The pharmaceutical industry is one of the world’s largest. The market has always been cash-rich, as it needs to be given the investment required to continue the research and development behind the medical advances which have made such a difference to humanity, but nonetheless increasing pressure from regulators, thin pipelines and the patent cliff which has seen the rise of generics is a threat to continued prosperity. Innovative business models will help pharmaceutical manufacturers to remain competitive amidst these challenges.
mHealth market and mobile apps market
The potential of mHealth solutions has been discussed for many years, but only recently, with the advent of the new smartphone application based mHealth model, have pharmaceutical companies begun to realize how mobile services might be instrumental in the development of exciting innovations in their own businesses.
1. Potential reach: Today the smartphone and mHealth markets are still small, but enormous growth rates will enable pharma companies to reach out to every 5th citizen on earth in 2015. Most of these smartphone users will be in developed countries with above average private healthcare spending. The mobile screen, particularly that of the smartphone, will become after the television and computer the third screen via which to communicate with customers and patients.
2. Differentiation: The potential for smartphone apps to support patient adherence and compliance makes them the ideal add-on for pharmaceutical products. Pill reminders, glucometers and food diary apps are all solutions that have proven efficient in the support of treatment, and pharma companies that publish applications that support therapies will not only be providing a service, they will also differentiate their products from those offered by the competition.
3. Facilitate improved outcomes for patients taking the company’s drugs: It is a well-established fact that the success of therapy is dependent upon correct compliance. The opportunity exists for pharmaceutical manufacturers to support patients by supplying applications that assist patients in achieving compliance, thereby improving patient outcomes.
4. Contemporary marketing: It is already established that physicians are using smartphones and tablets to access healthcare related information. It would make sense therefore for pharmaceutical companies to re-allocate marketing budgets spent on printed medical reference and CME programs to applications – they cost a fraction of what printed materials cost, are more innovative, and represent a real value of less than $5, thereby fitting into the regulatory framework in even the strictest systems. Most of the major recognized medical references are already available through the app stores, and CME programs sold on the app stores are amongst the most expensive of all applications.
5. Learn how patients use their medicine: Mobile applications offer a direct channel of communication between the manufacturer of a pharmaceutical product and the patient. Patients using an application “tell” you when and how they use their medications – the dosage, to what extent and for how long they consult package inserts, etc, and are able to give feedback on the drug’s impact and their own satisfaction with the product. Applications provide direct usage information which can assist in understanding the usage habits of patients.
6. Saving costs: Smartphone apps have the potential to offer various cost-saving areas for pharmaceutical companies. Examples would be applications that support the exchange of results in medical trials (reducing double analysis caused by invalid or inaccurate test data), and apps for the sales force that would include GPS navigation to find the way to doctor’s practices (reducing travel costs), or information on customers that would be useful to review before meeting with them.
7. Improve relations with doctors: Apps are very personal tools, more so than websites of medical books. They are one of the few things (like rings or watches) that doctors always carry with them, and place them next to the bed when sleeping. Being in such permanent proximity opens up completely new possibilities to interact with the industry’s key clients. There are apps that support interaction between pharma companies and doctors as well as numerous examples of cases where doctors have willingly given feedback about apps to improve the app’s usefulness. It is true that visiting doctors is an essential but expensive aspect of marketing, and the opportunity to connect directly with physicians by providing a useful app would be a good way to create new relationships with prescribing healthcare professionals.
8. Increasing revenue: Although it might not seem obvious at first, with the price for mHealth apps at between $5 and $10, the possibility to publish apps that enable the automatic replenishment of drugs based on patient consumption and electronic prescriptions exists, as shown by various concepts already developed. Some mHealth solutions (like “patient monitoring” applications) might become the block-busters of the future, selling millions for a subscription of $10-$20 per month.
Pharma can benefit from mobile apps
The key point is that pharma companies should understand that mobile applications are an innovation area that matters, and there are a host of reasons why it would be beneficial for them to explore the opportunities that apps offer to innovate their business.
Please see “Mobile Health Market Report 2010-2015” for more details and a detailed discussion on business opportunities for Pharma companies based on the new smartphone based mHealth market model.