advertising Advisory Board (PAAB) comments during  a Skype video interview I conducted with him that “the future of pharma and social media has so much potential, pharma needs to listen and find the right channel for it’s information”

For the purpose of this blog I will focus on the mainly on the future of pharma and  mobile health, (mHealth). It is important to state that mHealth is truly just the platform for delivering healthcare, it is not the end all or be all in itself, it has to be part of a larger strategy in order for it to be useful and provide better “patient outcomes“.

Global revenue from mHealth, which according to FiercePharma totalled approximately $104 million in 2010, has been predicted to reach the $25-30 billion range by 2017. Mobile health is advancing quickly and pharma has an opportunity to deliver outstanding tools to both gain from and provide to consumers.

Fierce Pharma: Healthcare Companies Capitalize on the New Mobile Health Climate article states that by 2014, top pharmaceutical companies were offering an average of 65 apps each, over 700 in total in the Apple and Google Play app stores. However, only a handful of these pharmaceutical companies had successfully created a consistent mHealth tool to date. This may be partially due to regulatory, security and privacy challenges, but more importantly perhaps due to the mind set shift required by pharma “marketers” to think beyond the pill and creatively provide added value to enhance patient outcomes.

It is also important to point out that unprecedented amounts of scientific health data and fast growing innovative technology has created a shift from the physician being the central customer to being “patient centric” for the pharma industry. The industry itself has identified this as reported by an Eye for Pharma .

patient most important customerpatient most important customerSo what is the future pharma? Can pharma create innovative patient centric tools which are intuitive for the patients and healthcare providers? There are already so many fragmented health care apps currently available.  Approximately 20% of Americans are taking  3 or more different prescription drugs, and 10% taking 5 or more, according to the CDC.  The idea that patients would be compliant in downloading and using 5 separate apps for each of their prescriptions is unrealistic. The future of successful mHealth by pharma will require not just utilizing advancing technology but also creative collaboration with other healthcare companies.

Four innovative examples of the future of pharma are reviewed below:  a digital value add for a single drug,  disease state management with data sharing, the use of a mobile app in clinical studies and “big data” sharing projects powered by advanced technologies.

  1. Novartis-Announces-A-Joint-Investment-Company-With-291018296004854.pngThe Wall Street Journal reported mid-2015 that Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez suggested his company is investigating the value add of digital remote monitoring tools designed to reduce hospitalizations to the heart failure drug Entresto. entresDigital health tools paired with specific drugs is an exciting opportunity for pharma to bring the efficacy seen in a clinical trial to real-world effectiveness. Medication tracking device company Proteus Digital health has been providing digital solutions to savvy pharma companies for the past 5 years. The Proteus platform assists in medication adherence, an outcome traditionally only sitting at 50%.


2. Just this month Johnson & Johnson announced an innovative health app that allows patients to view their blood sugar readings on their iPhone and choose to privately and securely share that data with their health team.

The One Touch VerioSync Meter wirelessly syncs data to the OneTouch Revel Mobile app for access across across multiple devices. Factors such as diet, exercise, insulin and other medications can be managed holistically for the individual and with the important possibility of better patient outcomes.

Health Care Informatics survey found that beyond the health management of a disease, 96 percent of healthcare providers think that health apps will aid in the improvement of  their patients’ quality of life and 72% believed the usage of a health app encourages patients to take ownership of their healthcare decisions, a win-win outcome for both patient and healthcare provider.

3. A study released in December 2014: Pain management in Cancer Patients using a Mobile App: Study Design of a Randomized Controlled Trial Author: Stephen Agboola, MD, MPH, et al, was the first clinical trial of its kind.7BA5701D-AC54-46C3-BE88DBC01EEE1A61

Study authors utilized the cancer pain management app ePal, which coaches patients on taking their medications as scheduled, dealing with side effects and providing education on various related topics including patient concerns of addiction to pain medication with an increasing dose. In this case, an educational message pops up to explain the difference between increased tolerance and addiction.
The study outcomes were favourable including demonstrating that enabling patients to assess pain control on-demand and empowering them for self-management will lead to improvements in pain and quality of life outcomes.

Cloud-computing-health-IT-go-hand-in-hand4. A final example of the future of pharma is through collaboration-like efforts with other medical related projects such as latest IBM-related medical projects, the Watson Health Cloud. The Health Cloud can bring together data from fitness apps, electronic medical records, and clinical research to create a secure “data sharing hub powered by the most advanced cognitive and analytic technologies”. Big-Data-and-Pharma-03Considering the amount of health-related information each of us generates over time, a resource like the Watson Health Cloud has arrived on the scene in good time. IBM Research points out that: “The average person is likely to generate more than one million gigabytes of health-related data in their lifetime. Equivalent to 300 million books.”


The Wall Street Journal just last week in an article titled Doctors Prescribe New Apps to Manage Medical Conditions reported researchers are “conducting clinical trials to test apps that help patients adhere to HIV medications, manage the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease and asthma, and prevent repeat heart problems after a cardiovascular rehabilitation program. In addition to sending messages, reminders and instructions, the apps can alert providers to developing problems before they become a crisis.”

An interesting regulatory update from February 2015, which pharma should find encouraging, is the the FDA Guidance on Mobile Medical Applications which specified that the agency (FDA)” only regulates apps which can be considered medical devices, and affirmed that it will not enforce regulations on apps that could be considered medical devices but that pose little risk to patients, including technologies that receive, transmit, store, or display data from medical devices.”FDA-EnforcementDiscretion







The future of pharma as related to social media was aptly summed up by Greg Cohen, Associate Director Global Strategic Marketing at UCB when he answered an audience member question at an MM&M Leadership Exchange event in Philadelphia. The audience member queried Cohen about the lack of demonstrated ROI when it comes to social media in pharma.  Cohen answered “You’re asking the wrong question, people who want to see dollars and cents come out of an unbranded social media community, won’t see it. I’ll be the first to tell you I can’t prove we drive sales or derive revenue because that’s not the purpose of those communities,” Cohen said. But, “I can drive it back to really deep insights. I can drive it to really cool programs that we’re going to be able to do in the short term as well as some longer term.”

big-data-kentucky-healthcareOur fast growing technology based environment is truly shaping pharma and its role within healthcare. Digitally enhanced therapeutics are the way of the future and are only limited by the originality, creativity and foresight that the industry professionals themselves impose. The sooner pharma recognizes they are a piece of the health ecosystem and not the centre of the health ecosystem, the sooner pharma will get on with the business of  looking to the future with new eyes. Pharma must move away from simply “selling” a pill  and both embrace  and commit to the concept of holistically managing disease states with patient outcomes as the metric of success, in other words “Beyond the Pill”.

Lessons for others:

  1. The future of pharma is dependant on how the industry responds to technological advancements, including ensuring patient centricity is on the forefront.
  2. The future of pharma will allow patients to be more involved in their own personal healthcare.
  3. Collaboration amongst industry experts will be vital in providing efficient user friendly health apps that have meaning, including improved patient outcomes.
  4. Social media and technological advancement is fluid and pharma must remain current, engaged and committed to participating in this field in order to provide services beyond the pill.

Submitted by: LWarburton, Student, Social Media for Business Performance Program. University of Waterloo

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