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The Pulse of the Pharmaceutical Industry

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Written by: | | Dated: Thursday, June 4th, 2015

How ambient technologies will reshape the health care marketplace

By Kim Bishop, VP of client services at Intouch Solutions

Do you remember what consumer technology looked like 10 years ago? Here’s a quick refresher. Apple had just sold 200 million songs through iTunes, and would sell more than 20 million iPods in the following year. Broadband was growing but still had limited reach. Twitter was still a year away, the iPhone two years, the first Fitbit three years. About 8 percent of web-active adults were using social media sites; Facebook had been founded at Harvard the year before but would not be open to the general public until the following year. About $12.5 billion was spent across all industries on online advertising, just a touch more than Pfizer’s total revenue for Lipitor that year; no one was bothering to measure spending on mobile advertising yet. The word “mHealth” was yet to be heard in polite company.

So where might we be 10 years from now? We will see the use of telemedicine (eCare) expand. Doctor/patient conversations will take place more often through mobile and web apps, through video chats and Google hang outs. Conversations may be initiated by the patient, but very likely they will be initiated by the HCP after reviewing real-time data feeds of patient health data.

The broader answer, I believe, is a combination of ambient technologies along with unified data tracking and monitoring capabilities. Healthcare will be interwoven into our lives via the “Internet of Things.” Just as the trends of 10 years ago hinted towards the realities of today, the trends of today are moving in the direction of more ways for people to monitor more health variables through “always there” and inter-connective devices. More and better ways will be available for those people – and their doctors – to monitor and track all the relevant data those devices will produce in useful ways. Today, Apple has just launched a watch with a compelling but limited set of health monitoring applications. Tomorrow a plethora of innovative startups will be launching refrigerators that monitor your food supply; plates that track the carbs, calories, and other nutritional data in your meals; pillows that record the quality of your sleep, and even cars that measure your response time. Today a tech-savvy diabetes patient can track blood glucose with a mobile app; tomorrow, that same patient will have a tiny device embedded in her body to do the same thing, not to mention automatically adjust BG levels as needed. Today, all these sorts of apps and technologies have their own little dashboards for monitoring; tomorrow a single dashboard will monitor, track, and respond intelligently to them all, communicating with patients, caregivers, payers, and the entire health care team as necessary.

This isn’t going to happen overnight, just as the present iteration of mHealth didn’t happen overnight. It will creep into our lives quietly, in tiny steps. But as consumer health technologies progress and integrate with each other, weaving into a transparent web of virtual care, the entire face of health care will be transformed. Both startups and large companies like Apple and Google will play a major role in creating the landscape of consumer health technology in the coming years. It will then be up to consumers to decide what information they are willing to share, and what technology they are comfortable using.

So how will this transformation change the future of health care marketing?

One crucial outgrowth of ambient health technology will be what it does to the health literacy of patients. As health and nutrition-related metrics increasingly become a part of the average consumer’s “normal,” as people grow more cognizant of health in their daily lives, the messaging they will need and expect from health brands will change significantly. These technologies will change the patient’s health vocabulary; a patient who encounters pulse ox every day will be more understanding of discussions about pulse ox than one who encounters it every six months at the doctor’s office.

A second, even more crucial outgrowth is how ambient technologies have the potential to change the entire focus of patient education. Since these technologies will take things like compliance and dosage monitoring out of the patient’s hands, education will have to look far beyond the drug and focus on how technology will monitor and intervene, about the whys of technology’s interventions, about all the components of care that ambients will bring together. Our messaging to both patients and HCPs will become as much about the entire continuum of disease management – technology, data, the health care team – as about the drug. In so doing – in educating about both the specifics of care and the ways health can be monitored and tracked – we have the opportunity to push the patient’s sense of empowerment to a much higher level. And as our patients begin to feel more invested and empowered, as they feel more like full participants in their own care, the potential impact of our brands will grow in tandem.

In the early going the pharmaceutical industry will actively partner with technology providers to offer disease education and disease management expertise, building virtual communities of patients who can share data and support each other. While others may be better suited to take the lead in the ground-level development of ambient health technologies and the data collection mechanisms behind them, we as marketers have too much experience to offer, and too much at stake, to stay on the sidelines.

Most importantly, just as ambient technologies will be touching the patient throughout the day, marketers need to be providing information on demand wherever and whenever required. We will have to know where our patients are, what they need, and when to interact with them, and provide the best medium for an increasingly diverse population on an ongoing basis.

That will be our challenge, and our opportunity.

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