The pharmaceutical and healthcare industries found themselves in the headlines in 2016 perhaps somewhat more often than normal—for a variety of reasons. And while problems exist, the relentless rate of innovation in treatments and re-conceptualising common treatment paradigms promises exciting progress in 2017.
It may seem strange to classify “digital” as a trend in 2017—but the waves of change that digital solutions are generating in the healthcare industry show no signs of abating, and more and more micro trends are rippling out. It is changing the industry from every direction: from bioinformatics and high-throughput techniques transforming basic research, to the ever-increasing application of informatics and innovative modes of communication at the point of care.
The pharmaceutical industry and especially its marketers have been discussing the challenges and opportunities of digital for years—and there isn’t a brand around without a digital strategy—yet 2017 promises to see the full efflorescence of digital solutions throughout healthcare.
After abandoning the healthcare market, Google, Apple, IBM, and other tech companies are back with a bang. The now commonplace usage of wearables and the accompanying analytics is bringing lifestyle and healthcare ever closer together: conceptually and in practice. And this is only the beginning. The real-world value of these devices will be increasingly quantifiable and help bring the reality of lifestyle choice as a viable first-line therapy to an ever-greater number of people. It will help expand the concept of patient-centricity to the point where we may need to start thinking about human-centricity in healthcare. The market for MedTech solutions in collaboration with the NHS, insurance and tech companies is ever-growing.
MedTech has also helped prime the healthcare community for the developments in augmented and immersive realities. With the falling cost of AR consumables into the home, 2017 will see healthcare marketers start to provide real experiences, and not just the dissemination of didactic health information, as AR moves from the congress hall and into the home.
Breakthrough therapeutic developments in medical devices have brought astonishingly positive outcomes to patients. The range has been impressive: from highly technical medical interventions to cure blindness, to the imaginative use of immersive technology to help expand the horizon of the worlds of elderly and immobile patients. Pokémon Go has demonstrated unequivocally the power of augmented reality to captivate the imagination and change behaviour.
2. Patient self-management
The increasing burdens on healthcare systems, and the looming global crises in disease areas such as diabetes, mean that improvements in patient self-management are not just desirable but of urgent necessity. Innovative thinking and positive solutions in this area will continue to influence the direction of pharmaceutical marketing and engagement with healthcare professionals—who increasingly need to do more with less. Using the full power of digital solutions and behaviour change methodologies to educate, encourage, and empower patients to embrace their role in the healthcare community, will be key in 2017.
3. Social Media
And where we talk to patients and healthcare professionals—not just how—is more important than ever. The platforms have not just changed but are in a constant state of flux. And adapting to the pace of this changing landscape is an exciting challenge for the healthcare communications industry.
It is bursting with potential. In 2016, we have seen more peer-to-peer social media engagement, but also the full emergence of the Digital Opinion Leader and empowered, highly communicative patients whose blogs and proactivity in their communities are of real value. The challenges of how pharmaceutical marketers can work within these new channels are real, but the potential realer still.
4. Oncology: Combinations & Collaborations
Recent advancements in oncology have been breath-taking, with decades-long stasis for many conditions finally broken. Waves of new treatments—small targeted therapies and the wonders of immuno-oncology—have brought the reality of cancer survivorship to the forefront for many patients and families. And personalising and combining therapies to the individual needs of patients will be the future. The area is changing so rapidly, that the atmosphere at ASCO, ESMO, and EHA in 2017 promises to be thick with excitement. And the patient is aware now more than ever—and getting involved. We have heard their voice often in 2016, with stories of miraculous and moving success, but also issues of high costs and access. In the taut healthcare economy of 2017, we should expect to hear more of these voices.
Biosimilars are the 2017 golden ticket for pharmaceutical marketing with plenty of biosimilars coming onto the market. The key to success will be in the hands of the marketers as they need to expand education programmes to help healthcare professionals understand—and become comfortable with—the biosimilar development process.
6. Attention fatigue
Attention—and its bedfellow concentration—have never been scarcer resources. And the challenge today is not just to be impactful, but richly and densely communicative. Data visualisation will be key to capturing the imagination of patients and professionals alike, and with that we should expect to see a plethora of data visualisation tools coming onto the market to support marketers. Native advertising and similar solutions, in a world where people increasingly arm themselves with tools to avoid and block traditional marketing channels, will become more important.
And some things never change, but are instead thrown into sharper and sharper relief by new developments. Finding and understanding your audience, and then refining your message and solutions to a pristine polish, will be more important than ever in 2017.
We wish you all a very happy and successful 2017—and the best of luck in keeping up with this fast-changing industry!
Paul Tanner is Chairman and Co-Founder of 90TEN, an award-winning global healthcare communications and medical education consultancy that specialises in behaviour change. Paul is also a PM Society Committee Member.