Pharma's Role in the Digital World of Patient and Doctors

Jana Meier
Marketing Team Leader Product Inspection & Head of Marketing
Mettler-Toledo, Mettler-Toledo Garvens

The pharmaceutical industry has been dipping a toe in the digital waters, but now it's time to take the plunge. By building end-to-end IT ecosystems and understanding preferred communications channels, pharmaceuticals companies can create more engaging and fruitful digital relationships with healthcare professionals and patients.

India is taking great strides towards digitization in all walks of life. The government, through its 'Digital India' programme, is creating broadband highways which will further accelerate the shift. By 2020, about 730 million Indians will have access to the internet, making it the fastest-growing market, second only to China. By the same year, about 445 million Indians will own and use a smartphone. Reliance Jio's free 4G data services has led to a data rate cuts by all market players with the consumers emerging as winners. The 3G/4G market in India will expand from 120 million in early 2016 to 300 million by March 2018.

How is Digitization Changing Indian Healthcare Ecosystem?

Digitization is expected to address a multitude of healthcare problems including poor quality of care ( < 1 % of India's hospitals are accredited ), a dismal doctor-to-patient ratio (0.65:1000), and lack of medical care in rural areas. Digital technology can collect vast volumes of data that is analyzed and channeled to improve medical outcomes. Following are the major trends being set by healthcare digitization in India:
  • Home Health and Wearables - Wearable devices such as wristbands, body patches, etc. are being developed to continuously monitor various healthcare parameters. The information thus captured is tracked by doctors and hospitals who can alert the patients in case of impending emergencies.
  • Telemedicine - Portable diagnostic devices are propelling the rise of remote healthcare delivery. Point-ofcare diagnostics, teleconsultation and e-prescriptions are some components of telemedicine . It is extremely useful in managing chronic ailments at home. Remote health monitoring offers convenience and cost savings for patients and frees up resources for hospitals. Moreover, telemedicine is expected to greatly improve medical care in the remote areas of the country.
  • M-health - Mobile health apps are bringing medical care to the fingertips. M-health market in India is expected to increase from about 2 crore in 2015 to over 5 crore by 2020. A majority of doctors are in favor of connecting with colleagues, diagnostic services and patients for delivery of care through mobile technology.
  • Electronic Health Records (EHRs)- Advanced IT systems are making possible electronic storage of patients complete health history including prior ailments and surgeries, allergy information, vaccinations and prescriptions. This improves efficiency by reducing time and errors. Moreover, this information can be accessed instantly by various stakeholders through technologies like the cloud and Internet of Things (IoT). EHRs play an important role in delivering faster medical care during emergencies.
  • Social Connect - Presently, over 150 million Indians have an active presence on social media. In the healthcare scenario, social networking platforms are creating opportunities for various vendors to connect to consumers and make them aware of their products/services. Due to the interactive nature of these platforms, they can also gain instant, valuable feedback from their target audience. Moreover, social networking enables them to build a relationship with their audience and engage in a continuous dialogue. This has a favorable impact on their brand identity.

Digital Media - Creating a New World for Key Healthcare Stakeholders

Digitization has caused dramatic shifts in the environment of two of the most important entities in the healthcare sector - the patients and the doctors. These stakeholders are increasingly getting comfortable with the digital way of doing things.


Today's patients are more comfortable with technology and its varied uses. The World Wide Web has opened up a huge reservoir of information related to health and medicine that can be accessed by anyone, at any time and from anywhere.

Everyone who has access to the internet also has access to a plethora of online sources of information on various health conditions, their symptoms, the available diagnostic tests, the treatment approaches and the suitable medications. In fact, doctors now have to deal with a new type of patients who is over-informed and more often than not, ill-informed, about various diseases, thanks to the abundant online resources.

Patients resort to online networks to seek support after being diagnosed with a particular condition. Online communities provide them a platform to interact with others facing similar health issues, understanding the best ways to manage the condition and catch up on the latest advances in treating it. They can also read up on prescription and non-prescription drugs, their uses, harmful side-effects, contraindications and other details. The internet also lets them shop for various healthcare providers and provide feedback on their services.

