Can Smart Digital Analytics Help Pharma Go Beyond the Pill?

by: Mike Wiebe


Physicians are calling it a game-changer. For the first time in over a decade, patients will have access to a new heart failure medication that’s been proven to greatly reduce the risk of hospitalization and death. But, there’s a catch. Novartis, the manufacturer of the new pill Entresto, is charging approximately $12.50 per day ($4,500 per year) for its breakthrough medication.

Entresto’s cost could pose a problem. Since the Affordable Care Act was passed five years ago, hospitals, governments, physicians and others have been shifting to value rather than volume-based care. This means there is less willingness to pay for expensive medications and other treatments with little real-world evidence they can keep people well.

Pharma has generally relied on a proven playbook to drive sales of new medications: demonstrate they perform well in clinical trials and then use this data to convince HCPs to prescribe them and insurance firms to pay for them. In the new cost and value-conscious environment, however, that strategy could be less effective. Novartis has been preparing for this new world.

A few years ago, Novartis decided to focus its efforts on an emerging pharmaceutical industry trend called “beyond the pill.” Joe Jimenez, Novartis’ CEO, describes this as “creating value by embedding products into a holistic offering with the goal to improve patient outcomes and provide tangible competitive advantages.”

The image below illustrates the many ways in which pharmaceutical companies are beginning to engage in beyond-the-pill activities — i.e., surrounding prescription medicines with a range of data-driven services and enabling technologies.

Beyond The Pill Diagram

In the context of Entresto, Novartis’ beyond-the-pill strategy includes working with digital health companies to remotely monitor heart failure patients taking the medication. If Novartis can demonstrate that Entresto keeps people well, governments, insurance companies, and others may be more willing to pay for the drug.

Other firms are also engaging in beyond-the-pill efforts. To collect data and better understand treatment outcomes, Biogen partnered with PatientsLikeMe to distribute Fitbit wearables to 250 multiple sclerosis patients. They hope the data will help them create improved treatment protocols and demonstrate the value of their pricey medications to payers.

As pharma accelerates its beyond the pill efforts, it will have to become proficient at collecting and acting on a wide range of clinical, patient and behavioral data. In fact, over time, this data will become increasingly valuable. According to a 2014 Ernst and Young report, “57% of payers surveyed strongly felt pharma companies have data vital to measuring and improving outcomes.”

To help fill the data collection and analysis skills gap, Novartis, Biogen and other firms are turning to a range of external partners. But, pharmaceutical companies should not forget about another source of expertise: digital marketers. As discussed below, marketers can provide much-needed, data-fueled insights that can help boost the relevance of patient educational content, improve the design and effectiveness of value-added services, and much more.

How Digital Marketers Can Help Pharma Optimize Its Beyond the Pill Efforts

In order to successfully deliver beyond-the-pill products and services pharma will have to answer a range of critical questions, including:

  • How are products and services bundled with medications actually being used?
  • Which solutions do physicians and patients view as most beneficial?
  • Are these tools having a positive influence on physician and patient behavior in diagnosis, prescribing, patient management, adherence and other areas?

Digital marketers with proven experience in the area of data analytics are well positioned to help pharmaceutical companies answer these questions. However, not just any digital marketer will be able to meet the unique and rigorous data requirements associated with beyond-the-pill efforts. Pharmaceutical companies should rely on marketers with the ability to architect and deliver a smart data analytics strategy with the following components:

  • Key performance indicators and metrics that aid rather than impede analysis and decision-making:In order to prove that value-added services are beneficial, it is critical that pharmaceutical companies honestly assess whether they are truly effective. This will involve working with internal stakeholders, end-users, and others to understand what they view as success and developing metrics that help to illustrate whether solutions are having a positive impact. This will prevent “analysis paralysis,” and optimize the use and allocation of scarce time, money, and resources.
  • An integrated and robust data infrastructure: Pharmaceutical companies will integrate a range of tools such as wearables, web sites, mobile applications and telemedicine into their beyond the pill efforts. All of these assets will generate data that must be integrated, cleaned and mined in order to understand how they are being used and if they are effective. It will be important to think carefully about how data from Web Analytics, CRM systems, call centers and other sources will be tagged, collected, stored (often in custom-built data repositories) and protected.
  • Data analysis techniques and tools that shed light on the dynamic patient and physician experience: Developing a nuanced and accurate understanding of customers requires the careful alignment of data from multiple sources such as the Web, clinical trials, customer support, and mobile applications. Doing so will help pharma answer important questions such as how digital content helped to shape prescribing and treatment patterns, as well as affect short- and long-term health outcomes.
  • Streamlined data distribution, review and interpretation: People need the right data at the right time to make insight-fueled decisions. A smart data analytics strategy will include a range of important communications and intuitive data-visualization features. First, it is critical to develop a shared understanding of the types of metrics, terms and topics that will help guide discussion about what the data means and how to act on it. Second, the strategy should result in high-value reports and dashboards that all stakeholders receive via email and other channels on a regular basis. Finally, the strategy should call for teams across the company to convene regularly and share insights, success and failures revealed by the data.

Beyond the Pill: A High stakes, High reward Strategy That Will Require a Data-First Approach

Powerful and skeptical buyers and prescribers are demanding that pharmaceutical companies prove their worth in ways that are both challenging and potentially highly rewarding. Pharma will need to collect, develop insights about, and act on data that will help demonstrate medicines actually improve health outcomes — regardless of their cost. In addition, they must learn how to use data to assess how providers and consumers are using value-added services, and whether they are shaping behaviors in ways that support overall health.

Pharma should be ready and willing to rely on digital marketers with proven data analytics and implementation expertise, and who can help them optimize the development of beyond-the-pill products and services. Doing so will boost the odds these efforts will improve health, well-being and profitability in the short- and long-term.

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