Pharma sales: Focus on the mobile opportunity

Andrew Tolve explores three things pharma can do to capitalize on mobile sales opportunities

The raw data speaks to the growing prevalence of online and mobile health.

In the US, more than 80 percent of Americans search online for health information, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

On search engines like Google, Bing!, and Yahoo, health is the third most common topic, meaning that more people turn to search engines to answer questions about their health than they do to doctors.

And increasingly they conduct these searches via mobile phones.

Nearly a third of Americans aged 18 to 29 use their phones as conduits for health info, and 17 percent of Americans overall do the same.

Using mobile platforms to engage with health has led to increased usage of health apps.

Ten percent of the American population currently has at least one app that helps track or manage their health, and that stat rises to 15 percent for those aged 18 to 29.

The market for mobile health is forecasted to hit $4.5 billion by 2014, according to In-Stats’ latest projections.

Taken collectively, these data, which are mirrored in other developed markets, reveal that mobile health is far more than hype.

In the words of John Mattison, Kaiser Permanente’s Chief Medical Information Officer, mobile phones are “the new wellness delivery channel.”

The pharmaceutical industry has grasped this and started to act upon it.

Companies have created apps and outfitted their sales forces with mobile devices.

Pharma investments in smartphone apps, social media platforms, and wireless devices have grown 78 percent in the past year, according to Ernst & Young’s annual global pharmaceutical report.

At same time, companies have struggled to determine the best places to focus their resources on the mobile front.

Many have thrown money at apps as the next big thing but are yet to determine how to build mobile into the core of their business strategies and media plans.

“Mobile does not equal apps, it’s a lot more than that,” says Wendy Blackburn, executive vice president at the digital marketing firm Intouch Solutions.

“It’s text messages and QR codes, email and media, mobilized websites. Pharma needs to embrace the whole suite to keep pace with the mobile health revolution.” (For more on QR codes, see How Quick Response codes can help pharma engage with patients.)

Here are three things pharma can do to capitalize on the mobile opportunity.


1. Mobilize rep-physician interaction


As physicians become more difficult to access, pharma must find new ways to maintain relationships and expand customer pools.

Mobile has emerged as a compelling way to do this.

The days of long meetings in doctors’ offices, when reps had ample time to pull out clunky machines and run through a Powerpoint presentation, are gone.

These days reps are fortunate to get a minute of face time with a physician, and often that comes on the go in a hospital corridor.

Being able to present engaging information quickly on an intuitive, mobile platform has become a strategic imperative.

More importantly, it’s become an expectation among physicians, who are among the most active segments of mobile users.

According to a Manhattan Research study released in May, 75 percent of US physicians own some form of Apple device, and 30 percent own an iPad. (For more on pharma’s use of the iPad, see Future pharma: Making the most of the tablet takeover and Will the iPad kickstart a pharma sales and marketing revolution?)

A more recent Manhattan Research study found that when physicians access pharma product information, they want to use online sources 66 percent of the time, rather than offline or print materials.

“Physicians want access to online details and presentations about products on their smartphones and iPads,” says Monique Levy, vice president of research at Manhattan Research.

“Getting service and learning on the go seems to come naturally for busy docs.”

To their credit, pharma companies are trying to accommodate this changed landscape; some have overlooked sizable existing investments in tablet PCs to deploy iPads across their sales forces.

However, all too often companies make initial investments in mobile but then cut off the money flow when it comes to creating native materials and apps that harness the platforms properly.

It may be easier to scan in print materials and call it a day, but that mentality comes at a cost.

“Physicians are starting to exhibit ‘shiny object syndrome’,” says Blackburn.

“They don’t want to see a rep presenting an iPad with the same old data on it. They want something of value, something different with engaging content that invites physicians to interact. That’s where companies can create competitive advantage.”


2. Provide value to physicians and nurse practitioners


Pharma reps are a small part of practicing physician’s lives.

Day in and day out physicians diagnose, they treat, they prescribe, sometimes they’re called into emergency situations in which the last thing on their minds is a rep with an iPad and his or her slides about comparative effectiveness.

Thanks to mobile, pharma can insert itself into some of these other job functions, thereby providing value beyond reps.

For instance, as physicians rely more heavily on iPads, pharma can provide apps that turn these tablets into medical devices that help diagnose conditions and simplify time-consuming procedures.

A number of apps have already been released in this vein.

AirStrip Cardiology, for instance, allows physicians to view patients’ electrocardiograms on an iPad, and FDA-approved “Mobile MIM” allows them to view radiology images on their tablets.

Likewise, the GIST Calculator from Novartis helps physicians quickly calculate a patient’s Risk of recurrence for Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors (GIST) with an iPhone or iPod Touch.

