“Pharmaceutical companies currently spend 25 percent of their marketing budgets on digital technologies, such as websites and social media,” the authors wrote. “Electronic health records (EHRs), social media and mobile applications represent new ways for pharmaceutical companies to conduct market research and to market directly to physicians.”
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Talent spotters from Novartis, charged with bringing new ideas into the organisation, are casting their net beyond biotech into the wider pool of wearable, or even edible, technology.
It's not that the world's biggest drugmaker by sales wants to make the next smart watch. Rather, its researchers are seeking fresh ways to monitor how the company's medicines are working and being taken by patients.
Chief executive Joe Jimenez, above, predicts this will be an integral part of running a big pharmaceutical company in the coming decade, as rising healthcare demand coupled with limited budgets force drugmakers to generate hard data to prove their drugs are delivering results.
The Swiss group has already taken tentative steps, signing a deal with Google in July to develop contact lenses to help diabetics track blood glucose levels or restore the eye's ability to focus.
It also has an agreement with privately held Proteus Digital Health to develop tablets containing embedded microchips that can tell if patients have taken their medication.
Its ambitions, however, stretch a lot further.
"We've done more than most but certainly not enough. You're going to see a continued focus from this company that will be quite technology agnostic," Jimenez said in an interview during a pharmaceutical conference in London.
"It may be niche today but in the future I think it is going to be front and centre as to how diseases are managed."
The interest comes at a time when technology companies are increasingly pushing from the other direction in an effort to find new ways for patients to monitor their own health and track chronic conditions using smart devices.
Businesses such as Apple, Samsung and Google are all trying to find health-related applications for their wearable products.
While drugmakers are certainly not short of demand for their medicines, as populations get older and sicker, finding the money to pay for costly new interventions is another matter.
Clashes between governments and drugmakers over pricing are becoming more common - most notably in cancer and hepatitis C treatment - and the industry acknowledges a need to move to a system of payment based on clinical outcomes, rather than a price per pill.
Jimenez is convinced remote monitoring technology will play a central role in this respect, both to help healthcare systems check if patients are improving and also to protect companies that need to ensure they are not penalised for a drug failing if a patient does not take his or her medicine.
The approach has potential to work well for a company like Novartis, which hopes to launch a new drug for the debilitating condition of heart failure next year.
"If there were a wearable device that could help the patient and their physician understand whether or not to come to the hospitals then that, together with our drug, could be a very potent combination," Jimenez said.
"It doesn't mean we will own the technologies, but it does mean the technologies will play an important role in the management of disease."
As pharmaceutical marketing activities in recent years have shifted away from traditional face-to-face methods towards more digital interactions, physicians may not be aware of the new ways they’re being marketed to, necessitating greater transparency and reporting. A new perspective piece in The New England Journal of Medicine, written by health policy researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics, describes various digital marketing tactics targeting physicians, outlines concerns about their influence over physician decisions, and makes recommendations about how to adapt policies to keep up with the changing nature of pharmaceutical marketing.
“Pharmaceutical companies currently spend 25 percent of their marketing budgets on digital technologies, such as websites and social media,” wrote the authors, including lead author Christopher Manz, MD, and senior author David Grande, MD, MPA, from Penn Medicine. “Electronic health records (EHRs), social media and mobile applications represent new ways for pharmaceutical companies to conduct market research and to market directly to physicians.”
For example, anonymized EHRs provide pharmaceutical companies with clinical and demographic information about patients and insight about the circumstances under which physicians choose specific treatments. Therefore, EHRs can also be used for direct marketing to physicians through banner ads, industry-sponsored clinical resources and other tactics. “Unlike traditional forms of advertising, digital technologies enable tailoring of advertisements to individual physicians on the basis of data from clinical encounters,” according to the authors.
Social media sites that are restricted to physicians are another way for companies to reach out, using stealth marketing tactics ranging from sponsored discussion forums to games. Mobile smartphone applications also allow companies to market to physicians, using data that tracks what kind of clinical information physicians are looking up and then targeting sponsored alerts accordingly.
“Traditional marketing, including visits by sales representatives, gifts to physicians and lectures by opinion leaders, influences treatment decisions even though it mostly occurs outside of patient care settings. Although marketing can lead to reductions in under-treatment of some conditions, it has more often been associated with over-diagnosis, overtreatment and overuse of brand-name medications,” wrote the authors. “Digital advertising creates new pathways for reaching physicians, allowing delivery of marketing messages at the point of care, when clinical decisions are being made. Physicians may also be less aware of when they’re encountering digital marketing than they are with traditional marketing.”
The authors recommend a three-pronged approach to amend current policies “to address the insidious nature of digital marketing tools that are seamlessly integrated into electronic resources used for patient care, but are not as easily recognized as marketing devices.” Their first recommendation is greater transparency from EHRs, social media sites and mobile applications about what personal and prescribing data are collected and how they are used. The second recommendation is for physicians to recognize the issue and exercise the same caution with regard to online interactions as with in-person interactions with sales representatives. And lastly, the authors suggest that professional societies issue guidelines “calling for firewalls to keep marketing out of patent visits, as they did with free pens and other traditional marketing tools.”
“Digital technology is changing the nature of marketing, and policies intended to limit its influence are lagging behind,” the authors conclude. “But the medical profession can enact policies to ensure that patients, not advertising, remain the focus of care.”
Medidata the leading global provider of cloud-based solutions for clinical research in life sciences, today announced the completion of a method development project conducted in partnership with GlaxoSmithKline plc (GSK) to evaluate the impact of unifying mobile health (mHealth) devices with cloud-based technologies in a clinical trial setting.