The Top 10 Technologies that Will Change Healthcare Marketing & Why You Should Know About Them

Published On December 28, 2012 | By mbalogh | Blog
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As the technology and industry leaders my responsibilities are to Technology and the pursuit of what’s next for us, our industry, our clients, and their customers by identifying technology trends and influencing behavior.  Although my core business is focused on the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, I look towards and borrow experience from those industries which are changing the future of how we relate with one another and our health.

The following list is compiled to help inform, persuade, and inspire brand managers, marketing directors, strategists, IT directors, and our peers as technology continues to play an increasingly pertinent role in both marketing and healthcare.  It’s a shared vision of Matt Balogh, Buddy Scalera, and Chris Cullmann, collectively the digital leadership of Ogilvy CommonHealth’s Interactive Marketing group representing Digital Execution, Research & Content Strategy, and Strategy respectfully.

1. Innovations in Human-Computer Interfaces

Believe it or not the iPad has only been available for consumer use in the U.S. since April of 2010.  With 15 million sold in the first year and the quick release of the iPad 2, then iPad “3”, and now “3.5” and mini, touch-screen interfaces are starting to look like the interface everyone’s got to have.  Windows 8’s metro interface is a non-tablet OS architected around the ability to touch resulting in manufacturers migrating to crossover devices like Dell’s XPS 12, HP’s Envy, Lenovo’s Yoga, and Toshiba’s Satellite and consumer backorders through 2013.

The venerable keyboard and mouse is likely to stick around for a while, but it won’t be long before the touchscreen generation puts it to rest. Technologies like Kinect, Siri, and now Leap Motion are bringing human computer interfaces to a new, more natural, interactive, and life-integrated level.  Projects like Google’s Project Glass, SixthSense, MIT’s Project Oxygen, and The Internet of Things (IoT) are working hard to take this even further.

What it means for Pharma

Newer, more intuitive interfaces are swiping, waving, and pulsing their way into both patient and professional applications. Since the Wii, we’ve seen interesting new applications for getting more active, diagnosing conditions, and recording health data.

This means complex technology and processing power is going to play a bigger role in our daily lives, especially in our healthcare.  Biometric sensors, geotracking, smart homes, and gesturing are all going to be sources of collecting data

Developers are already buzzing about how the television is once again a central device in the home…but this time it’s fully connected and interactive. Look for healthcare apps that elevate patient compliance to the next level with fully connected devices in the home and on the go.

2. Electronic Healthcare Records (EHR)

Electronic Health Records (EHRs) make the list every year because it is part of an inevitable future in healthcare, pharma marketing, and health information technology. EHRs are already here, but the promise to dramatically impact every aspect of the pharmaceutical industry is yet to come.

In previous years, EHRs were “coming.” In 2013, we will feel the impact of EHRs because stage 2 of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of the meaningful use guidelines will continue to raise the bar for adoption.

What it means for Pharma

EHRs represent an opportunity to make good on patient-centric, outcomes-based care and pharmaceuticals are set to back it.  EHRs represent both a new channel for communication and education as well as a significant store of data for results based analytics.

But it’s not all sunshine and roses.  EHR is still a new technology and adoption is slow.  The competition in marketplace is both good for innovation and preventing widespread adoption.  Health Information Exchanges, for instance, only work when everyone’s on the same page and there’s still a lot of jockeying for positioning going on.  The same is true for office-based electronic medical record systems – governmental oversight standards, but significant differences in execution with over 15 big players in the market.  Unfortunately we’re still a ways off from utopia, but check out the next section on big data for ore on this.

3. The Rise of Content Strategy

Not quite a technology, but Content Strategists are poised to significantly impact all our technologies.

Prior to 2012 the title Content Strategist was hardly a blip on the radar.  Looking forward we’re not only going to start seeing a whole lot more of these, but Chief Content Strategists as well. Research conducted by Google contrasted the just 5.3 sources of information consumers required to make a purchase in 2010 to the 10.4 required in 2011.  That’s a lot of content; and it’s not cheap to develop.

