Blog

In the absence of physical interactions, COVID-19 is forcing shifts in the pharmaceutical industry from more traditional field-based models to digitized programs designed to engage with patients and providers. Some may say this is a “Tipping Point” but I’d argue it’s a “Forcing Point.” Digital approaches have been around for years, but weren’t implemented to the degree needed to truly change how the industry engages with its customers, runs its businesses, or thinks about technology. Investment in field sales models and tactics has stayed relatively consistent.

So how and why did the pandemic drive a more aggressive shift to digitally transform businesses? Likely because it takes 66 days to change and/or form a habit. As we settled into the second month of quarantine, companies had that necessary time to live without their field-based models and could see that their old-school approaches would no longer work. This realization is forcing mindset and behavior changes and, hopefully, fostering an openness and vulnerability that encourages a new way of thinking.

But how best to accomplish this?

Simply providing iPads and interactive sales aids, and investing in CRM platforms such as Veeva and Salesforce, which many companies have done, hasn’t changed people or their behaviors. Transforming an organization takes a dedicated and measured approach to digital education—encouraging curiosity and problem solving, resulting in ownership of new thinking and behaviors.

It also incorporates a human-centered approach called Design Thinking.

Design Thinking starts with understanding end users (reps and healthcare professionals) while remaining empathetic to their needs and stated problems. Instead of just providing iPads, for example, it involves understanding whether HCPs want to see a rep at all. Did they want a 13” screen to review clinical data held 6 feet away from them? Did reps want a device designed to track their performance vs. improve their engagements with HCPs? No, not in the least. But therein lies the issue. The very thinking was flawed as it focused more on how to use an iPad in the field to track rep and HCP behaviors than on better understanding the end users, their needs and how technology could enable net-new behaviors that would benefit HCPs and pharma brands.

Much of the conversation that we’re seeing today in light of the pandemic is not about reinventing approaches or the use of digital technologies in pharma marketing and sales. Rather, we’re seeing a willingness to embrace approaches that have been proven and well established but lacked adoption. The challenge now is to wrangle strategic partners together who are best suited to execute these types of strategies and corresponding tactics.

Partners who can:

  1. Design their firms using data to uncover deep insights about audiences.
  2. Understand that it’s not just about being creative, but about delivering engaging experiences via digital platforms.
  3. Create, develop and integrate technology platforms together into a seamless digital ecosystem.
  4. Put the power of the data and insights back into the customers’ hands for use across business functions.
  5. Understand the complex web of digital media channels and tactics, how they can be customized with data, and provide personalized experiences in micro-moments that matter.
  6. Harness the ultimate power of digital to demonstrate measurable return on investment (ROI) down to real business metrics such as new prescriptions, total prescriptions and sales.

Here’s a prime example of a forcing point.

Telemedicine has been around a long time but lacked adoption, in many cases because insurance companies didn’t have reimbursement models for these types of appointments. The pandemic created the forcing mechanism to make them a necessity. One Medical and other companies made this investment many years ago and are well positioned to capitalize on COVID-19. And it won’t stop there. We’re likely to see the uberization of healthcare, via an app-like experience that lets a patient call a physician to their house and have their pharmacy deliver medications without any physical interactions. Forcing points like these are going to further impact how we market therapies and how pharma and healthcare as an industry adopt digital approaches.

So how do companies achieve true digital transformation? 

At times, and depending on the organization’s Digital IQ, it may be more efficient to accelerate progress to centralize efforts in a high-functioning group working with technologists and digital evangelists throughout the organization. Once incubated, members of teams with higher Digital IQs can be dispersed into project teams throughout the organization, bringing their knowledge into groups that reach customers. Project teams will learn what actually happens in a website build, a digital media campaign, or an analytics assignment other than what the final product looks like. They’ll learn by listening, asking questions, and learning the range of possibilities of these new avenues of communication.

Unlocking curiosity.

