Connecting The Digital Dots

Technology is disrupting the healthcare sector in more ways than one. Pharma should view it as an opportunity not a threat.

As digital opportunities continue to offer new ways to enhance care, the onus is often on patients to choose which platforms, apps and software to engage with. An integrated approach to healthcare gives pharma the opportunity to start improving the digital space, says Eli Phillips Jr, Vice President, Insights & Engagement at Cardinal Health, by providing top-level vision and leadership to help guide patients through the digital quagmire.

Ahead of eyeforpharma Philadelphia, Phillips spoke with eyeforpharma Chairman Paul Simms about the work Cardinal Health has led to define  pharma’s future partner, the ‘digital practitioner’. “The Insights & Engagement team is an intermediary, a two-way flow of information. We help assist with the flow of information from pharmaceutical manufacturers to providers and providers back to the pharmaceutical industry.” His team seeks to connect the dots between the two often disparate spheres, “to facilitate that valuable information exchange between the two parties.” 

This is accomplished through real-world evidence and research, as well as communication platforms, helping biopharma companies identify opportunities for assistance and intervention with an integrated, consultative approach. At eyeforpharma Philadelphia, Phillips will speak about the ‘Gamification of Healthcare: the Emergence of the Digital Practitioner,’ touching upon the application of behavioural economics through gamification, the role clinical practice guidelines will play to determine the appropriateness of pharma’s measures and introducing the role of the ‘digital practitioner.’

Taking responsibility for digital

“The high-level theme here is that currently the technology in healthcare is outpacing both clinical practice standards and regulatory compliance standards,” says Phillips. “We're seeing all these direct-to-consumer software products, whether it's wearables, digital applications or video games that promote behavioural health and we don't really have clinical guidelines for how to integrate the data that’s being collected  into clinical practice and patient care. As these tools become more prevalent, and targeted more directly towards patients, we’re going to see an evolution where healthcare providers need to help guide patients to the appropriate areas of digital.”

Cardinal Health’s market research, with providers in oncology and other specialty therapy areas, suggests pharma has a role to play here, says Phillips. “They absolutely feel that manufacturers have a larger role to play in patient services. I could even imagine an expansion of hub services that we see today in the U.S., an expansion of patient assistance programs all tapping in to help the evolution of this concept. It’s pairing up solutions with products to create a new integrated solution – no longer just the app or software here and the drug over there. If it’s a truly integrated solution, that’s where you will see the biggest impact on outcomes, and that's why we think that the biopharma company will have a direct role.”

A two-way dialogue

While it’s often left to patients to establish which channels work well for them, Philips feels clinical professionals can help by developing guidelines. One way this could happen is through the development of a subspecialty of digital medicine, he says, where a digital specialist would redirect patients towards the best digital programs, applications and hardware for them.

Once patients are set on the right path, this could also become more of a reactive form of care, through live monitoring of online interactions. “It’s not just about selection of the right equipment, it's also about monitoring. As we advance to get into a more two-way dialogue between the software and the provider, I see a two-way interface where the physician can not only monitor the patient's progress on the software but also adjust the settings for the patient as they progress.”

Regulation is also a consideration, adds Phillips. “The parallel with this is also going to be the regulatory side. The FDA have a digital plan in place right now that they're executing against, so I'd also like to inform the audience how that might impact where we're going with digital at the patient level.”

Such developments would seek to enhance alignment across medical spheres. “There's no integration or crossover at the moment and the fragmentation of the U.S. system is extreme,” adds Phillips, citing the example of the hyper-specialisation of medicine which can see gastroenterology specialisms down to specific areas like the traverse colon. “It's so hyper-specialised now and you're not seeing communication even back to the regular consultant the patient is seeing. We do need something that would link all these things together.”

Step one is getting informed on the issues of patient services and how digital impacts that by helping to drive patient behaviour and patient outcomes. “We need to get everybody rowing in the same direction,” says Phillips. When we look at provider engagement, it’s educational, it’s conducting research. I think providers also need to start thinking about how they will create and adopt clinical practice guidelines that could then be understood by the team.”

Ultimately this more cohesive development approach is of benefit across the healthcare continuum. “A product in a competitive market would be able to set itself apart by having these additional patient services and patient outreach,” says Phillips. “It's no longer going to be just the product itself, it's going to be that service and support. We already know that services play an instrumental role here, because it's not just financial and clinical adoption, it's also social adoption. This will help drive some of that social adoption as you will be able to set your product apart for adoption by having these tools available.”

Eli Phillips, Jr., Vice President, Insights and Engagement at Cardinal Health will be presenting ‘Gamification of Healthcare: the Emergence of the Digital Practitioner,’ on Wednesday, April 17 from 11:20am-11:40am in the Pink Room at eyeforpharma Philadelphia, April 16-17, 2019, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center


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