The media has been talking up big data in healthcare and pharma is going to be spending more money on digital marketing and analytics but is it mostly bullshit ? How are we suddenly going to wake up in an environment where we capture, store, retrieve, and analyze big volumes of patient data to improve wellness and patient care and make healthcare marketing relevant again ? But no one should underestimate the power of the status quo within pharma organizations, and how allergic legal and regulatory people are to this disruptive change.
From Xconomy Mr Colin Hill at Cambridge, MA-based GNS Healthcare recently said about big data to some CEO’s “You guys are not prepared for what you’re about to run into. A lot of CEOs talk a good game about moving ‘beyond the pill,’ but the level of chops and data assets and analytic tools needed to do this are beyond what most pharma companies have. If they don’t get ahead of it, payers will do it for them.
As Hill puts it, the $2.7 trillion a year U.S. healthcare industry suffers from a massive ‘Wanamaker’ problem. Wanamaker, students of history know, was a 19th and early 20th century retailer who famously observed that half of the money he spent on advertising in traditional media outlets was wasted—the trouble was, he didn’t know which half. The “Wanamaker” problem in healthcare is equally big and ripe for disruption. Cancer drugs typically only work for about 25 percent of the patients who get them. Asthma drugs only work for about 60 percent. Rheumatoid arthritis meds work maybe half the time. A lot of money gets wasted on treatments that don’t work for an individual patient. As any student can tell you, biology is incredibly complicated. We don’t know what causes lots of diseases, rheumatoid arthritis include. We’ve certainly never had the ability to predict, with a high degree of mathematical confidence, which drug is most likely to work for a given patient.
Pharma companies, no surprise, haven’t yet gotten fully on board. Many have long paid lip service to “personalized medicine” or getting the right drug to the right patient at the right time, but the fact is they make more money under today’s system, when there’s a lot of trial-and-error prescribing.
Pharma companies have much to lose if big data analytics were to truly come of age sometime soon, since doctors could start to curb all their wasteful prescribing habits. Then again, pharma also might be able to turn this technology to its advantage. If you’re a multiple sclerosis drugmaker and you have this kind of fine-grained, predictive data on your drug’s efficacy profile, you now have some convincing evidence to make a sale, and you can save by cutting back on efforts to over-treat certain populations. You could target your ad budget to the best demographic possible, and see those ads convert into sales. You might be able to anticipate competitive threats to your market share, and design a chemical modification to a future drug that’s more effective for a certain segment of patients. You might be able to weed out likely non-responders from your clinical trials, improving the success rate of pipeline candidates.
When it comes to digital marketing pharma is also ill prepared. A recent report from MIT indicated that pharma digital marketing is considered “beginners” and that management has not yet embraced the challenges or realities of digital marketing today. Most legal and regulatory people who are asked to approve digital marketing initiatives are clueless when it comes to how they work and what they actually do and too many pharma marketers have to rely on their agencies to lead the way frustrating agency people who know what needs to be done but have to spend a lot of time educating their clients. Even when they get their key contact up to speed on digital marketing often they find the person has rotated to a new position or left the company and is replaced with someone from the “the field” requiring them to start over at square one thus wasting valuable time.
John Mack believes that pharma CEO’s need to get involved in digital marketing (social media) but they have enough to worry about beyond digital marketing right now. Their top priorities are to be visionaries and prepare their companies to compete with the challenges that are coming and that includes realigning the organization so it can be more efficient. When it comes to digital marketing it’s not enough to say “we’re going to spend more money”, they need to say we need to move in this direction which I know requires risk but if we don’t do it now we are going to be late to table and we just can’t afford to be late to anything in an era of big data and empowered patients.
Big data doesn’t mean a damn thing when it comes to marketing unless you have the people to make it happen. Data maybe the new marketing currency but a lot of that currency is hidden in wallets never to see the light of day.