When I was 10 years old, I took apart every doorknob in our house. Not because I wanted to be a locksmith, but because I was curious to learn how they worked. How did the knob trigger the latch or dead bolt? How did it keep the door shut? That same curiosity must be encouraged to drive teams to learn the possibilities of digital communication, how they can be used in new ways to reach customers, setting them free to brainstorm ever more effective ways of engaging and converting them.

To drive true transformation and changes in thinking, we must understand the following:

  1. Digital is the new traditional must be an ingrained belief within an organization. Digital is central and immediate to current communications.
  2. Each employee is the digital person in the room. The days of “bringing the digital person” into the room must become a thing of the past. Dispersing employees with higher Digital IQs into project teams (see above) uplevels everyone’s understanding of technology and ensures that digital solutions will be woven into every tactic and strategy. Digital is in everything we do. It spans every form of communication. It’s no longer an afterthought or nice-to-have. It’s foundational for business.
  3. There is a symbiotic relationship between technology and digital engagements. Voice skills and actions wouldn’t have taken off without the invention of the Amazon Echo and Google Home. Mobile apps and basic features such as SMS wouldn’t exist without smartphones. And services such as Instagram and TikTok wouldn’t exist without sophisticated cameras in smartphones. Understanding the connection and potential between the two will help us create even better user experiences.
  4. User-centric and design thinking approaches are mandatory. Rather than what we want to say, or what we want people to do or buy, we must be empathetic to users to better serve their unmet needs, by communicating the benefits of our products through meaningful digital experiences. We must fundamentally shift the way we think, behave and operate. We also must deliberately hire, train and educate staff to be curious, ask questions, sit with and learn from the practitioners. The organizational changes discussed above will be required to make this happen, but the payoff in output and results will be huge.

Yes, it’s unfortunate that a pandemic has forced the acceleration of digital innovation, but it’s a great time to capitalize on the momentum. Hopefully, this crisis will pass so we can all get back to a sense of normal. However, if organizations do things right, the transformation to new ways of thinking and communicating will stay with us for a long time to come.

–Adam Cossman, Group President and Managing Partner, W2O


Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

The pandemic that’s right next door.

COVID-19 has become the context in which we’re living, the focus of every media outlet, and the worry on everyone’s mind. However, what many don’t realise is that there is another pandemic that has been both ignored and exacerbated by COVID-19 and is likely to last much longer with no hope of a vaccine to prevent it. That pandemic is loneliness, which is a silent enemy[1] and one that leaves those over age 75 especially vulnerable.

Personally, I didn’t know much about the true effect of loneliness until my grandfather was diagnosed with stage III metastatic bladder cancer. Soon afterwards, I began spending my days caring for him while watching news about the second wave of the pandemic and local lockdowns. My grandfather had lived alone since 2012, after both my grandmother and great-grandmother passed away. He was never very sociable and previously relied on my grandmother’s boisterous ability to make friends quickly. Unfortunately, he never recovered socially after her passing and has been unable to forge any new connections in the years since. My sister and I are his only remaining close relatives, and over the years it has become more and more apparent that we are the only people who speak to him on a regular basis. My grandfather is sadly just one example of many in this situation.

Loneliness may seem to be a subjective and immeasurable concept, which could explain the apparent lack of scientific study in this area. However, there is a widely agreed upon definition in the UK. A government-funded report on loneliness defines it as “a subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship, which happens when we have a mismatch between the quantity and quality of social relationships that we have and those that we want.”[2] In addition, loneliness is known to have serious physical health consequences[3]– including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and increased cortisol – and is associated with increased comorbidity for people with mental health issues.[4]

In England, more than 2 million people over age 75 live alone.[5] While it can be assumed that there has always been a degree of isolation for some members of society, it is believed that loneliness has increased as a result of 21st century social practices and technology. In Noreena Hertz’ recent book, “The Lonely Century: How Isolation Imperils our Future,”[6] she discusses how recent technological advances and changes in society have placed self-interest above interest in others, contributing to a feeling of isolation for those who are less tech savvy. This technological divide leaves senior populations at an increased risk of loneliness especially during COVID-19 lockdowns. Even when restrictions were lifted for others in the UK, seniors were asked to remain home. For those who have a difficult time adapting to technology, it can feel like they’re left on the outskirts of society.