This new environment has created the trend of patient-focused care. Today's patients are actively seeking value-based rather than volume-based care. They demand transparent information about everything related to their medical condition and its treatment.


Digitization is empowering Indian doctors like never before. They now use technology for improving patient care, at-work efficiency, and professional advancement. Following are the main effects of digitization on the medical community:
  • Online learning - As per the findings of Docplexus' survey on Indian doctors' online behavior, an astounding 83 percent of physicians found online channels of professional learning extremely convenient and efficient. They can easily source detailed information on various drugs and treatment approaches at any time, rather than depend on their brief, physical interactions with pharma sales representatives. They also find it easier to stay updated on best practice guidelines, medico-legal issues and healthcare policy revisions via online sources.
  • Rising use of devices-Desktops and mobiles are a part of everyday life for the medical community. While 53 percent doctors prefer mobiles, 40 percent use laptops and desktops.
  • Higher demand for summarized clinical takeaways - With their busy schedules, doctors spend only about 4 minutes per online session. Moreover they are not trained to interpret the complex statistical data presented in clinical trial studies. Rather, they prefer online resources that provide content in a concise, easy-to-understand format.
  • Visual medium preferred over text- Sophisticated technology is improving the quality of audio-visual media. This coupled with the penetration of broadband internet is leading to a rise in demand for medical webinars, surgical videos and online CME programs.
  • Personalized information - Digitization establishes multiple touchpoints which provide valuable data about users. This is creating opportunities for a highly- personalized online experience. Like every consumer, clinicians too expect service providers to understand their information needs and offer customized content.
  • Networking - Online social media are making possible for doctors to connect with each other for personal as well as professional reasons. Professional doctor-only networking platforms enable physicians to collaborate with peers, seniors and specialists on challenging cases. They also facilitate interdisciplinary learning.
How can Pharma adapt to the new dynamics?

Indian pharma industry has been slow in responding to the changes being brought in by healthcare digitization, owing to which it runs the risk of becoming irrelevant. Large technology players are penetrating the healthcare sector in a major way, seeking alliances with drug and medical device manufacturers to develop better drugs and smarter devices.

Big data is enabling predictive analysis and personalized treatment. It is furthering genomic research so that accurate predictions can be made about an individual's predisposition towards certain diseases. Patients and doctors expect an omnichannel digital connect with pharma that is consistent across channels. Pharma can adapt to these new demands by fully embracing digitization across functions.

By adopting data science and machine learning drug developers can boost their drug development process to create more effective drugs. Digital technology can also be applied to optimize its operations so as to improve customer and supply chain segmentation for creating low volume personalized medicines in an efficient way.

Pharma can make significant improvements in marketing its products to patients and doctors using digital media. It can respond to their changing habits by establishing an online presence on the web as well as the mobile .

Marketers can tap social media channels to convey information about its latest drugs. Through 'social listening' they can assess their audience's sentiments in real-time and alter the marketing campaigns accordingly. They can also segment their audience into various groups based on various parameters and plan targeted marketing initiatives. This will also optimize their resource allocation. Such activities mark a departure from the traditional blanket strategies that were based on a 'spray and pray' approach.

Rather than handing out long, complex text on clinical trial results, short and summarized updates may be offered to clinicians. For detailed information, webinars could be organized which may be attended live as well as on demand.

Digital marketing efforts should be combined with the conventional offline approach of field force visits to doctors' offices. This will add value to the brief meetings between sales representatives and doctors. Videos may be developed for patients to understand the exact workings of a drug inside their bodies. This will fulfil patients' rising need for clarity and transparency.

An important consideration for pharma is the elimination of bias while communicating with consumers, especially medical professionals. To do so, it can avail the services of thirdparty networking platforms as they provide a neutral setting for interactions. These platforms also deliver valuable insights into the opinions and choices of a wide audience, based on which new product and marketing strategies may be developed.

This approach will also help the industry change its bad reputation acquired from unethical marketing practices.

To conclude, Indian pharma must leverage digital technology in order to continue to provide value to patients and doctors. This will also help it progress toward its larger goal of facilitating improved medical outcomes .