February 23, 2022

The Year Ahead: Insights From the DHC and Industry Executives

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Our friends at the Digital Health Coalition (DHC) recently convened a panel to discuss “The Year Ahead: Insights from Pharma Executives,” sharing their thoughts, opinions, and experiences alongside recent DHC data from a survey of pharma executives. The speakers were Jeff Fayer, Patient Experience Lead at Novartis; Dan Hoffman, Head of Digital Product Innovation at Otsuka Pharmaceutical Companies US; and R.J. Lewis, President and CEO of e-Healthcare Solutions, moderated by Mark Bard, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of the DHC Group.

The top three trending topics that the DHC found their respondents concerned with for Q2 2022, and the second half of the year, were, in order:

  1. Customer experience (CX)
  2. The digital patient journey
  3. Digital health trends generally

As Hoffman noted, CX tops the list because it’s at the heart of all that we do as healthcare marketers: considering the customer and their true unmet needs.

Fayer concurred, noting that defining the customer has become an elevated and more holistic skill in recent years – considering and meeting the needs not only of the patient themselves, but the ecosystem around them (including HCPs, care partners, advocacy organizations, payers).

It’s at the heart, as Lewis said, of channel preferences, in which he sees an accelerated shift. For example, the domination of mobile and video is emphatic, and still skyrocketing, throughout the 2020s to date. As he put it, it’s a demonstration of the “platinum rule”: do unto others as they would like done unto them.

This concept is also at the heart of the increased interest in digital therapeutics – both Rx and OTC. As Hoffman put it, “The patient doesn’t care if it’s Rx or not; they just want help.”

And addressing all trends and patients’ needs is, of course, more challenging than ever as we continue to adapt to a our new pandemic reality. The panelists discussed the pros and cons of a newly largely virtual workforce, from hiring (easier to get the best worldwide candidates), to group creativity (harder to replicate).

Fayer shared that, at Novartis, he found that they had moved to a meeting style that was much more focused, bulleted, and “snackable” (his candidate for the word of 2022) – 15-minute, quick-hit meetings to check in on status, progress, and roadblocks, involving smaller groups with the right people.

All three panelists emphasized the importance of balancing real connection with ones’ colleagues, peers, and staff; alongside true disconnection: thinking time. Hoffman shared recent conversations that stressed how important, if sometimes non-intuitive, it was to “schedule time to think.”

Questioner Marcos Teixeira pointed out the need to talk about the broader company history, mission, culture, and purpose in a virtual dynamic that lends itself to being task-focused, which the panelists confirmed. Hoffman shared that, at Otsuka, they were seeking to do more leadership communication. Lewis said that his organization keeps a cadence of quarterly off-sites to keep his virtual team connected. Fayer offered that, at Novartis, they sought to stay connected through tactics like town hall meetings that reground teammates on the corporate mission. “A lot goes back to pre-pandemic fundamentals,” he said: taking the time to reach out to those outside your group and sharing in their opportunities and their challenges.

Lewis said that he had seen a greater need – despite its well-documented downsides – to connect via social media over the last two years. Fayer noted that Novartis’ recent patient research reflected that: that patients look to social media more than HCPs for information on peer-to-peer support and to understand their condition – reflecting the importance of these platforms in our consideration of how to integrate them in our work for the betterment of patients. 

“Patients look to social media more than HCPs for information on peer-to-peer support and to understand their condition.” — Jeff Fayer, Patient Experience Lead, Novartis

The panelists concluded with a discussion of the necessity to focus on health equity — which we talk about regularly at Intouch — and specifically to provide information to underserved populations, using the power of technology to make sure we can reach them and provide them info to make informed healthcare decisions.

Want even more insights on 2022 trends? Check out Intouch’s take on where pharma brands should focus efforts: What Matters Most: The Trends That Will Shape Pharma Marketing in 2022.