Going forward content strategy is going to play a huge role in marketing, from communications planning on through content generation, and all the way through to governance. We’re going to hear a lot more buzz words like “cross-channel” and “content marketing” in the future.

What it means for Pharma?

Despite the slow adoption of social there’s still a massive number of channels out there consumers use to both inform themselves and inform others.  With Government regulation both expanding and continuing to be vague the word of the day is conservative.  And that conservative approach is contributing to the sometime 6+ month process it takes to generate and deploy content.

That’s both slow and expensive.  So to counter this companies are looking to content strategists to both spot points of opportunity for improvement, waste, and to amortize assets across channels.  Cross-channel content marketing used to be something we said, now there’s a role created just for that.

4. Personalization & RM Gets Hyper-Custom

Broad, impersonal relationship marketing (RM) has begun to fall out of favor with patients. These past few months I’ve begun capturing an cataloging the various “relationship” offers I’ve been receiving from various retailers and the results are not promising.

In a cross-channel millisecond world where you’re on your iPhone while watching your AppleTV streaming YouTube videos waiting for a bus as billboards drive by and newspapers are online it’s our job to connect the channels and connect the dots.  Marketing is becoming less about campaigns and more about singular customer experiences.

1-to-1 meaningful engagements will need to be contextually relevant, timely, personal, and genuinely valuable.

What it means for Pharma

In a world where we share so much information, patients are going to expect us to offer varying levels of service and support. EHR, when it’s finally online, will revolutionize healthcare which means the way in which we communicate healthcare will have to be revolutionized.  We’re already seeing thing like talk of “health” crossing with talk of “wellness”, but this is going to go a lot further.

Patients actively seeking support, information, and value from select brands with demand RM to offer more personalized support, particularly those no only receptive, but with chronic conditions necessitating to ongoing, high-touch relationships.

Pharma must continue to balance privacy with rich information. That is, we have the ability to collect a massive amount of information, but that doesn’t mean people want us to use that information to provide health messages. Then again, it doesn’t necessarily mean they want us to act like big, dumb corporations either.

5. Smartphones at the brains of everything we do.

For as much as we rely on them our smartphones are drastically underutilized in our daily life.  When it comes to mobile technology we’ve traditionally thought in terms of mobile web, apps, or even peripherals.  A recent move by Ford opening an innovation lab in Silicon Valley breaks that mold by redefining peripheral to be the world around you.  In the case of Ford your vehicle becomes your peripheral with your smartphone as the “brains”.

Combining the increased processing power, memory, and bandwidth with the myriad of the devices points a trajectory toward what used to be considered our phones we will have to consider the center of our digital world.

What it means for Pharma?

With devices at the center of our digital life the push for patient centric, outcomes driven, care can become a reality.  Healthcare is quickly becoming wellness with points of care integrating into our life more frequently than just a visit to the doctor’s office. The rise up “swivel apps” – apps healthcare providers use to illustrate and communicate with patients – and “prescription apps” – apps recommended to the patient by the doctor and even covered by insurance in some cases – are a solid indication how far we can take this.

6. A Focus on Privacy

With all these new technologies and channels the debate of privacy of data will roar on as some seek to serve, some seek to abuse, and others simply want to take no part in it.  In 2013 the battle for information, red hot and centered in healthcare, will continue as the FCC continues to make small rulings that shape the nature of data collection and use.

With more people doing more online, the transition to electronic healthcare records (EHRs), and connected smart devices becoming more prevalent with costs dropping and power increasing, concerns over privacy on both sides of the battle will grow.  As it stands consumers want it both ways with applicable information served up without the clutter of that which does not apply at the same time being reluctant to give up their data with providers being left with the choice to serve despite desire or not serve at all.

What it means for Pharma

If the government is going to crack down on the use of big data in personalized marketing the already conservative pharma industry may be tempted to take a wait and see stance.  This is a huge mistake for several reason, not the least of which is doctors and patients dependence on getting the right information at the right time when they need it most.  As we talked about in #4, that’s the future or RM.

