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October 28, 2021

Top 5 Challenges and Solutions to Digital Health in Biopharma by HealthXL and BrightInsight

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HealthXL and BrightInsight
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Over the past year HealthXL and BrightInsight partnered to promote dialogue with the industry’s foremost thought leaders across our networks. This blog is an output from a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) Roundtable Discussion hosted by HealthXL and BrightInsight on the top 5 challenges and solutions to adopting digital health in biopharma. 



Challenge 1: Relevant skillset to build on a digital health value proposition 


To launch regulated digital health products, a company needs to understand agile software development and the quality and regulatory requirements globally. For example, they need a product owner who can do two things 1) understand how product tech works and 2) understand pharma and change management to ensure compliance for Software as a Medical Device, clinical decision support systems, and more. 


A company also needs the right leaders who are willing to go through a process that can at times be painful. When thinking about implementing a new digital strategy in both the short and the long term, many of the factors that made an organization successful in the past may not be particularly relevant for this new strategy. A company needs the right combination of leaders and team that can really work together.


Solution: Leaders need to bring an open mindset and teams need a strong understanding of product tech, pharma, and change management. 


Challenge 2: Creating a robust business model with digital health that aligns with overall company strategy


To be successful you need alignment and support from the top down. There’s a difference between a strategy that is driven from the top down and one that is given permission from the top down. Individuals at the top need to align on more agile ways of working. Starting with one team at a time, leadership needs to spend time calibrating rather than controlling to ensure teams are cross functional and learning based. Digital health shouldn’t be considered one silo of the company, but rather by using the power of collective thinking, cross functional teams should be built into the digital health strategy. Teams need to understand their unknowns and set a direction that makes sense after they’ve undergone high quality exploration. 


Incentives for digital strategies need to be aligned with the overall corporate R&D and commercialization strategies as well. To do this the meaning of “digital” needs to be defined within an organization. Digital often means different things to different people. Define digital, align incentives, and have a learning mindset at the brand level. 


Solution: Rather than a digital strategy, have a corporate strategy that gets enabled with digital tools. Consider how digital tools can help achieve a corporate strategy. 


Challenge 3: Outcomes measurement / KPIs back to the business 


Digital health teams often put up bold and ambitious targets for what digital can do in order to get the organization to pivot from the status quo and pay attention. However, teams need to consider that digital is just getting started and we’re not yet at a place to talk about what it could look like at scale. Teams need to sell the big picture to get organizations excited, but they also need to be aligned on realistic expectations out of the gate. 


The expectation with digital is often that the timeframe is instant, but to see and have an impact on the business takes time. Teams want to show quick wins, but quick wins might not have big long-term value. Consider KPIs that could drive momentum in the next few years. Ask questions like: How can we develop more transparency with patients? Are clinicians able to get the data they need? Are customers delighted by the product? These are different types of value propositions.


There are also metrics to consider in regard to experimentation. For example, how fast are we going through the process? How long does it take to contract, bring in, and run the experiment? NPS metrics and benchmarks can also be used to capture how well an organization is doing in terms of culture and change. 


Solution: Consider a different type of value proposition and KPIs that look towards driving momentum in the next few years. Rather than quick wins, consider long-term value. 


Challenge 4: Test and Fail model is not first nature to pharma 


In order to sustain innovation in medical affairs, companies need to apply learnings, set a plan, and adapt to it quickly. This can be done through a test and fail model. There are often two lanes of thinking 1) not thinking big enough or 2) those that haven’t had the chance to slow down and fully calibrate the thinking to get it right. 


Sprint thinking isn’t second nature to biopharma. The clinical trial safety and efficacy mentality permeates throughout the company in a way that is hugely disconnected from “sprint thinking.” It can be helpful to have a rapid experimentation model embedded in the organization. This will make strategic decisions easier by allowing a company to stay firm on what they want to build while remaining flexible on how to build it.  


Experiments that are ongoing for longer periods of time are harder to shut down, the more time and funds devoted to a project, the more invested a company is likely to be in its success. Having the capability to innovate fast is crucial to success and an organization’s ability to stay ahead of the curve. 


Solution: Embed rapid experimental models in the organization that enable a company to stay firm on what they want to build while remaining flexible on how to build it. 


Challenge 5: Culture and innovative mindset 


Having the relevant skillset starts with culture and mindset. Rather than fixed vs. open we should consider alluring vs. execution culture. Having a learning culture is central to innovation within a company. Consider how much time a company spends on raising the right questions and filling in the gaps in knowledge? Questions can be a good indicator for culture and the effort and space available for high quality learning and exploration. 


One solution to test this could be to conduct a learning sprint where a team develops a list of things that need to be better understood. Learning can then be measured against progress on these items. 


Solution: Develop a learning culture that constantly explores gaps in knowledge and creates opportunities for high quality exploration.

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