The Rise of Mobile in Pharma

In the early 2000’s I was involved in the creation of an application for medical residents to document interactions with patients while on their rounds. Mind you it was developed for the Palm Pilot (remember those?), but my point is that mobile computing isn’t new – what is new are the advances in technology that have enabled a paradigm shift in its potential uses. The emergence of mobile computing has also coincided with an unprecedented demand and adoption from the end user perspective. The consumer market has evolved into a vocal advocate for the technology and simply put – people want and need this stuff. 

So what does this mean for life sciences companies? It means the same thing for the other industries embracing the trend - faster decision making, better customer service, increased productivity and agility, and enhanced information consumption.

Pharma is getting up to speed on the mobile front. This is largely due to pharma’s acceptance of SaaS-based solutions as a viable alternative to in-house systems. The expense of complex and costly systems are being written down and SaaS or hosted solutions are taking their place. More importantly, mobile is getting traction due to demand. It is simply a business imperative that’s hard to ignore. Just ask your IT department how many requests they field to connect personal iPhones to the corporate network or email system. The trend is underscored by Pharma buying iPads in advance of a growing demand. What isn’t clear yet are the use cases for mobile that will ultimately define how and when they are employed and what the expected benefits are.

Steven Niles’s February 2011 article in MedAdNews “Pharma’s fingerprints all over the iPad” did a great job at highlighting the potential uses of the iPad in the life sciences setting and the adoption of mobile applications. Not surprisingly, the first apps being considered are targeted towards the low hanging fruit which include field use of systems such as CRM, SFA and closed loop marketing.

In May, Mitch Betts’s Computerworld article pointed out the rising number of pharma sales reps using iPads in an effort to more clearly market their drugs during their typically limited interaction time with physicians. Betts also quoted IDC Health Insights analyst Eric Newmark: "Several major pharmaceutical companies are putting the cart before the horse by purchasing iPads in large quantities prior to even owning a single application to run on the iPad.”

There are some that say the mobile revolution will somehow replace the sales rep. I disagree – the role of the sales rep is changing and the iPad represents an opportunity to enable and enhance that change. If you don’t change with it you risk being less competitive and less connected to your customers. Reps are becoming specialists and physicians are raising their expectations on the value and quality of their interactions with them. Physcian access will improve with value. Customer engagement is key – mobile provides a platform for more engaging and effective communication and the insights enables a more value-added experience.

Eric’s quote reminded me of a recent meeting I had with a group of executives of a pharma company, each of whom brought an iPad to the meeting. When I inquired how they were using them, I was surprised by their response. They didn’t yet have a use. Outside of the routine tasks like checking email, calendaring and note taking, there were no innovative or supportive apps to make them more effective or to enable better decision making. Later in the meeting, when we were walking through Trinity Pharma’s performance analytics and insights, I asked the execs if having this data on their iPads would be useful. The response was overwhelmingly positive and they immediately began thinking of all the use cases to which it would apply.

The point here is – Pharma is still in search of the right uses for mobile. A clear opportunity is the ability to provide easy and intuitive information consumption at your fingertips. The opportunity to rethink how data and insights are consumed and communicated and the impact that can have on both the home office and the field force.

We at Trinity Pharma have been carefully following the rise of mobile computing and its effect on pharma sales. I believe that while the iPad and other devices can provide significant gains on the pharma sales side, they have not yet been properly utilized. The technology is relatively new and the pace of adoption is like nothing we’ve seen. The iPad is not a substitute for sales people and it isn’t the silver bullet to problems like physician access. It does however show signs of significant benefit - in order to realize the potential, Pharma needs to focus on deploying those applications that empower sales teams and their home office counterparts. This should be done by aligning your mobile initiatives to the industry trends like engagement, messaging, targeting, insights, and access, that will result in higher levels of productivity and communication.

The emergence of mobile has presented pharma with a great opportunity which is just beginning. Trinity Pharma’s focus is on the insights – the data that enables effective communication with your field and your customers. We represent a primary component of the multi-channel approach – where insights inform the customer engagement strategy. Trinity Pharma can help bring focus and immediate value to your mobile deployments with a solution that provides easy access to timely data and analytics that provide clear strategic advantages.

Zack King

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