The Digital Renaissance in Life Sciences Is Upon Us: So Why is Performance Lagging?

Written by Eric Gubera, Executive Vice President – Life Science

BioPharma’s Inflection Point

The digital transformation underway has touched most aspects of society– changing the way we shop, travel, interact with one another, and how we are entertained.  This renaissance has also left an indelible mark on Life Science companies. At first glance it appears to have enhanced most facets of Biopharma’s priority deliverables for patients and stakeholders. These benefits include lowering the cost of drug development and expediting the discovery of new molecular entities (NME);  enhancing  quality assessment;  and even helping HCP-facing teams deliver more personalized and relevant content to their prescribing customers.

Coinciding with these advancements has been a staggering increase in digital traffic over the past 10 years with the pandemic  kicking this phenomenon into overdrive.  The onset of Covid-19 alone brought a 35% increase in  traffic to pharma websites. The impact has extended beyond the US and UK as well with France setting the curve in growth with a 60% boost in on-line revenue and traffic to its Pharma websites  surging  by a whopping 85%.  Perhaps most dramatically, engagements with HCPs from the Life Science industry pivoted from almost exclusively live, in vivo engagements, to predominantly virtual in a very short period of time.  The question is how do HCPs feel about this dramatic shift to virtual engagement with Life Science companies?  When it comes to preferences, 41% of HCPS in Q1 of 2021 reported that they view virtual engagements as the most effective means of engagement with Life Science companies even after most medical and commercial teams returned to the field in 2021.  In summary,  the handwriting is on the wall– digital is here to stay. 

 Yet, with digital traffic increasing and both patients and Life Science professionals returning to the field for live visits with healthcare providers in the first half of 2021 one would have expected an epic bounce back in Brand revenues lost during the pandemic, right?  Also, is it fair to surmise that chronic health conditions did not, for the most part, improve while people were in quarantine for the better part of 2020?  Unfortunately, for Life Science companies and patients suffering from worsening but treatable chronic disease conditions, that is not how things went down in Q1.  Many flagship Brands from a wide range of BioPharma “bigs” not only missed on forecast, they missed so badly in some cases that the goal posts couldn’t be moved fast  enough to reset guidance for the balance of 2021. Q2 is looking better in the early stages of reporting but it is clear that something is amiss. 

    The stakes are high and the digital transformation has been fast and furious in a sector forecasted to be worth $128 billion worldwide by 2023.  Throughout all of this change we cannot forget who holds the golden key to unlock Pharma’s value proposition for patients and, more importantly, reflect on what they have been through the last 18 months.  The doctors, nurses, and all those who support them in delivering patient care–aka the HCP– have not only been whipsawed about by the changes in healthcare delivery wrought by the pandemic– they have also had their means of communication with the industry turned upside down and inside out over the past 18 months.  But the greatest obstacle to improving Pharma engagement with HCPs may prove to be the erosion of HCP autonomy in deciding what is best for patients. This has been the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about in the open at Pharma for some time.  The encroachments on the HCP’s power to choose the best medicine or therapy for patients under their care coincides with the steady rise of command-and-control IDNs, hospital employers, and payers focused on cost/profit outcomes.  Formulary coverages are like snowflakes, no two are alike, leading to frustration and exasperation for doctors and patients alike when access is denied. This has been going on for quite some time, adversely impacting morale and putting the squeeze on access for Life Science representatives bursting at the seams with new medicines and expanded indications that address unmet needs for patients.  Therein lies the dilemma. 

The Key To Success: Customer-Centric Approach

 So, one might ask, where to begin?  Empathizing with the HCP struggling to meet the shifting demands of patient care in this chaotic landscape is the first step that Life Science companies must take to forge stronger, more authentic bonds with their customers.  The great news is that this effort will require the attention of the people they already have in place, many with well-established relationships.  The second piece will require actualizing the capability to deliver more personalized content during virtual and live interactions and more broadly across all channels of engagement.  The objective is to deliver a more customer-centric, customer driven experience with the Brand.   Expanding omnichannel engagement capabilities beyond the 9 to 5 status quo will enable Brands to compete on the Infinite Clock and more effectively meet HCPs where they are  and according to their preference.  Giving providers a menu of options to choose from will attract more engagement to their Brand platform.  This is how Netflix    gained a decisive competitive advantage over Blockbuster in the movie rental business.  They did not have a content advantage, in fact, initially they were quite disadvantaged.  What they had was a customer-experience advantage and the rest, as they say, is history.    BioPharma finds itself at a similar inflection point in its journey with the HCP customer.

 Bringing home the customer-centric approach by developing these capabilities will be the key to survival, much less success, moving forward in the “New Normal”.  Acta non verba is latin for action speaks louder than words. One thing this is clear– traditional, inside-out pharma marketing techniques which arbitrarily push content out to HCPs is not working and the handwriting has been on the wall for quite some time now.   The $1.3T question is which companies are willing to change how they engage with the HCP?

The $1.3T question is which companies are willing to change how they engage with the HCP?