As technology brings all the Life Science players together, leadership recruiting shifts to 'big picture' people

Angela Westdorf, Partner Signium Germany, discusses digital healthcare and its implications for the industry and future leaders.

A friend of mine who works in Google rather halted me in my tracks not so long ago when he solemnly intoned that ‘The pace of growth that we have experienced up to now is the slowest it will be for the remainder of our lifetimes’.

Now this may be blindingly obvious, but it is nevertheless an arresting thought.

If this is true of our lives generally, it is particularly true of Healthcare. So buckle up. The pace of change is about to pick up dramatically.

Healthcare players coming together in joint initiatives

For the first time, we are seeing the payer, the pharma company, the patient, the medical professional and the device maker come together as never before. The vision is better patient outcomes at lower cost to the payer and patient.

Insurance companies are working in partnership with pharma companies in new ways. Let me give you an example - a programme being run by a client company of mine. Patients receive a phone call from a nurse every day to see how they are, to remind them to take their medicine and how many of which pills to take. The patients have a box at home and press buttons on it when they receive the call, so that the data is collected. Why is this being done? To ensure that the medication plan is correctly adhered to for the patient’s benefit - and, it should be pointed out, the pharma company’s - but also so that if there is a departure from the norm in terms of the patient’s condition it is picked up early. Early intervention leads to reduced costs for the payer.

That’s all well and good, but with the advent of wearables and nearables, we no longer need to have nurses make a phone call – the patient gets their reminder via their mobile phone and all the information is collected via an app. The whole enterprise therefore becomes scalable.

The data on the patient’s health is collected with relative ease and the doctor, pharma company and payer are better placed for early intervention and lower costs. With the personalised data, the doctor and pharma company are able to tailor the drug and dosage to the particular patient, leading to better outcomes.  

The key is that people don’t really consider wearables to be ‘an illness thing’ but ‘a health thing’. They are perceived as fun and help the wearer to be more conscious and educated about their health.

Pharma and IT companies coming together in joint initiatives

We are seeing more and more examples of pharma companies working closely with IT companies.

A major development has been the formation of Watson Health Cloud, a joint initiative between Apple, Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic and IBM in order to archive medical data of patients and make them accessible to doctors, patients, insurances, etc. This programme has the potential to address one of the ongoing issues faced by the new paradigm - access to patient records, which have always been difficult to transmit due to privacy and data protection concerns.

While the Smartphone has made Apple one of the biggest healthcare companies in the world, Google has partnered with Novartis to develop two different kinds of ‘Smart Lens’ – one which is an autofocusing lens for far-sighted people; the other which monitors blood glucose levels in tears for diabetics (see also mySugr below).

Meanwhile, Roche is investing $1 billion in a collaboration with a NASDAQ listed company, Foundation Medicine, to take advantage of their industry-leading position in molecular information and genomic analysis with a view to improved personalised treatments for cancer patients.

More sophisticated apps and sensors will lead to doctor/patient partnership

Soon we will be beyond apps and into sensors for wider and better data. Tee shirts and sweat pants will give way to a thin film that can be changed with your jewellery. As the devices become more sophisticated, we will see better data coming back on blood pressure, food and diet as well as activity levels.

A software application can be the ideal therapy companion. For instance, an Austrian firm has created an app called mySugr, which monitors diabetics. The app scans and imports data from blood glucose meters, enabling patients to monitor their blood sugar levels conveniently. This is potentially a significant breakthrough as, historically, diabetics discover treatment errors too late, often when renal and blood vessels have broken down.

The result is that the patient and doctor become partners in ‘always on’ medicine. The doctor is demystified somewhat, no longer the ‘God in white’ – austere and removed. In these circumstances, patients are more willing to give up information.

Pharma companies going beyond the pill

Traditional pharma companies are effectively turning into health service companies because it needs more than just drugs to cure patients. It needs intertwined services. This is why Biogen has introduced the fitness tracker “Titbit” to measure activity and sleep of MS patients. They have moved beyond just selling MS drugs to giving more broad assistance to the patient to manage their condition.

There are pharma companies in the fertility market who are looking at investing in devices, incubators and fertility centres – a total solution that goes well beyond creating the best performing drug. This is the type of integrated approach that requires more than data analysts, health economists and compliance specialists working in silos.

Implications for Leaders  

These major shifts in the heathcare sector will bring significant changes to doctors, clinics, pharma companies and payers. Digital healthcare is forecast to be a $223billion business by 2020, so there is a big pie to be won.

Senior Management in Market Access needs to understand all that is going on in a hugely complex and fast moving space. There is an increasing need to engage with payers early, to be innovative and to look at different payment models. In many respects, the challenge to the life science and market access industry is to catch up. To do that, companies need to hire ‘big picture’ people with a digital mindset at senior management level.

Article Authors