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Harnessing Innovation to Serve and Create Value for Patients

By Georgia Mitsi, PhD, MBA, senior director and head of digital healthcare initiatives, Sunovion Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Georgia Mitsi
Georgia Mitsi

Innovation is not a choice but rather a growth mindset, which creates an environment for building a sustainable business. This mindset allows for objectivity and contributions towards a bigger shared purpose. Innovation is about challenging the status quo with processes that do not work and trying new ways. Innovation is driven by positivity and optimism. Innovation offers options and it should be pursued relentlessly because it provides new opportunities for employees to grow and become even more engaged and productive.

Ultimately, innovation can help to ensure a company’s future. But, harnessing innovation does not need to be daunting, and can be done in small steps.

Many types of companies within the healthcare ecosystem have been leveraging technology to harness innovation, and the pharmaceutical industry in particular is exploring new ways to do so, which is changing the established business model. Technology offers opportunities to redefine the future of the pharmaceutical industry and to contribute towards innovation. Technology though is not a panacea and while it is still rapidly evolving, the focus should be on the “how” and not necessarily the “what” of technology. With regard to digital health care, there are three “hows” that should be considered:

  1. Prevention: How can we protect people from getting sick?
  2. Diagnosis: How can we improve people’s healthcare experience?
  3. Monitoring: How can we better support people and their families during the most challenging periods of their lives?

The new category of digital therapeutics has the potential for creating easy-to-use solutions for all three areas—prevention, diagnosis and monitoring.

Finding Sweet Spots, Enabling Cross-sector Partnerships

It is important to think for a moment how life has changed to understand how the pharmaceutical business can take advantage of the changing dynamics.

Let’s imagine Jenny. Jenny has a place that she calls home; a place that feels secure, relaxed and happy. She has a family, pets and friends. She shops to cover her basic needs and creates opportunities for entertainment. When she gets sick, she goes to the doctor, to the pharmacy and from time to time she may end up at a hospital for additional tests. But Jenny has also a demanding job and a long commute. Her life is busy and time is the most precious commodity. Technology has provided Jenny with the opportunity to make her life more convenient because a lot of her basic needs can be met online. She can easily order groceries, buy clothes, connect with her family and friends, make restaurant reservations, plan her next vacation, work online, read books, complete financial transactions and even receive medical services and medications. Therefore, technology contributes to Jenny’s well-being by making her life more convenient.

Amazon and other heavily consumer-centric businesses have a deep understanding about Jenny’s needs. Traditionally, Amazon was focused on serving the customer and its needs and making convenience a priority. By expanding into healthcare, Amazon is expected to continue focusing on providing services that can transform the health care experience. The recent acquisitions of Whole Foods and Pill Pack only reinforce this particular focus, as eating healthy and taking medication are essential parts of life. Potentially, receiving medications at the consumer’s doorstep could possibly help resolve adherence problems.

As people like Jenny have had online experiences while becoming more engaged in their own healthcare, this has driven the highly regulated pharmaceutical industry to recently explore ways to become more patient-centric. Patient-centricity made its appearance a few years ago and more than just a trendy term it has contributed to changing the dynamics, including among regulators. In fact, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) now urges pharmaceutical manufacturers to incorporate patient perspectives in clinical trials and capture real-world data from their everyday lives.

Pharmaceutical companies need to help resolve key challenges to more effectively engage patients in the development of healthcare solutions. How should patient voices be captured and translated in meaningful ways as they relate to clinical trial design? How can differences between patient and doctor perceptions be reconciled when defining outcomes?

When considering roles in this new era, in my opinion, companies within the broader health care ecosystem should do what they do best and partner where appropriate. For pharmaceutical companies, for instance, collaborating with partners who can offer artificial intelligence – AI solutions – could help produce new medicines and bring them to the market faster for patients in need. When it comes to supporting the patient throughout his or her journey, pharmaceutical companies can create meaningful partnerships with other stakeholders, such as hospitals and payers that also play essential roles in this endeavor. After all, we have a shared mission for the betterment of healthcare.

Remaining Future Focused

From the perspective of the expanding frontier of digital healthcare, the pharmaceutical industry will need to continue to adapt to serve customers in different ways. The industry is harnessing innovation with novel approaches to enable more creative study designs that shorten the regulatory pathway and exploring medical products and services that offer personalized value. Pharmaceutical companies are also seeking more involvement of patients in study design, inclusion of technologies that capture real world evidence, and dissemination of data insights to both patients and providers in new and engaging ways.

In an effort to look out further into the future, the industry is crafting innovation strategies for holistic, more personalized, technology-driven solutions.

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