L-R: Amar Urhekar, Simon Miller, Perin Registre

Patients, not technology companies, are the biggest healthcare disruptors. As patients gain more control over their healthcare and bring more tech into their lives, pharma, payers, and healthcare organizations need to keep pace.

Patients are looking to make their healthcare experiences more like their consumer experiences, experts said.

“The patient wants to be treated as a consumer in this industry and wants to have a positive customer experience, like with Amazon,” said Perin Registre, access solutions marketing lead at Genentech. “The change in the amount of information they’re able to obtain and the way they’re reacting to different healthcare issues continues to drive a different conversation within healthcare organizations. That desire for change is driving healthcare to come up with more tech and innovative solutions.”


To do that, major healthcare companies have turned to partnerships with tech brands, digital health experts said at MM&M’s Transforming Healthcare conference.


“Google and Amazon are entering our marketspace to deliver better outcomes,” said Simon Miller, global brand director of connected care at Eli Lilly. “They’re coming into our area to improve those experiences.”


Other companies, such as Uber, are also filling gaps, like getting people to doctor’s appointments or clinical trial sites with Uber Health. These are areas that have long plagued the pharma industry, but companies previously couldn’t address, said Registre.

“It’s happening now because there’s a little more of a financial incentive, and data is allowing people to enter the market in different way,” he said. “We’re seeing other companies fill the gaps we haven’t had a chance to yet, and other players will continue to fill those gaps as they arise.”


Voice assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home are also moving into healthcare.

Merck issued a challenge for companies to come up with an Amazon Alexa-assisted service for diabetes patients to find – and fund – innovative technology partners.


Tony Alvarez, interim digital lead and global human health SVP at Merck, said the company recognized that it wasn’t able to come up with these ideas and needed to find other companies to help it do so.


The first lesson in bringing voice assistants to healthcare is making sure that it solves a problem and is not developed simply because it’s a novelty.


“As websites evolved into mobile apps, we first tried to stuff websites into mobile experiences, and it didn’t go very well,” said Bill Rogers, cofounder and CEO of Orbita. “It’s a digital channel, and you have to attack it like a separate digital channel. When you think of an Echo Dot, there is no user experience to look at to figure out what’s next, the voice UX needs to be really great to drive the patient to the next step and drive them to solve some problem.”


While there are high-profile partnerships crossing over healthcare and technology, like Uber Health or IBM Watson, the industry is lagging behind the pace of innovation in the tech sector. Issues like HIPAA compliance and privacy need to be taken into account when doctors and patients are using voice assistants or artificial intelligence, and many of the most popular voice assistants like Amazon Alexa are not doing that.


That leads to companies developing devices like Pillo, a voice assistant and medication dispenser in one, which are designed to be HIPAA-compliant from the beginning.


“There’s no shadow of a doubt we’re behind where we should be,” Miller said. “The experience we set up for people with chronic disease or other health experiences are not the same as what they have in a more-consumer-based product. We are trying to learn fast about what it is that drives behavior, what we can do alter it, and bringing in the new technology through outside partnerships.”