How healthcare, pharma cos evolve in current digital age

Debprotim RoyWednesday, November 13, 2019, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

Indian pharma and healthcare are one of the fastest growing and largest markets in Asia. At the same time, India is also as an emerging R&D hub for prominent healthcare and life sciences majors across the globe. If the pharma and healthcare are going to evolve to unravel the most rooted challenges, the 'patient-first' approach that is the motto of nearly every healthcare company must first begin at the heart of their business.

For instance, the RespiTrack mobile application by Sun Pharma aimed at raising asthma awareness among patients and ensuring they adhere to their treatments. Or the knowledge genie application by Abbott Healthcare. These are a few of the many on-the-ground successful examples that have employed design thinking through the lens of healthcare delivery.

But to keep in tune with rapid digitalization, pharma companies in India, both big and small, must make optimal use of technological trends to boost their product offerings and be at par with their global counterparts.

Worldwide, the healthcare industry is exploring augmented and virtual reality on a single platform for patients and doctors to engage in real-time. Ground-breaking technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things are changing patient experiences and inspiring innovative therapies and treatment options globally, thus improving efficiency in every stage of the value chain.

Like every other industry today, healthcare and pharma are experiencing a giant wave of digital transformation that it must exploit to ride through and reach its audience.

Impact of digital technology
Monitoring devices and online communication tools, such as FaceTime and Skype, have fuelled the concept of telemedicine. Here, patients in remote areas can gain real-time access to physicians without stepping out of their homes. Simultaneously, by reducing the number of on-site visits, these technologies are creating efficiencies and cost savings for doctors and patients. Add to it, wearable technology such as trackers and sensors are feeding real-time information to health experts and clinicians, rendering them critical information regarding drug interactions among patients and ensuring that at-risk patients are consuming their medications, thus preventing dosing issues or unexpected events.

And with the rise, implementation and proliferation of new technologies employed, comes a considerable wealth of unstructured health data. The fundamental shifts that these technologies will undoubtedly generate is going to be critical for every pharma and healthcare company.

So how ready is the industry to use the data for the benefit of their users?

How can the healthcare system in India enhance their product offerings and services in the current digital landscape while preparing for future technological advancements?

The answer lies in human centred design  - to help healthcare systems evolve in the current digital age and produce a roadmap for the future.

People-centred innovation via human-centred design
In the healthcare industry, human centred design is an ethos and discipline that puts the patient at the forefront, rather than the individual's health condition. However, the concept of human centred design must go beyond the typical advertising department or a siloed project. Rather than introducing user experience and design at the tail end of a solution or a product, it must be employed at the start for it to be used to solve systemic problems.

Significant challenge that healthcare system facing is not due to lack of good intent, but instead due to the complexity involved in coordinating the interests of contrasting or isolated stakeholders.

It can account for the needs of various stakeholders and bring attention to current problems while rendering solutions based on people's day-to-day experiences. A human centred design approach can help create solutions by focusing on the requirements, contexts, behaviours and emotions of the audience that the upcoming product or service aims to serve.

There are five critical principles in human centred design that makes an ideal approach to solving complex healthcare problems.

•    Empathise: Recognize existing hurdles and understand your audience. Importantly, recognize their needs by conducting in-depth research that can offer profound insights regarding their concerns.
•    Define: Construct objectives based on the outcomes of the studies in the 'empathize ‘stage in order to understand your user needs.
•    Ideate: Formulate a concept in this stage and also various solutions while evaluating their feasibility for execution. In this stage, a multidisciplinary team can bring forth a wide range of thought processes to create solutions for the audience.
•    Prototype: Build a prototype with the team that includes the best ideas to train and receive constructive feedback from your end-users. This prototype could include consist of several or a particular solution.
•    Test: In this stage, prototype can be tested with your audience through a pilot training approach and can measure the impact of the prototype on audience in this stage, that is if they are satisfied or have understood key concepts.
•    Implement: Eventually, the chosen solution or service can be deployed with the audience.

Designing with patient experience at the centre
While the objective of human centred design - in the context of the pharma and healthcare industry - is to evoke a simple yet meaningful patient experience, the design flow that leads to that objective is a lengthy and meticulous procedure. The healthcare industry needs to be conscious, receptive and perceptive, as well as justify patient attitude and psyche.

By placing user experience at the vanguard, the final healthcare project or service must connect emotionally with the user, that can only come about through a cultural shift among pharma professionals.

Human centred design can be challenging because the healthcare industry is not usually built with the fundamental aim of gaining insight into a patient's journey. Typically, so far, the user experience has been a mere byproduct of the company's overall structure and processes.

Hence, if the healthcare and pharma are looking to evolve in the digital age successfully, it must use design thinking to improve technology, company processes, drug manufacturing and other procedures.

Opportunities for human centred design within healthcare systems
The healthcare industry has numerous touch points with its users that can provide a critical opportunity to apply human centred design in various processes such as during clinical trials, examination and investigation and therapy.

Worldwide, large pharma companies are taking advantage of human centred and innovative design to promote a positive experience for patients.

Not just machines and gadgets, human centred design can also be applied to packaging design. Additionally, it can also be used to ascertain and resolve experiential issues across healthcare programs.

Challenge of human-centred design approach
Moving towards a human centred design approach can be no easy task. In spite of exceptional examples in the world of healthcare, it could be sometime before the pharmaceutical industry at large, shifts its entire culture to be genuinely design-driven. Traditionally, the healthcare industry is comprised of scientists, research experts and business people. Typically, they approach innovation from a business or a technology standpoint and not user experience.

Nevertheless, human centred design can be crucial in promoting patient experiences across the healthcare industry; and this can only begin with empathy.

For starters, pharma companies must dedicate resources in discerning the needs of their audience. The healthcare industry needs to look into how a user's quality of life can be enhanced rather than focusing on a cure.

Going forward, the industry can define and ideate by recognizing the problems that must be addressed and frame potential answers.

For viable solutions to gain traction and come to light, the pharma industry must prototype and test. It needs to involve real-life patients during the stages of testing. In doing so, the pharma industry can discover and present emotionally-relevant patient experiences for clinical trials, diagnoses, therapies and packaging of medication.

A human centred design approach recognizes and focuses on current pain points and makes use of those to promote user experiences. It initiates path-breaking frameworks, techniques, and procedures that begin with a user's needs; and not just the company's business objectives. It can stimulate companies to place themselves in a patient's shoes to gauge their viewpoints, rather than going by the company's need to be ambitious and competitive. When a human-centred design is integrated into the business model, and innovation in itself is not the primary goal - but rather an assessable benefit of a quest - will a pharmaceutical business be able to distinguish itself and acknowledge a worthy impact accurately.

(Author is Co-Founder,, Mumbai)