Digital Healthcare: Is It For Real?

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Amazon gobbles up Whole Foods. Tesla aims to put a man on Mars. Uber's looking into flying taxis. Who would have believed it?

Actually, the most remarkable aspect of these statements is they're already yesterday's news. That's how fast advances in technology are changing traditional business models. 

Meanwhile, we in healthcare languish in the slow lane. Yet Sy Mukherjee, writing in a recent issue of Fortune, says it's time for us to “prepare for the digital health revolution.” Sure, we've been hearing this for a while, but this time the forecast might be right.

See also: What pharma companies and agencies can learn from Amazon

Mukherjee notes that critical problems facing U.S. healthcare — such as costs and complicated access — will inevitably precipitate advances in telemedicine, AI, “smart drugs,” and precision/genomic medicine.  That's hard to argue — we've been witnessing these changes for the last decade. 

If you're an investor, you can capitalize on this tech tsunami by investing in innovators. I say forget the brokers.

As marketing strategists, we should make these changes work for our businesses. For example, assuming we'll soon have increased virtual access to physicians via platforms such as Skype, what's our plan? We're already seeing apps that help patients find doctors who will accept their insurance — and then book an appointment. Could we develop applications to provide patients with useful information about their condition to facilitate their interactions with HCPs?

See also: Voice assistants may ease EHR burden for docs, but challenges exist

Another idea. The New York Times publishes “diagnostic dilemmas” in which mystery diseases are typically diagnosed by a chance encounter with an intuitive specialist.

Yawn! AI programs such as IBM's Watson are already accelerating our ability to diagnose and determine treatment. Could companies that market orphan drugs develop AI apps to screen patients for specific rare diseases or disease markers?

Finally, we can surely improve the efficiency of healthcare delivery by continuing to make drugs easier to take.

According to a study in Risk Management and Healthcare Policy, non-adherence adds between $100 billion to $300 billion to annual U.S. healthcare costs. The authors said we can improve adherence by developing simpler regimens, improving drug delivery, facilitating electronic prescribing, and providing copay assistance. Let's do all of the above.

See also: 3 health tech innovations experts say will revolutionalize healthcare

For example, many patients who take NSAIDs for pain experience GI side effects.  These patients often skip their pain meds or take an antacid or a similar drug.  Yet adding a second drug is inconvenient, and it's unclear how much to take.

To address this need, a few years ago Horizon Pharma acquired a product named Vimovo, which provides a fixed-dose combination of naproxen and omeprazole. Vimovo offers one-pill convenience and also solves the problem of dosing.

Or course, pharma critics screamed because Vimovo costs more than the individual components. But guess what? A fixed-dose combination makes more sense than sending patients off to a drug store to buy and combine two different OTC drugs. By increasing adherence, we're helping to reduce the inefficiencies that have impeded healthcare delivery.

See also: Uber partners with startup to take patients to the doctor

The coming digital revolution will change a lot of things, but I guarantee this: It won't replace the importance of the patient-physician relationship.

Our business will thrive if we focus on developing innovative products and providing ongoing support for physicians. If we follow our heritage and seek to improve value for patients' health, we'll remain among the winners in the long run.

Sander Flaum is a principal at Flaum Navigators. 

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