Going forward online privacy will become more about trust and understanding than it will be about control.  Transparency: who has access to what data and assurances it won’t be passed along to someone else or used in ways users do not know about is the only path forward.  Right now people don’t trust marketing because they can’t effectively filter the gold out of the gravel.

User-friendly methods for understanding what and how data is being used will pave the way for data centric healthcare applications that provide better and more personal services.

7. Video, video, video

You think video is big now, wait and see what’s coming.  The introduction of the mini-tablet are meeting large screen smartphones in the middle optimizing video engagement through high resolution monitors and powerful processors has set the stage for consumption. 4G/LTE service when we’re on the go and fiber optics in our homes all point to one thing: video.

Alexa web information currently ranks YouTube as the #3 most visited site in the world, topped only by Facebook and parent company Google, and it’s only getting bigger.  Ranked 23rd in the US (98th in the world) Netflix accounts for an estimated 31% of all Internet traffic with YouTube posting another estimated 12%.  That’s a lot of video.

What it means for Pharma

Video is an engaging way to effectively communicate information and tell stories at the same time.  It can boast both increased retention and cross-platform, multi-device portability.  And the best part is its ideal to take complex ideas and make them simple.  If video is big and getting bigger, video in pharma is poised to explode.

But there’s a catch.  It’s got to be in context of both delivery and content.  On the professional side, for instance, Doctors are giving feedback that they don’t want to watch a two minute video while a rep stands there silently holding the iPad.  Not really a surprise.  On the consumer side

8. Social Media and Search

Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, and many other social networking services are all biding for your attention. Not only are they looking for advertisers to engage their properties and users, or to have you purchase ad space in their ecosystems, social networks are looking to change the way you search.

Facebook’s like button and more recently, Google’s +1 button, are all searching for consumer engagement on, and well beyond, their walled gardens. Why? Because search is the forum of influence. Being able to capture interest where people are engaged and already engaged with habit is easy fodder.

How does a “button” influence search? Once you or someone you know acts on one of the social networks’ buttons, that information is shared with search partners that can append that influence to search results. The effect is a personal endorsement appearing as part of a search result from a partnering search engine.

What it means for Pharma

For brands, this can be motivation to add influencers, followers, fans and social media buttons to your web and interactive content. Having a niche-friendly web-celebrity like KevinMD endorse your website can help influence and drive web traffic and opinion.

But it’s not all positive. At some point, a patient will click the +1 button on Google, which will be an implied “endorsement” of a pharmaceutical brand web page. Unfortunately, users will not realize that these endorsements are public. When this happens, don’t be surprised when the users lash out at the pharma company, even though this is between the user and Google.

9. Tech enabled Reps

The last few years has seen healthcare lead the adoption curve of tablet technologies, and that’s not accident.  The patent cliff, or Pharmageddon as it’s become known, has pushed pharmaceutical ad spending down $1 billion in a five year period demanding both less expensive and more effective means of effectively communicating.

Arming Reps with not only the best technology, but the best, most engaging content is becoming the cornerstone of sales (see #2).  Electronic relationship marketing (RM) is poised to play a big role not only in office visits but the continued conversations and “social” dialogs between Rep and HCP.

What it means for Pharma

Reps will be more visible on digital channels, where they can be available 24/7, rather than just normal business hours.  To operate in a patient centric, outcomes, effectiveness, and wellness driven industry requires big data (don’t forget about #5) to generate deep insights and personalized experiences (sounds like #7).  The digital rep will respond in real time (on their mobile device, #1) to physician queries and feed all details into a master RM system. The increasingly rare sales-rep visit will be reserved for fewer doctors than ever before, and those visits will become far more useful. Visits will be high-touch, high value and will last longer as HCPs begin to feel Reps are there to support them, not just to fill the sample closet.

10. eBooks

Believe it or not technology has saved the written word.  Books have always been a big business, Amazon was founded on that idea, but their sales have been in a steady decline for years.  2010 saw Borders file for Chapter 11 and shortly after in 2011 we saw them close their doors for the last time.  With decreasing demand supply got tight and drove up prices of those paperbacks we all knew and loved making them even more scarce.  Combine that with out busy lifestyles and people just didn’t take the time.