The odds seem doubly stacked against pensioners – many of whom suffer from anxiety, have mobility issues, or have comorbidities that make it unsafe to leave their homes. As we move into the winter season with COVID-19 case numbers in the UK rising again, it’s likely we will see the implementation of more restrictions for pensioners.

Several initiatives have been created to address loneliness in the UK. One initiative from the Campaign to End Loneliness provides patient questionnaires designed to be used in a clinical setting for GPs to refer patients to social prescription workers if necessary.[7] This initiative highlights the need for greater social prescription in primary care and was instrumental in setting a goal of hiring 1,000 new social prescribing link workers by 2020/2021.[8] In the context of COVID-19, the Campaign to End Loneliness has begun researching whether a phone call will help pensioners with lockdown-related isolation.[9] Another initiative is the Silver Service, which also provides this option. Founded by television presenter Esther Rantzen, the Silver Service allows pensioners to call a number and speak to someone about anything, whether it’s about the loneliness they’re experiencing or just the weather.[10]

Other initiatives to combat loneliness also have been trialled elsewhere. In Ireland, the charity Engage with Age has started People Against Loneliness (PAL), a service in which volunteers conduct a half hour call with a senior each week. Unlike current interventions in the UK, the service requires seniors to register in order to be matched with a volunteer, but allows for the same volunteer for each senior.[11] In Canada, a program is in place in which volunteers stop by seniors’ homes and keep them company once a week. To date, this service has received positive feedback from the community.[12] These initiatives are encouraging, but there is no time to wait as we endure another lockdown.

Unfortunately, the challenges with existing interventions regarding loneliness is that they rely on pensioners to take the first step, either by raising the issue with their GP or picking up the phone. For many, denial or pride may stop them from asking for help, or they don’t realise they suffer from loneliness, or that it may impact their health. Additionally, some studies have shown that existing interventions, such as group activities and socialisation, are ineffective in meaningfully treating loneliness.[13]

It’s clear that new, effective interventions need to be created. University College London (UCL) has taken a step in that direction and is currently looking to fund research into initiatives that can make a difference.[14] The Campaign to End Loneliness has reported on an intervention that is being trialled to help those affected by loneliness and depression.[15]

Ultimately, what these examples show is that there is not enough research into loneliness and what can alleviate it, and more proactive steps need to be taken. The studies by UCL are a great start, but they’re only the tip of the iceberg for a problem that is a pandemic of its own.

As we look to end loneliness in seniors, three key issues must be addressed:

  • There must be different ways for people to access interventions, ranging from hospital visits to phone calls to dedicated technology.
  • Interventions must be continually evaluated for their effectiveness, including asking those taking part what has worked best for them and then implementing those changes.
  • All of us must actively reach out to those in the community who may be suffering from loneliness.

Although I know my grandfather is grateful for the connection we’ve maintained over the years, I will always wish I could have done more to make him feel less lonely. Loneliness is an issue that is so common and that we all experience at some point in our lives. Staying silent about it won’t lessen its impact. It’s time for us to be more emotionally aware so that together we can help make the world a healthier place.

Additional information provided by Shanda Kopp.

Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/16/tackling-the-silent-epidemic-of-loneliness

[2] https://www.ageuk.org.uk/globalassets/age-uk/documents/reports-and-publications/reports-and-briefings/active-communities/rb_dec17_jocox_commission_finalreport.pdf

[3] https://www.rcn.org.uk/clinical-topics/public-health/inclusion-health-care/loneliness

[4] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00127-019-01734-6

[5] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/loneliness-in-older-people/

[6] https://www.amazon.com/Lonely-Century-Isolation-Imperils-Future/dp/1529329256

[7] https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/frequently-asked-questions/measuring-loneliness/

[8] https://www.england.nhs.uk/personalisedcare/social-prescribing/#:~:text=In%20the%20Long%20Term%20Plan,social%20prescribing%20by%202023%2F24.

