Somewhat paradoxically, patients have long been an overlooked stakeholder group for the pharma industry. The irony of this is undeniable, after all who are drugs developed for, if not the patients?

Patient-centricity and associated innovation were born out of the realisation that a stronger focus on patients would benefit both parties (patients and pharma). Patient-focused innovation is a key component in creating patient-centric concepts and finding new ways to engage them.

Three trending areas of patient innovation

The areas for the application of patient-centric thinking are broad. To get the most out of digital innovations, however, it is useful to keep the focus on areas that have immediate benefits for both patients and pharma. MobiHealthNews points to three areas of digital patient innovation in their insightful ebook:

  • Medication adherence
  • Pharma-digital therapies
  • Clinical trials

Medication adherence is a natural area to target. A patient not taking his or her medication, first and foremost, can potentially put themselves at risk. Secondly, this can mean a revenue loss for the drug manufacturer. To add some perspective, in a 2012 Capgemini / Healthprize Technologies study it was estimated that the annual global revenue loss due to non-adherence was an incredible 564 billion US dollars.

Examples of successful digital patient innovation in medication adherence include Johnson & Johnson’s Care4Today app – offering four solutions for different indications – or Boehringer Ingelheim’s wireless pill bottle – a bottle that is connected to the cloud and measures liquids or number of pills in real time, sending the patient a reminder when they need to take their medication or replace it.

Pharma-digital therapies refer to any digitally-enabled tool that is used complementary to pharmaceutical therapy. Early examples of this are BlueStar by WellDoc, an FDA approved “mobile prescription therapy” that helps diabetes patients manage their condition and get personalised tips based on the data they input via their smartphone, tablet or computer, and a sensor-enabled pill by Proteus Digital Health designed to capture information about a patient’s physiological responses to taking a medication as well as regular self metrics.

Clinical trials have a lot of potential for digital patient innovations to simplify things for trial participants. Finding suitable trials, getting information about trials and ensuring an optimal participant experience – these are just some of the fields where digital patient-centric tools could add value.

Inspiration from outside of pharma

It’s not just pharma that wants to add value for patients. Non-healthcare companies are eager to get into the field of digital patient innovation. Take IBM’s Watson computer system for instance. At the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Watson is being used to uncover insights from an enormous amount of data from different sources in order to fine-tune the treatment of individual cancer patients.

Another recent example is the smart contact lens being developed by Google together with Alcon, the eye care division of Novartis. The lens is tipped to be able to measure the blood sugar levels of diabetics through tear fluid and display the data wirelessly on a mobile device.

Tips for digital patient innovation strategies

Still not sure how to engage patients in a digital environment? We have compiled some tips to help pharma marketers navigate the field of digital patient innovation:

  • Focus on areas with high relevance, like the examples mentioned above
  • Think beyond apps – there is much more to digital patient-centric marketing than mobile apps
  • Look outside of your industry for inspiration
  • Think of big data as a trend – making sense of large quantities of data for the benefit of patients is sure to be a key area
  • Consider partnerships with organisations that enjoy a high level of trust among patients

Much to gain, little to lose

The benefits of a patient-centric approach can be extensive, while the risks are limited. More than anything, patient centricity has the potential to contribute towards creating a stronger sense of shared stakeholdership between drug manufacturers on the one hand and patients using the drugs on the other, which could ultimately lead to a greater sense of trust.