The Pharma-Physician Trust Gap That's Hiding In Plain Sight

When it comes to the pharmaceutical industry’s digital ambitions, it’s becoming less and less about producing stand-alone apps and more about developing digital tools that have therapeutic potential. This was the message Dr. Joseph Kvedar had for those attending the recently concluded 2015 HIMSS Connected Health Conference. 

According to Kvedar, executives at pharmaceutical companies generally have viewed digital technologies from a marketing perspective. But, pharma’s marketing-focused approach toward digital health is beginning to change. One major factor contributing to pharma’s evolving relationship with digital is an ongoing effort to figure out how to deliver products and services that go “beyond the pill,” and improve well-being while boosting outcomes. 

According to MobiHealth News, Kvedar noted, that “we’re seeing more instances where [pharmaceutical executives] are adding a wearable component as part of the package or an app that is an integral part of the therapeutic.” He urged more drug firms to “start thinking quite differently about the space, and not everything that makes you better is a pill.” 



Of course, this is easier said than done. Pharmaceutical companies are currently working to address a number of issues when it comes to their digital health offerings, including: 

  • How to develop digital solutions that best support patients and physicians and — even more critically — can help boost adherence or the efficacy of medications in ways that drive revenue or demonstrate health benefits
  • Create new digital health business models that align with or smoothly disrupt the traditional ways pharma firms have generated (and protected) intellectual property and produced company-sustaining revenues

But, could pharma be facing another challenge to its digital ambitions that’s literally hiding in plain sight? It all comes back to the level of mistrust that many physicians have for the pharmaceutical industry. And, it turns out that skepticism about pharma’s intentions extends to the digital arena as well. 

According to the recently published “Digital Doctor Report 2015” produced by Ipsos, “doctors have a greater level of distrust of pharma compared to technology companies.” Specifically, 40% of European physicians surveyed say they don’t trust applications developed by pharma. In contrast, only a quarter of physicians express the same sentiments toward technology firms. 

In its report, Ipsos does not offer specific recommendations for how pharma can overcome the physician trust gap in digital health. So, I’m offering a few suggestions for how pharma can improve physicians’ perceptions of its digital offerings. 

  • Develop Technologies Physicians Actually Want to Use: Physicians regularly complain that many digital technologies do nothing to improve health outcomes and even make it harder for them to do their jobs. Because of their strong financial position, pharma companies should be under less pressure to quickly produce (and monetize) digital technologies. Firms should take time to ensure the solutions they develop are actually effective and help, rather than harm, physicians’ ability to serve patients. 
  • Focus on Clinical Outcomes: Another issue with digital technologies is that many of them are not designed to improve clinical outcomes. Part of the reason for this is the difficultly in navigating the regulatory approval process (more on this below). Pharma has the potential to play a leading role in developing or investing in technologies that focus specifically on solving critical clinical challenges due to its vast experience in this area. 
  • Pursue Rather Than Avoid Regulatory Scrutiny: Many of those creating digital technologies do everything possible to develop solutions that will not be perceived by regulators as medical devices. This is because securing approval for products and services from the FDA and other regulatory bodies is both expensive and time consuming. Pharma has the opportunity to excel where others falter in digital health due to its experience in navigating complex regulatory issues. Developing FDA approved apps and other solutions will also boost physicians’ trust in pharma’s offerings, potentially increasing their uptake and impact. 

By leveraging its inherent financial, knowledge and regulatory strengths, pharma has the potential to not only earn physicians’ trust, but play a leadership role in the fast-evolving global digital health landscape.

2 comments about "The Pharma-Physician Trust Gap That's Hiding In Plain Sight".
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  1. Bill Jackson from EPAM/Empathy Lab, November 20, 2015 at 4:15 p.m.

    If pharma is going to develop apps which don't rely on "the pill" being the solution, and if they are going to go to the expense of gettting an app approved by the FDA - then there will be a need for the app to generate ROI by itself.

    And this could be an exciting area for pharma, but it will require a way for these apps to be sold or distributed, and possibliy a way for them to be paid for by insurance plans. It won't work for every condition, but it could allow for "extensions" of drug portfolios by pharma companies. If they have groups of medications focusing on the heart, weight, HIV or other cronic conditions, then they might expand into apps in those areas.

    In some ways this might focus some brand loyalty, and if they were also prescribed a drug by the same company it may, by extension, increase adherance.

  2. Boguslaw Skowron from Connectmedica, December 11, 2015 at 10:28 a.m.

    For me pharma-physician mistrust issue results from bad communication or sales model (which more or less is the typical topic of their contacts). If pharma will bet on education based model of communication with physician than contact will be based on mutual benefits - that take effect on healthcare and patients. Noteworthy tool provides solutions for that kind of communication will be 

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