When you hear technology in the pharmaceutical industry, what’s your first thought? Probably chemicals, labs and large machines.
That’s no longer the case. Some time back, Amazon and two other companies started off a healthcare startup Haven. Technology is strongly helping the pharma industry. Read more about the 5 ways the pharmaceutical industry is using technology:
1. Helping patients build therapy adherence
Have you ever had to undergo physiotherapy? Till the time you go to the physiotherapy center, you continue doing the prescribed exercises. The moment the schedule at the physiotherapy center ends, you probably stop exercising by yourself.
That’s because a number of reasons, but here are the two main ones. One, there’s no third-person watching you anymore. And two, there’s no longer any accountability – if you don’t continue the exercise or therapy yourself, no one will ask you.
The pharmaceutical industry can design gamified platforms that will ensure adherence to therapy, as Samina Vaziralli recently mentioned in an interview with Mint.
This is how the platform can likely work. First, it has the therapy details mapped out for you. Next, it records how faithfully you’ve carried out the therapy on each day. Based on that, it predicts your fitness level in the future.
Next, the platform can show you what you’re missing out by skipping therapy. Further, it can create a leaderboard of everyone connected (anonymously) to the platform and show you where you stand. Being ranked publicly can be a great motivator.
2. Providing guidance in emergencies and odd hours
It’s 2:30 am in the morning and suddenly your four-month old begins crying uncontrollably. It has not soiled the diaper, it was fed at the right time, it’s not running a fever… what could possibly be wrong?
As a young mother – especially if you’re a first-time mother – your lack of experience in handling such emergencies can raise your anxiety levels.
Someone with a great deal of experience can be very helpful at such times, right?
Think of a platform, a digital solution that provides you with some immediate counseling and guidance. Remember, the digital solution isn’t a substitute for a doctor – at least, not yet – but think of it as a stand-in. The platform could quickly walk you through the symptoms and do one of the two things:
a. It shows you some of the possible causes of your baby’s discomfort. Maybe it’s a temporary colic, maybe she has a rash, maybe… The next stage could be how to deal with that, assuming that it’s a small matter that doesn’t need any medical attention
b. It understands your baby needs medical attention. In that situation, it will show you the available doctors and hospitals – probably it’s integrated with a cab service too, if you need one. The platform can also help you fix up an emergency appoint and alert the hospital or the doctor in charge, so that by the time you reach there, some primary arrangements have already been made.
3. Building communities and engaging better
Sometimes pharmaceutical companies don’t need to build products, design tools or invent new drugs to help patients. They can provide support and assistance by building online communities.
Sanofi, the US pharma company, has built a Facebook page that’s entirely dedicated to people suffering from diabetes.
So what does the page do?
A lot actually. To begin with, the page promotes awareness of diabetes (often called the silent killer). It shares tips and advice on preventing, managing and fighting the disease. It shares diet plans that are low on sugar and high on protein and nutrients.
Because people also share their experiences of keeping major risks at bay using a wide variety of combinations that may include exercise, proper diet, medications, and other stuff, the online community remains thriving.
4. Involving patients in product design and research
Medical science is not only about drugs and injections. It is about restoring the health and well-being of people. And that includes helping people return to their normal lives as soon as possible after they’ve met an accident.
Consider a special prosthetic limb being designed by a pharma company for an amputee. How would the company know the beneficiary found the perfect solution?
And the best way would be to collect feedback and that’s what Artificial Limb Centre, Pune (India) did. They conducted a patient satisfaction survey for all 200 patients who were provided prosthetics in the hospital.
The results were surprising. One would imagine the maximum dissatisfaction would be expressed over factors like comfort in wearing or problems in putting steps.
It turned out that a little over half (52%) expressed dissatisfaction over “Perspiration while wearing” as the single biggest factor in wearing prosthetics!
Such feedback and understanding goes a long way in product design because they democratize healthcare and caregiving.
5. Putting data analytics to use
Of the 7 billion plus humans on the planet right now, almost all of them have fallen ill sometime or the other. They have battled the entire range of diseases ever known to humankind – from the common cold and headache to cancer and AIDS. China is showing the way by using a lot of data to build its massive social credit system powered by AI.
In the process of their falling ill and treatment, countless pieces of information (read data) were collected. However, only a small percentage of that may have been diligently recorded and an even small proportion is put to use for research.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our highly advanced computers, capable of crunching numbers like no human can dream of, could make sense out of it all? Wouldn’t it be great if AI, machine learning, and big data in the pharmaceutical industry could become more widespread?
Zeynep Erden, a Professor of Strategy and Innovation Management at a B-school in Zurich, Switzerland, says, “Thanks to sophisticated analysis techniques firms will be able to improve their understanding of disease pathways, to plan clinical trials more efficiently and to take timely decisions to stop projects with little chance of success.”
Pharma companies are beginning to turn digital in the sense of engaging better with everyone involved in the healthcare sector – from suppliers and patients to doctors and caregivers. Feeding that learning back into their system gives them an opportunity to not only serve the healthcare sector better but also to stay ahead of competition.
The pharmaceutical industry hasn’t been late in adopting technology, but the pace isn’t what it is in other industries. The use of technology in the pharmaceutical industry throws up as many challenges as opportunities.
On the one hand, the pharma industry is building systems to help patients adhere to therapy schedules, provide emergency help, build communities, involve patients in product design and put machine learning to use.
On the other hand, the industry is under pressure for better standards, better quality checks and better accountability from industry watchdogs and alert patients alike.
In the middle of all this, optimal use of advanced technology in the pharma sector appears to be their best bet.