A whole world of opportunity exists for startups to bring new digital ideas into the market. Digital health vendors should be seeking out pharma for expertise and advice and working with providers to get to patient populations and to bring these new ideas forward to us. - Dr. Naomi Fried, Founder and CEO, Health Innovation Strategies
Pharma companies are slower to innovate than hospitals
Innovation centers are prevalent throughout today’s healthcare ecosystem. But when innovation at Pharma companies is compared to innovation at hospitals and large health systems, hospitals cross the finish line first. “When it comes to testing and implementing patient-facing innovations, particularly new digital health tools, I think providers generally move more quickly,” says Fried. “They are closer to the patient, with fewer regulatory barriers to navigate around. So they tend to be more likely to jump in and try things. I’d say when it comes to digital health innovation for patients, hospitals are probably actually a bit ahead of pharma.”
Digital health vendors and pharma should partner
Innovation in the pharmaceutical industry is fueled by both internal development and the external development taking place in digital health startups across the globe. The fastest path to innovation is in the partnerships being developed between the two. “Digital health companies usually have specialized domain knowledge,” Fried comments. “Tech-savvy, entrepreneurial startups tend to have a consumer bent and are better at developing user experiences and consumer-oriented solutions than large pharma companies.”
Digital health startups generally move more quickly and often develop products in months rather than years, and they can also make changes quickly and respond to feedback they get.
On the flip side of the coin, pharma companies can help digital health vendors get past some of the healthcare-specific hurdles to get their products to market faster. Fried explains, “Digital health startups can leverage and learn from pharma’s well-established processes around healthcare industry-specific details. Those include things like CPT coding and thinking about payer reimbursement. They don’t have to reinvent the wheel or invest heavily in developing regulatory expertise but really can look to a pharma partner who can help them leapfrog to where they are going.”
“Where startups lack the infrastructure needed to reach customers and have trouble scaling up, this is something that pharmaceutical companies have done well. So I think that teaming up with pharmaceutical companies and tapping their extensive marketing infrastructures and distribution channels can really help digital startups get traction, much faster than they could if they were on their own.”
The three biggest opportunities for digital health products
Dr. Fried describes three areas within digital health patient care that improve value and have the potential to reduce costs.
1. Medication adherence
Medication adherence has a big effect on outcomes and is supported and driven by digital tools. “When patients are more compliant in taking their medications, the stakeholders — doctors, pharmaceutical companies, and payers — all benefit. I think medication adherence is one of the Holy Grails in healthcare. Getting patients to take their medications at the right time, with the right dosage for a condition can really save costs and improve patient outcomes,” explains Fried.
2. Digital diagnosis and prediction
A cost savings to the system and better outcomes for the patients make diagnosis and prediction technology a winning opportunity for digital health vendors to explore. Fried explains by example, “Prophylactically taking medication that will avoid an asthma attack may mean a patient takes more drugs at a certain time. But the net result is a lower cost for the overall episode or even no episode at all, avoiding expenses like a trip to the emergency department.”
These are digital therapies that treat a patient for a condition in addition to, or instead of, a traditional pharmaceutical solution. Fried says, “They can either be complementary to medication or they may even have the potential to substitute for medication. An example of a complementary digiceutical would be a pain management app that goes along with pain medication that a patient might take after surgery. This could result in the patient needing less medication or healing more quickly. An example of a substitute digiceutical is a treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Kids could use these apps rather than taking a medication.”
I think digiceuticals will clearly drive improved outcomes and lower the cost of healthcare with digital health solutions that bring value in addition to medication. I think that the complementary and synergistic effects of digital health with medications are a net-win for patients, for pharma, and also for the payers.
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