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Caring for humans: Learning how the pharmaceutical industry embraced technology to get closer to their customers

The healthcare industry is arguably the most complex when it comes to the adoption of technologies. Ritesh Patel, Chief Digital Officer at Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide, spoke to CBR about how pharma industry can innovate with AI, VR and other technologies to create a better experience for digitally-enabled customers.

By Ellie Burns

EB: What makes the healthcare industry so complex in regards to adopting new technologies?

The healthcare industry has a myriad of global rules and regulations it must comply with, as it creates products and services that can impact a human being. Life is precious, and the healthcare industry creates products that can impact that life. Hence the culture of the industry is rather cautious. There is a “prove it works” mentality, and then “does it comply with the rules we have to live with” once it does work.  Therefore, innovation is hard as most who work in the industry err towards the cautious and the “it will never work with legal and regulatory” mentality.  A combination of diplomacy and ambassadorial peace-making is required to truly innovate in healthcare.

Ritesh Patel, Chief Digital Officer, Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide

Ritesh Patel, Chief Digital Officer, Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide

EB: How has the advent of social media and smartphone apps changed the healthcare industry?

RP: For the first time, the healthcare industry is not in charge of the message. Social media has upended the balance of healthcare power from the manufacturer to the consumer. Doctors are networked, patients are networked, and new companies are providing safe ways for folks to use social media by patients to talk about healthcare and share information. Pharma in particular has been sitting on the sidelines, waiting for rules from the FDA before engaging fully. Some have embraced social and have reaped the benefit. Others simply ignore it. Apps and mobile are seen as ways to offer “beyond-the-pill” services. However, it is sporadic, and in most cases focused more on the pharma company than on providing true benefit for the user of the app. Apps also open a Pandora’s box of collecting personally identifiable information. So pharma will tread carefully. New companies like Sharecare, onedrop, and their ilk have figured out what the consumers wants from a mobile platform. Pharma can learn from them.

EB: How is technology like AR, VR, and wearables shaping the ways that healthcare industry interacts with customers? How can other companies learn from this perspective?

RP: AR/VR has been used sporadically, but will gain acceptance. We will soon see accelerated use by pharma. Watch for a huge uptick in the use of these technologies to showcase the way medicine works in a body. It’s a natural fit with the immersive experiences these tools provide. Imagine being able to take apart lungs and hearts in VR, and showcase how the medicine works. Imagine a dentist being able to use VR to diagnose a scan of the mouth. Today these technologies are found at trade shows and in the sales arena (mode of action of a drug), tomorrow we will see them used for consumer and practical applications. VR in particular is becoming more mainstream—Samsung VR and Oculus will be must have gifts this Xmas. With regard to wearables, this will continue to be dominated by nonhealthcare companies like Apple, Fitbit, and others. However, industry can use the aggregated data these devices produce to help a doctor and a patient understand how their medicine fits in.

EB: On the other hand, how to find the balance when embracing technology?

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RP: The most prudent approach for emerging technology is to pilot and test to ensure it meets the business or value need. If it does, then how will it impact the regulatory and legal environment? If all is good, onto a gradual rollout. The most important thing is to not embrace the shiny new toy. The focus should be on value or business need. There have been many instances of emerging technology looking for a problem to fix. That will fail.

EB: Thinking beyond healthcare sector, what could be the future of customer experience?

RP: Mobile and VR are the future. Mobile devices are a part of our life, and will continue to play a major role in how we experience brands, and how we expect to be served. We see a new emerging platform of AI and bots that will change the way we interact with companies. Discreet messaging bots could perform tasks on your mobile based on some preset profile information that the AI integration will continue to learn about. For example, a travel bot could book a flight and hotel for you, a shopper bot could order your usual food, and messaging and notification bots/apps could alert you of a price drop for your favourite shoes.

EB: What are the main pitfalls of using new technology for a consistent customer experience?

RP: The biggest thing that many companies forget is consistency of experience. As new channels emerge, there is sometimes a rush to adopt it, but we forget about the overall brand experience. It feels disconnected. The biggest piece of advice I would give to folks is connect the experience across the whole customer journey, so the brand experience is consistent.

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