And Johnson & Johnson’s Psoriasis App gives dermatologists an easy and accurate way to calculate PASI scores during patient check-ups.

J&J unveiled the Psoriasis App in 2010 and the app has already been localized in 25 languages, averages 60 downloads a day, and has diagnosed upwards of 30,000 patients.

Such has been the interest in mobile apps for physicians, the FDA recently came out with draft guidelines for mobile health apps.

One of the proposed amendments suggests that if an app is used to diagnose or treat patients, it may need to be regulated as an actual medical device. (For more on mobile tech and medical devices, see When does a smartphone become a medical device?; for more on apps, see Pharma goes mobile: Making the most of the app opportunity.)

“This has implications,” says Blackburn, “because all of a sudden companies would need to send apps through all the rigors and testing of a medical device. It’s definitely something companies should monitor.”

Even if the FDA takes a more restrictive line on apps for docs, it will remain a viable channel for pharma.

Companies can also look to registered nurses (RNs), nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) as a second audience for their mobile initiatives.

With a shortage of primary care physicians, RNs, NPs, and PAs are expected to carry more of the load and, as a result, spend more time directly influencing patients.

According to Manhattan Research’s Taking the Pulse Nurses Study, PAs recommend or prescribe more than 330 million pharmaceutical products annually, and NPs write more than 590 million prescriptions each year.

As it turns out, this segment of the healthcare community is one of the most active when it comes to mobile and Internet use.

They spend an average of 10 hours a week online for professional purposes and often leverage digital support materials and tools for patient education.

“Traditionally, pharma has not prioritized healthcare professionals beyond doctors, but we’re starting to see that change,” says Maureen Malloy, senior healthcare analyst at Manhattan Research.

“Nurses, NPs and PAs are tech savvy audiences and very involved in patient care and support.”

Companies like Roche have introduced apps like Nursing ACE, which provides nurses with patient educational information and contacts for nearby clinical coordinators, but more opportunities abound.


3. Improve patients’ lives and treatments


Patients are in many respects the engines of the mobile health revolution.

As people become more connected, the expectation for personalized care—whether it be turn-by-turn directions on a GPS or a tailored calorie counter on a mobile phone—is rising, which in turn puts pressure on the tech and health sectors to provide solutions.

Apps are one way pharma can respond to this need and put personal value in the pockets of patients.

As of mid-2011, pharma had more than 50 apps in the Apple App Store, many of which are focused on the patient segment.

Merck’s iChemoDiary enables patients to track symptoms, treatments and medications during chemotherapy.

Bayer’s Kid-K teaches kids about hemophilia and the fun they can have despite their chronic condition.

Sanofi-aventis' GoMeals lets users access nutritional information of everyday foods, track the values of their food intake by meal and by day, and monitor personal consumption of carbs, fats, and proteins.

While some of pharma’s apps have garnered attention in the patient community, others have languished in obscurity, which is significant when you consider that the average apps costs between $150,000 and $1.5 million, according to a general study from Ad Week.

Therefore, it’s critical when creating an app to reach out to the patient community, get their input on the real needs, and determine which users the app will be targeting—the patient, the caregiver, kids, teens, adults?

As Jan Geissler, a founding member of the European Cancer Patient Coalition and co-founder of the CML Advocates Network, puts it, “Mobile in isolation doesn't work.” (For more about Jan Geissler, see The power of patient groups.)

It’s also critical to consider other ways, and arguably simpler ways, to harness mobile beyond apps.

“Apps are sexy and shiny and that’s where everyone goes when they think mobile, but there’s a lot of basics that people skip over,” says Blackburn.

As more patients access health through mobile platforms, the need for basic mobile compatibility grows.

If a company sends out emails as part of an adherence campaign, those emails need to be viewable on a mobile device.

Likewise, product and company websites should be optimized for mobile platforms.

This requires time and money and patience—guiding another site through legal, medical, and regulatory isn’t easy—all of which requires senior level support.

“Even if there’s general interest, when it actually comes to executing these basic steps, things fall apart and get cut from the budget,” says Blackburn.

“Leaders throughout pharma need to fight for this, or else it won’t happen.”


For more on pharma sales and CRM 2.0, join the industry’s other key players at Key Account Management Europe on Nov. 22-23 in London, eMarketing Canada on Nov. 8-9 in Toronto, and Mobile Strategies for Pharma on Dec. 1-2 in London.


Also check out Sales & Marketing Excellence Latin America on Oct. 20-21 in Miami, Sales & Marketing Excellence Russia CIS on Oct. 24-25 in Moscow, and Specialty Sales Excellence USA on Nov. 15-16 in Philadelphia.


For more articles on mobile tech, read eyeforpharma’s Future Pharma special report


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