[9] https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/guest-blog/life-after-lockdown-new-research-to-help-isolated-older-people-post-lockdown/

[10] https://www.thesilverline.org.uk/

[11] http://www.irishnews.com/lifestyle/2020/09/21/news/lynette-fay-covid-exacerbates-loneliness-so-now-might-be-a-good-time-to-reach-out-2070939/

[12] https://ca.news.yahoo.com/student-struck-loneliness-seniors-launches-110000797.html

[13] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/hsc.12367

[14] https://www.ucl.ac.uk/psychiatry/research/epidemiology-and-applied-clinical-research-department/loneliness-and-social-isolation-7

[15] https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/guest-blog/life-after-lockdown-new-research-to-help-isolated-older-people-post-lockdown/

Five essential principles to change management in a virtual world 

Transforming an organization in normal times is akin to turning around an oil tanker on a dime. Now overlay a pandemic where your workforce is operating virtually, customers are adhering to different norms, supply is being challenged, society is in flux, and competitive balance is upended. Under such conditions, an organization’s core capabilities and resources must be continually tested and adapted to ensure resilience and achieve results. The key question though is “How?”

Here’s the secret: stop overthinking! COVID-19 has accelerated organizational change by forcing leaders to move quickly in a shifting economy and a more dynamic corporate culture.  The opportunity lies in organizations proceeding with the velocity digital affords to impact business outcomes, including customer experience, employee engagement, supply chain efficiency, and more dynamic capabilities. The key is not to resist the change inherent in a marketplace and workplace where expectations are designed for agility, speed, value and recognition. What we are experiencing is big data becoming complex with insight more acute; physical and data information coming together; and organizations providing digital services not just traditional products and capabilities.

We have observed five critical principles that we are actively pursuing in partnering with organizations – global, international, domestic – to embed a sustainable digital blueprint where boundaries don’t exist, information and insight is ubiquitous, innovation is enabled, and the business model is fluid. Each of these tenets become important factors in changing the business exponentially:

  • Discern – Change and digital are all about understanding and comprehending the business in a 360-degree fashion. What are your information, IT, digital, social and technology sources? Are data and insight getting to the proper places inside your company? Are you uncovering influence, white space, roadblocks, barriers, etc.?
  • Detail – How are you built for rapid, flexible decision-making? What is your organizational system? What do your ecosystems look like?
  • Decide – What investments and actions are necessary to drive the business? How is data informing decision-making?
  • Distinct – Is innovation a priority? If so, how is insight the DNA of the process?
  • Discipline – Is there recognition and consequence to organizational behavior?

The pandemic has forever altered the fabric of society – from a personal and professional standpoint and, of course, from an organizational perspective. One of the areas, though, that’s been pushed ahead is how we incorporate data, insight and technology to develop new value propositions, ensure our employees are respected, our processes are nimble, and are customers are treated with dignity and purpose. Change management and the digitization of business has been a long slog for many organizations, but the elements and principles are there for a more seamless and successful journey.

Sometimes the change we are looking for is right in front of us!

Be safe and healthy!

Adam and Gary

Adam Cossman is Chief Digital Officer at W2O

Gary Grates is a Principal, Change Expert at W2O     


Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, Author, Health Economist & Advisor, rejoins the show and her message about health citizenship could not be timelier. She unpacks the 2020 Election, key trends, COVID-19, and what this all potentially means for healthcare. Take a listen below.


Don’t miss an episode of What2Know, subscribe to our podcast on iTunesStitcher or Spotify!

If you’re interested in learning about W2O, check out our About and Healthcare page

Leaders of healthcare systems have long understood the benefits of telehealth, and the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that healthcare systems have the capacity to rapidly adopt digital solutions. In just six months, we have seen a decade’s worth of digital transformation. For example, 46% of U.S. consumers are now using telehealth compared with just 11% in 2019. But will the benefits of telehealth be experienced by those who could benefit most?

With face-to-face interactions restricted, telehealth has allowed health systems worldwide to provide patients with access to ongoing care. Digital solutions such as remote patient monitoring (through devices or patient-reported outcomes) and video clinic visits have helped bring healthcare providers and patients both back in touch, and simultaneously, into unchartered waters.

