As with many live conferences this year, Digital Pharma East was transformed into a virtual conference and rebranded as Digital Pharma Innovation Week. Avant Healthcare was among the many sponsors this year. Bringing together big names from across the industry, the conference featured insightful keynote speakers and fruitful panel discussions, all centered around innovative approaches to omnichannel strategy, HCP and patient engagement, data analytics, and more. While there were a few technical glitches throughout some of the presentations, and creating networking opportunities was hard to do virtually, I thought the event was overall worthwhile and a great opportunity to hear from thought leaders at the vanguard of the industry. Here are my key takeaways from the week.
- Pharma has seized the day—Although initially behind other industries when it came to digitally engaging customers, the consensus among the conference presenters is that pharma has risen to the occasion in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. From implementing new infrastructure to make live interactions virtual to creating dynamic content hubs with drug detailing information, pharma managed to adapt quickly to changing needs. One standout from the week was the panel discussion on launching during COVID, where we heard from three executives who managed to launch products during the pandemic. From behind-the-scenes adaptations like figuring out how to execute photoshoots for promotional materials during lockdown, to finding novel ways to get sales information to physicians who couldn’t visit with sales reps, there was much to learn about adapting to such an immense challenge.
- Data can help lead the way—There was much talk about integration of the omnichannel experiences as well content personalization for specific HCPs (think how Netflix uses artificial intelligence to recommend new movies and shows based on what you’ve already watched). How does this happen? Data. We also heard about data quality challenges (how do you make sure you have data that is actionable and useful?) and how data can help us move from being product focused to patient focused and from volume focused to value focused. I found Kashif Zafar’s presentation particularly illuminating. The Amneal Pharmaceutical’s Head of Data Strategy, Enterprise Data Architecture, and Data Governance Council told conference attendees that in order to overcome some of our most pressing data issues, education and involvement of individuals across a given company is key, he said. “Everyone needs to be a data person.”
- Multichannel is the air we breathe—Multichannel strategy and execution has for a long time been as a specialty offering, a core service, rather than merely a way to describe how therapies are marketed generally. All of that has changed with COVID. While we’ve talked for years about the HCP product journey and all the touchpoints along the way, the pandemic has forced everyone to think in a multichannel way because all the traditional channels were shut down—speaker series, sales rep visits, in-person advisory boards, etc. There was much talk during the week about the new digital engagement model and, as I previously mentioned, integrating across the entire content delivery ecosystem. This, we heard, could be achieved through data optimization and creating modular, agile content. Perhaps my favorite insight I heard on this topic is that “finite resources make it impossible to act upon the ideal action every time.” Thus, we need to approach multichannel marketing in a wholistic way, where each channel is integrated with the other and our messages are optimized according to the strengths and weaknesses of each respective channel.
- Stories are still a game changer—Perhaps my favorite keynote speech of the week featured Katie Couric discussing the work she and her organization did with Merck to tell the stories of patients with cancer. The effort was called “With Love, Me,” part of Merck’s “Your Cancer Game Plan” and it featured videos of patients reading letters they’d written to themselves recounting their fears, struggles, and victories throughout their journey with cancer. The videos were designed to help other patients at the beginning of their cancer journey. During the presentation, Couric also discussed the series she developed with Merck shortly after COVID hit called “Katie Couric Explores: Cancer During COVID-19,” where she interviewed patients battling cancer during the pandemic and all the unique challenges that presented. The keynote speech highlighted the immense power of stories to teach and move audiences. It also reminded us all why we’re doing all of this in the first place: to improve the lives of patients everywhere suffering from life-threatening or life-altering diseases.
I enjoyed my time exploring everything Digital Pharma Innovation Week had to offer. During a year that’s been tough for everyone, it was inspiring to hear stories from people the industry and how they’ve adapted to these challenging times. Hearing all their stories, one couldn’t help but think that the past year has been a moment of truth for the industry, causing all of us to make crucial changes that will increase the value we bring to the marketplace and improve the lives of patients all over the world.
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