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Converse, Engage, Adhere. What lessons can Pharma learn from Retail?

Retailers in the U.K. are using mobile marketing to successfully engage with their customers

For a business to truly engage with its customers, mobile should be placed at the centre of its customer relationships. Starbucks have achieved this, with its app allowing customers to receive coupons and loyalty points, as well as to tap and pay using their phones. Starbucks in return get individual purchasing behaviour and demographic information, allowing highly targeted marketing in the future.  This closed loop marketing is really harnessing the benefits which can be derived from the behaviour that is mobile. It is not simply another marketing channel through which to push messages. Mobile has the potential to provide customers with an easy journey, with the by-product for the company involved being the vast amount of customer purchase data which becomes available.

So how can retail’s mobile advancements be utilised by Pharma?

Pharma is changing. The days of blockbuster drugs dominating the market are swiftly passing by. Compounds currently in development target more niche therapies, relevant to smaller groups of patients. Alternative avenues need to be found to increase revenue. Perhaps the most obvious is patient adherence.

Non-adherence costs everyone. It has been estimated that unused medicines cost the NHS England £300m per year. It affects patients by reducing their treatment effectiveness and undoubtedly reduces the bottom line of Pharma companies.

The importance of patient adherence is nothing new. However, its continuing prominence as an issue suggests that an effective solution is yet to be found. It’s not all doom and gloom though. The above noted changes to the market, coupled with significant technological advancements propagated by retail over the last few years may create synergy.

The ubiquity of smartphones and their ‘always on’ nature provide an unrivalled starting place for HCP and patient dialogue. The App explosion resulting from the proliferation of smartphones necessitates new Apps are well developed and unique.

Cegedim Strategic Data show that secondary care professionals (46%) are more likely than primary care (37%) to use mobile apps designed for professional use. Cegedim also found that Diabetes Specialist Nurses were the most likely to recommend mobile apps to patients, so due to the surge in divergence of diabetes drugs, an opportunity exists. This complements the comments above regarding the change towards more specialist drugs, so is an area Pharma can utilise with HCPs, to increase adherence.

What these statistics don’t tell us

What these statistics show is the willingness of HCPs to use or recommend medical Apps as useful informational tools. What they don’t show however is the likelihood of this happening with regard to individual Pharma-branded Apps. For this reason, I believe there needs to exist coalitions of multiple Pharma companies who work together with credible third parties who may lack the funding needed to make a successful patient adherence focussed App. Third parties in this instance could be independent health organisations, technology companies or, particularly in America, insurance companies. The Apps created would be made across therapy areas, as opposed to being drug specific.

To this end, TRx Care have made great strides in the medical adherence field by developing outcome focused, adherence-based Apps. These not only provide disease and drug information but also help patients with their medication, provide adherence support, clinic appointments, refills, as well as tracking and monitoring the clinical outcome. It is the outcome focus which makes the proposition so appealing, as patients and HCPs can easily see the results of the treatment plan. This is particularly important for diseases with few or no overt symptoms.

Increasing adherence is not just getting patients to take their medication as prescribed.

Pharma companies must work together with third parties, using technological capabilities to meet many patient needs. It must provide relevant and useful information, empowering the patient in discussions with their HCP. Also included can be elements such as motivational tips, self-logging, roadblocks and reminders to take medication. This engages patients and allows them to take a more active role in their treatment options, leading to adherence.

Due to the necessity for highly individualised engagement as well as the ability to send targeted and sensitive messages to patients, the mobile device must be at the centre of the relationship.

So where does this leave us?

Changes to the Pharma market have reinforced the importance of adherence for Pharma companies, healthcare providers and most importantly, patients. To increase adherence though, Pharma must follow the lead of successful retailers by using technology to combine information and advice across, rather than within, therapy areas.

To swing back towards the lessons from retail; think of it like the App of a department store. Although there is less of an emphasis on each individual brand within this environment, from a customer’s perspective it is far easier for them to find information from a central, all-encompassing hub than from a series of disparate locations.

As with anything digital though, the inception of this platform is not the end but the beginning. Marketers must analyse and understand how the platform is being used, and iterate to ensure it evolves into a useful and regularly used functional tool.

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