The rapid reshaping of the way care is delivered and received has increased our reliance on the internet to access healthcare. In an ideal world, telehealth and other forms of technology-enabled care would improve access to healthcare in areas where access is limited. However, limited access to the internet has resulted in a healthcare “digital divide” – defined as the gap that exists between individuals who have access to modern information and communication technology and those who lack access.3

Recognizing the Digital Divide in Healthcare 

Those fortunate enough to have unlimited access to telehealth platforms may be surprised to find that 41% of the world’s population doesn’t have internet access.2 There are many reasons for this digital divide, including personal, socioeconomic and structural barriers, such as limited digital literacy and geographic isolation. With the continued threat of COVID-19, these barriers can mean the difference between life and death.

Unfortunately, these health inequalities are likely to worsen as we begin to rely more on digital services in healthcare. As health systems continue to be digitized, it’s important to understand barriers to patient access so we can address them:

  • Age: There is a wide disparity in internet use between people age 18 to 29 and those age 65 and older. Fewer older people engage with smartphones and computers regardless of whether the technology is easily accessible to them. Research has shown that generations that didn’t grow up with limitless technology solutions need more training to gain a good understanding of new technologies, especially those regarding healthcare.4
  • Socio-economic background: While 87% of people in developed countries use the internet, only 19% of those in developing countries do so.5Having a lower income and being of minority race or ethnic background not only impedes people’s access to health services but presents an added barrier to accessing telehealth. Recent research has shown that the proportion of non-Hispanic white patients accessing health services was approximately 40% higher than for Black/African and Latinx patients since the COVID-19 outbreak began.6 This represents a potentially life-threatening reality in a time of digital transformation.
  • Geographic location: In the United States, one in four rural Americans does not have internet access at home, primarily due to fewer telephone lines and internet cables in those areas.7 Reduced connectivity to telehealth services could lead to health complications for rural populations.

Bridging the Gap  

Addressing these barriers and minimising health inequality and ensuring digital health is inclusive is possible with the following:

  • Telephone consultations – including call-back or freephone telephone services that provide an alternative to online video consultations
  • Telehealth kiosks – providing accessible care in areas of limited broadband access. Such units can be installed at pharmacies, supermarkets and recreation centres.
  • Telehealth literacy training – promoting the use of publicly available services (e.g., community centres and libraries) to provide resources and training to communities with low digital literacy
  • Accommodating language barriers – providing translating capabilities for telehealth websites and applications in a variety of languages
  • Internet as a basic need – governments can work toward prioritising improved broadband access for the most disadvantaged populations

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues worldwide, it will be important to identify even more ways to increase access to telehealth and ensure that people with limited access to the internet aren’t left behind.


Learn more about W2O via our About or Healthcare pages.

References:

  1. Telehealth: A quarter-trillion-dollar post-COVID-19 reality? 2020. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/telehealth-a-quarter-trillion-dollar-post-covid-19-reality.
  2. Digital users worldwide 2020 . https://www.statista.com/statistics/617136/digital-population-worldwide/.
  3. Steele C. What is the Digital Divide? | Digital Divide Council. 2020. http://www.digitaldividecouncil.com/what-is-the-digital-divide/.
  4. Vaportzis E, Clausen MG, Gow AJ. Older adults perceptions of technology and barriers to interacting with tablet computers: a focus group study. Front Psychol. 2017;8:1687.
  5. Staines R. Digital divide threatens health and wellbeing during pandemic – UN -. Pharmaphorum.com. 2020. https://pharmaphorum.com/news/digital-divide-threatens-health-and-wellbeing-during-pandemic-un/.
  6. Insights on racial and ethnic health inequity in the context of COVID-19, 2020. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/insights-on-racial-and-ethnic-health-inequity-in-the-context-of-covid-19.

Covid-19 exposes digital divide in healthcare. Direct Relief. 2020. https://www.directrelief.org/2020/05/covid-19-exposes-digital-divide-in-healthcare/

Say “hi.”

Contact Us