But kindle, nook, iPad, nexus, and the list goes on, changed all that.  In the span of a few short years not only did bulky books become portable, less expensive, and more readily available, but publishing was democratized.  In 2010 Seth Godin teamed up with Amazon to unveil The Domino Project dedicated to knocking down barriers between publisher and reader with the goal of spreading good ideas quickly and at a reasonable cost.  It seems to be working.

What it means for Pharma

Computers are about production, but tablets are about consumption with the most recent push to the mini-tablet really solidifying consumption as core to the platform.  People love to consume.  On the train, waiting for a bus, lounging on a hammock, or just about anywhere.  And now they can, and not just emails.

Long-form content is making a comeback, even more so when it comes to healthcare.  Success in eBooks is in the long tail and production costs and content dissemination models are in the right place to make it effective.  When something affects your life as only health conditions can a monthly subscription to [insert your condition] digital magazine may be just what the doctor ordered.  Literally.

The Long Shot: Near Field Communication (NFC)

Every year I try to throw in one long shot.  Last year augmented reality (AR) was my dark horse and I think it did rather well this year seeing several bumps in both apps and technologies like Aurasma which make AR easy.  It was a hard fought year for AR but tonight, just three days before the new year I received an email from a colleague proclaiming the success.

This year I’m backing NFC.  It was a tough call made more difficult by the launch of the iPhone 5 without NFC (thanks Apple), but I think that was a mistake they’re going to correct soon enough if rumors of the iPhone 5s are even remotely true.  People just want to bump, I guess.

Although this technology has been a standard since 2004, it has more recently gained notoriety as a feature in Google’s Nexus and later the Samsung SIII.  Google Wallet fell a bit short because of support, but I think it jumped the gun as retailers are waiting for enough phones in the marketplace to justify the investment.

The technology is a wireless protocol that allows two electronic devices to communicate by “tapping” one another or being within close proximity.  This could be two phones, a phone and a cash register, or a phone and a RFID tag placed just about anywhere.  The Internet of Things (IoT), a concept introduced in 1999 before consumer technology existed to support it, is big, getting more attainable, and based in RFID.

What it means for Pharma

Primarily hyped for its usage in commerce the technology enables the exchange of all sorts of data.  Possibilities for patients in healthcare will, for example, grant patients access to share insurance information and co-pay transfers without the need for multiple forms or duplication of efforts (EHRs, #2).

This same solution can also be used to manage prescription information, prescription payment information, generic policies and physician prescribing habits as a patient moves from healthcare professional office, to pharmacy and through refill cycles (with their smartphone at the center of their world, #5).

With the added ability for NFC enabled devices to read non-powered devices, dubbed “tags”, it can also be used for over-the-counter products as well delivering competitive offerings, coupons and rebate information while consumers wait in line or even to help them make a purchasing decision.  Just about anything can be tagged.

And that’s just the consumer side.  Combined with other data and sensory collection like GPS, accelerometers, alerts, and many more these devices will help inform HCPs to better customize healthcare solutions to patient lifestyles and specific needs.  If EHR is driving the market to an outcomes based model NFC is turbo charging the engine.

So, what does all this mean for Pharma?

New technologies are emerging every day.  Historically pharma has been in the late majority or, dare I say, even a laggard, but that’s all changing.  Shifts in the marketplace ranging from healthcare coverage, to the patent cliff, to empowered patients and personalized healthcare have shifted the conversation from health to wellness.  Patients are seeing their doctors, but they are also getting advice from online physicians, fellow patients, and even a few quacks. All of this is influencing the way patients manage their health.

At one time, things like social networks were a pleasant diversion. Now they are one of 10.5 channels from which many people get their healthcare information.  The technologies listed above, for the most part, are not a prediction they’re a reality.  We’ve said it before, but it is even more true now…pharma needs to determine a practical and sustainable strategy and these ten technologies are definitely going to be part of that conversation.


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