As a medical, marketing, or market access manager in today’s complex pharmaceutical environment, it has become increasingly difficult to bring innovation and value “beyond the pill” in conversations with key stakeholders. Discussions, controversies, and healthcare needs have far exceeded the simple task of providing a medication with a slightly better efficacy and safety profile to other options already available in the market. Healthcare providers are mired in an environment saturated with economic pressures, compliance regulations and digital and often disruptive technologies. They are looking to you for more than just drug sales. They are looking to you as partners in navigating the shaky grounds in which the healthcare system looms. They are seeking your leadership in cutting through some of the quagmires and finding innovative ways to meet the demands of payers, administrators, governments, and patients.
Technologies, such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence, afford manufacturers an opportunity to co-partner with key healthcare stakeholders to present novel solutions in a complicated health environment. At first blush, a traditional pharmaceutical executive may raise an eyebrow and ask matter-of-factly “What does virtual reality have to do with my P&L?” In the new paradigm of healthcare stakeholder partnerships, however, discussions that provide longer term value and that extend beyond just influencing prescribing behaviors using new clinical data, will help to increase trust, brand advocacy, and manufacturer loyalty that are sustainable over time. Pharmaceutical companies can become the conduit for educational forums, conferences, steering committees, and advisory boards with healthcare providers, payers, administrators, insurance companies, employers, and patients on the topics of integrating technology to create healthcare efficiencies, improve the patient experience, and reduce the overall costs of healthcare as a result.
Artificial technologies have moved very quickly from a science fiction reality to actual smartphone apps that are available today. Expanding beyond the gaming sector, artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) have grown from a $525M industry in 2012 to a $976M behemoth in 2017. AI is being used to help train surgical staff in medical schools and hospitals by using virtual operating rooms allowing newbie surgeons to perform more complicated procedures in a virtual reality space. Companies like Osso VR, Oculus Rift/ Touch, and HTC Vive are just a few players flooding this market. In addition, companies such as Level EX and Glassenberg are producing mobile video gaming and operation simulations for surgical students allowing them to experiment in ways they would never consider on a real patient. Working to increase surgical exposure to these types of technologies not only will allow manufacturers to embed their solutions within these apps but also will help to increase patient safety, decrease complications, decrease waste and cost and increase the learning curve for fledgling physicians within a safe environment.
Traditional text books and 2-D models have been replaced by VR training platforms for physician education. Salix has recently created an interactive VR experience for gastroenterologists to learn all the facets of treating patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Other companies like SyncThink are replacing diagnostic tools with VR systems that can help track patients’ eye movements (which act as a surrogate for levels of mental focus) to assess the amount of damage after a concussion as well as to measure levels of recovery. Virtual reality is also being used to train midwives in managing complicated deliveries through technologies such as Samsung GearVR, HTC Vive and Microsoft HoloLens headsets. Finally, dentists are also leveraging VR to assuage patient fears and to gain better outcomes when compared to the traditional soothing music and beach scenes often used for this purpose. In a small 80 patient study, patients in the intervention group who used a Sony 3D viewer headset and a Zeemote JS1 Thumbstick Controller experienced significantly less pain than the standard of care dental patients.
Patients who need to manage pain after a surgical intervention or who suffer from conditions such as fibromyalgia can leverage apps created by Applied VR and studies have shown that self reported pain scores have decreased from 5.4 to 4.1. Virtual Reality is also being applied for patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by providing them with virtual “exposure therapy,” which allows these patients to consistently exert control over the traumatic situation giving them a sense of resolution within a safe environment. The same is true for patients suffering from Conversion Disorders, which is a condition where patients will convert emotional stresses into physical symptoms. By providing these patients with special software created by companies like Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL) combined with the Oculus Rift, clinicians are hoping they can reduce “amygdala hijackings” in the brain and provide similar physical relief to standard drug therapies. MindCotine leverages mindfulness, meditation, biofeedback and other psychological techniques like immersion as well as an animated smoking experience through a downloadable app to help patients kick their smoking habit. Attention-diverting AR headsets have also reduced fears and anxieties of children before receiving their flu shots. Rendever offers Oculus-based VR headsets for seniors living in nursing homes, allowing them to re-experience childhood memories and take virtual tours; this improves the residents’ overall sense of well-being and happiness. General meditation apps are becoming regular fixtures in corporate wellness programs and companies such as Kortex are providing handheld devices with two wires connecting to electrodes in a headband that helps to treat depression, stress, anxiety, and insomnia. Virtual reality has become a staple in spinning classes across the country and provides virtual instructors, leaderboards, and video chats. Moreover, it has been incorporated by companies such as Pelaton and Zwift. Games are launching everywhere in the fitness space, motivating people to sustain their health goals through software like Aetna’s Passage, which leverages Apple’s built-in pedometer to track steps; Blue Goji’s Goji Play, which can interact with any exercise machine; and Bitgym, which displays virtual runs or tools on any exercise unit. Virtual reality is also being used in a significant way for patient education: everything from BioLucid’s immersive simulation of the human body, to visual storytelling, to dealing with every medical condition possible. The options are endless.
Pharmaceutical or medical device manufacturers are not going to flick a switch and instantly start modifying what it is that they will be providing to their customers. Ultimately, they will always manufacture technologies in the form of medications and devices–it is part of their life blood. Having said that, there are numerous opportunities for consumer electronic partnerships or sponsored trials. Companies can leverage technologies and software to build their own apps or leverage software to create new VR based educational programs for both clinicians and patients.
Fortunately Impetus Digital can assist many manufacturers with establishing an advisory board or working group platform, leveraging the expertise of select stakeholders to give timely and expert advice on how best to create or leverage artificial intelligence apps or software into their value continuum. Stakeholders can include physicians, allied healthcare providers, payers, administrators, patients, consumer electronics partners, and data scientists. Enrolled advisors can be engaged through a series of online touchpoints either in the form of web meetings or online asynchronous assignments delivered as web form questions, discussion forums or annotation exercises. Through these series of advisor online touchpoints, manufacturers can solicit feedback on their technology innovations and “value beyond the pill” strategies as well as gain insights on how to navigate around competing disruptions and electronic company marketplace entrants. They can also learn how to differentiate their product from other technology disruptors and how to create a roadmap for innovation in the artificial intelligence space. In addition, advisors can consist of software engineers and consumer electronics company representatives and, through the use of small online working committees, can assist in the creation of novel clinician or patient virtual or augmented reality learning platforms to help diagnose, treat or manage through specific diseases or conditions. Advisors can also provide valuable feedback on new technology launch planning, regulatory and reimbursement strategies, uptake and research programs. Finally, manufacturers can leverage virtual working groups to help develop clinical papers leveraging real world data from the use of their app or AR technology and publish results on outcomes.
The virtual nature of the boards and working groups can help to increase the engagement rates of advisors who are often extremely busy and being utilized by multiple manufacturers for similar purposes. Also, the assignments, which are compelling, relevant, and timely, can give the advisors or steering committee members time to pause, reflect, process, and review their colleague’s comments on their own time, allowing for more thoughtful and granular insights shared through the online forums. All of the assignments are created, programmed, project managed, and reported out by Impetus and their technical team (medical subject matter experts); hence, the manufacturer’s workload is minimal and so are the costs when compared to more traditional in-person consultancy meetings.