Digital: the great health leveller?

7th April 2017

Whatever an individual’s age or background, and wherever they live, their health is very personal, intimate and emotional. It needs to be treated with respect and handled in a dignified way.

If we bring digital into that space, we need tools that are of the highest quality, using systems and technologies that we are familiar with and use often.

When we work with our health clients, they get digital as part of the channel mix. Not for the sake of it, but because it’s necessary, whatever demographic they are trying to reach.

To engage Millennials (born 1980-2000) you have to be digital first, particularly with the younger cohort known to us as Generation K, aged 14-21. Generation X (born 1965-1981) lurk online and influence others, so you need to be where they are, and Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) are getting extremely comfortable with digital.

Since a large proportion of patients engage with the world around them on a device, it makes sense to strive for seamless, patient-first systems.

The notion of patient-centricity has also been around for a very long time; digital offers a chance to make it a reality, and to level the playing field across therapy areas, geographies and demographics.

At the annual Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon late last year, at least seven speakers (of the ones I saw) talked about how technology and digital services are disrupting or will disrupt various industries and sectors. In every case, health was cited as one of the major sectors ripe for re-imagining.

Here are my top four points relating to digital health in 2017:

Health is high on government agendas

Whether their healthcare model is public, private or a mix of both, governments across the world are striving for more efficient, cost effective systems and are looking to technology and digital innovation to help them achieve their goals.

The drugs work

Drugs are better than ever before and doctors have more options. In a recent U.S. study, clinicians stated that drugs with beyond-the-pill services such as digital interventions, tracking and real-world data capture could be prioritised as they improve health outcomes, alleviate burden and are differentiated from competitor treatments.

Patients are more connected

Digital means that patients are less limited by their geography or socio-economic status and can prioritise their health. It allows for communication with other patients globally (so changing expectations of treatment) and access to information they never had before.

We love digital

Devices are now in people’s homes, hands and hearts. When we couple our feelings about digital, environmental factors and health priorities with affordable, effective health services and products, we can reshape how we take care of ourselves and others. Pharmaceutical companies have a huge opportunity to be central to the digital health revolution.

For instance, with support from digital and mobile experts, our pharma clients can provide beyond-the-pill digital solutions to help health systems diagnose faster and track individual patient symptoms, treatment concordance, progression and outcomes more efficiently, as well as facilitating more effective interactions between patients and healthcare professionals.

Ultimately, digital ecosystems can help manage treatment outcomes better and reduce the burden of in-person appointments and bed space on health systems. We’re also working with pharma companies to enhance their use of digital channels and create content that helps them advocate more effectively with patients and healthcare professionals.

Digital has the potential to be the great leveller in global health. It won’t be easy to update entire infrastructures to integrate digital, but I believe it’s essential if we are to provide health service access to all and manage costs effectively in an age where chronic diseases are prevalent and we need to support ageing populations.