Digital Health Gold Rush–Implications for Pharma

09.16.21   |  

By: Gregg Fisher and Barnaby Poulton, The Stem

In March 2020 our own experience of engaging with the rest of the world profoundly changed.  This is as true in medicine as everywhere else – the big question is now how much of what has been so rapidly adopted will be retained in future years. And what does this mean for pharma?

5 years advancement in digital adoption by physicians in as many days is not far from the truth.  Digital hesitancy, risk aversion, lack of the right tools. These barriers were removed overnight because they needed to be.  The usual time taken from idea to implementation and the distance to benefits realization dissolved. Bureaucracy – cited recently as the leading barrier to adoption1 – was alleviated. Education and training of users, a historical challenge to digital solution uptake, took place on the job. Necessity became the driver of invention.

This forced adoption has left a positive legacy:

  1. Mindsets of Clinicians
    A representative marker of change is seen in the US where 83% of surveyed US Physicians are now more comfortable using digital health technologies than prior to Covid2. Similarly, UK clinicians surveyed by the British Medical Association where 88% stated they wanted to stay with remote consultations in the future. Clinicians are now moving the focus towards sustaining this change, examining digitized care delivery to glean the best of it to carry forwards. Beyond a simple channel shift, clinicians are learning to refine the timing and nature of their interactions with patients. 

  2. Experience of Patients
    Given historical trends towards consumerisation of care delivery its perhaps not surprising that most patients have welcomed the use of 21st century technology in the delivery of care. Typical of this is one survey where 94% of people who sampled telehealth for the first time during the pandemic reported ease and convenience and where open to other modes of virtual care, such as remote monitoring3.

  3. Efficiency of Service Delivery
    Efficiency viewed from a system perspective has been a key driver towards digital health adoption. Reduced reliance on physical premises, throughput of care delivery, requirements for patients to be more self-reliant were all accelerated during the pandemic.   Covid has of course also created a large backlog of care not delivered. Here the role of Digital Health solutions to support remote diagnosis and care delivery will feature heavily in provider recovery plans around the world.

  4. Personalized Medicine
    Covid has driven accelerated adoption of digital health technology by patients, care givers and clinicians, further opening the door to personalized medicine, where data generated by patients can be used to provide a much more granular view of their health.  This comes with the challenge for clinical teams of processing large amounts of new data remotely captured from patients. Ecosystems of tools are now being used, notably in diabetes and asthma management of patient solution sets (apps, wearables, connected devices) and clinician dashboards to prioritize interventions and support individualized treatment plans.

So, will the changes brought on by Covid endure? All indicators point to yes. We will not revert to pre-Covid models of care delivery.

The scope and acceleration of digital health adoption brought about by the pandemic transforms Pharma’s historical go-to-market model and creates new leverage points which savvy brands can use to improve patient outcomes, compliance and generate evidence of impact.

Implications for Pharmaceutical Leaders

The immediate imperative for Pharma is to figure out how to engage in a new digitally enabled care environment:

  1. Understand New Care Pathways
    All care pathways have changed in some way: It’s critical to understand how care is delivered in your therapy area, the solutions that are now in place, how the funding flows that support this changed.  Understanding is key but so is seeking opportunity to co-create new pathways, delivering value to all stakeholders and capturing patient insights that weren’t available before to enhance the value you provide to stakeholders.

  2. Take Advantage of New Ways to Engage with Patients
    Patients are engaging with HCPs and providers in new ways. This changes how they may consume information from pharma, their expectations of channels and of content.  The delays in care provision need to be quantified: what is the implication for you? How can you help? What now is the balance between self-care vs provider-driven care and how digital solutions enable this?

  3. Explore New Ways to Engage with Clinicians
    Many clinicians are now accustomed to working remotely and much more used to engaging with and supporting each other using technology tools from virtual team meetings to back-chat channels to get fast second opinions. How can you fit into this evolved working practice? What tool sets are needed now?  How can you support their growth in delivering digitally enabled care?

  4. The Role of Digital Health in the Pharma Tool-Kit
    Digital Health solutions have gone from side-show to center stage for many franchise teams.  Choosing the right solutions that deliver value to patient, clinician and payor means not simply jumping on the digital bandwagon.  The right approach to developing solutions is critical – ranging from home-grown in house to start-up acquisitions, partial investments to building  accelerators. The approach must fit the business objectives and where the companies own internal capabilities lie.

Immediate investments that Pharmaceutical managers should consider to drive digital health adoption in their companies include conducting a digital health opportunity assessment, developing training materials for internal teams, designing your strategic framework derived from business priorities and scoping and building the right capabilities.







Gregg Fisher, Managing Partner, The Stem –

Barnaby Poulton, Digital Health Strategist, The Stem –

The Stem is a global management consulting firm specializing in customer engagement digital strategy in Life Sciences. The Stem’s unique networked consulting model draws on the industry’s most seasoned independent talent offering clients a nimble, cost-effective and refreshing alternative to traditional consultancies. The Stem provides specialized expertise in customer engagement insight, strategy and analytics, digital transformation and excellence, program management, and impact measurement.

For more information, please visit:

Category: Digital Health, Digital Transformation

Tags: digital health, digital health adoption, pateint engagement, patient experience, personalized medicine

Return to articles page

follow us on LinkedIn

Next post

Global and Scalable Patient Support Programs

7 Success Factors for Global and Scalable Patient Support Programs,

Originally published at PM360 Online The arrival of value-based care has increased the importance for pharmaceutical companies to demonstrate real-world outcomes. That, together with rising patient expectations and the explosion of digital health technologies—ranging from mobile to …

Stay Connected

Keep informed with our latest thought leadership and updates.

Email address is required Please enter valid email address
First name is required Please enter valid first name