Going Digital in the Health Industries

Patrick Schorderet Senior Manager, PwC Switzerland 20 Nov 2018

Big pharma and life sciences organisations must adapt to the opportunities and expectations of the digital era, or risk being overtaken by nimbler newcomers. We have five tips for successful transformation. #digitalhealthcare #digitaltransformation

From telecoms and technology to transportation, in almost every industry we’re getting used to seeing well-established companies replaced by nimbler innovators.

Former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop encapsulated the startling effect that industry disruption can have on a leader, saying: “We didn’t do anything wrong but somehow, we lost.”

Over the past 10 years, it has become clear that disruptors enter and scale up from the lower end of the market. And recent history suggests these disruptors may be better at understanding their customers and providing what they want.

The digital opportunity: provide better care at lower cost

It’s no surprise that healthcare customers –who are patients, let’s not forget – are dissatisfied. Medical error is the third-highest cause of death in developed countries after heart disease and cancer. In the US, the world’s largest healthcare market, one-third of cost is wasted.

This is why digitalisation is such an important development for healthcare today. The digital transformation of healthcare has the potential to lower the cost of treatment and raise the quality of care. This means big pharma should now focus on patient outcomes, measured by digital indicators. 

Integrated disease management platforms and communities. Smoother and seamless clinical journeys enabled by decentralised clinical trials. More personalised treatment programmes. Bringing care closer to the patient. These are only a few of the possibilities.

According to Mo Ali, global head of digital development at Boehringer Ingelheim, “the advent of novel technologies has created a new stream of unstructured, continuous data that allows for a greater look into the disease management lifecycle and the patient experience – in the real world”.

So what’s stopping healthcare from going digital?

While the digital effect is evident in certain areas such as drug development, the pharma industry is a long way from being digitally mature. The bigger players are using M&A and partnerships to add digital capability. But becoming a digital organisation requires more than tech.

Many of the pharma CEOs we speak to tell us that getting access to data and using it effectively is their number one concern. They are also struggling with slow processes, the integration of new and existing technologies and a shortage of digital skills within teams (PwC Going Digital Survey, 2018).

Meanwhile, new business models are emerging which are designed specifically for the digital era and centred on the patient. Examples include concierge medicine and technology-led partnerships such as the recent alliance between Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan.

Our tips for transformation

Other industries offer lessons that healthcare can learn from. For those struggling with the challenges of transformation, here are five tips to help translate digital strategy into customer satisfaction.

  1. Define what digital means
    Pharma outperforms other industries on the alignment of digital strategy with commercial goals. But it lags on implementation, and on digital enterprise investments in particular. Defining the investment in data required to support digital strategy is fundamental. So is defining how that data will be used.
  2. Allocate responsibility
    Transformation requires leadership and accountability. Some companies have appointed a chief digital officer; others say this is just a PR move. Whatever their job title, someone must be given the mandate to change the operating model. And for Mike Baker, Head of Digital Health in Medical Affairs at Roche, the focus must be on using data and technology to find solutions to medical and patients’ challenges. He says: “We’re not in the business of building apps. We’re here to provide better outcomes to patients.”
  3. Build platform capabilities
    A new health economy with greater emphasis on engagement with the patient will require new capabilities and skills. We expect to see a shift from business-to-business to business-to-consumer and direct-to-consumer models. To succeed in this environment, organisations will need to invest in advanced analytics, customer experience and other ways to connect with the end user. Partnerships and hiring from other industries can accelerate the transition.
  4. Innovate through hubs and pods
    The traditional pharma environment is intrinsically sluggish. Digitally-mature industries such as retail and consumer use agile, value-adding delivery methodologies. Replicating their digital hubs and delivery pods can bring innovation to healthcare operations by importing new ways of working.
  5. Nurture culture and talent
    Humility at the top can be the key to progress. The younger generation of digital natives have an instinctive understanding of this new landscape. They should be empowered through recruitment and retention too, because pharma is not the only industry to seek this talent. Boardrooms and leadership teams that work actively to integrate old with new are more likely to succeed than those who are unwilling to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

    The rise of technology has demonstrated the fragility of most industries. Healthcare is no exception. The pressure is on to adapt. The good news is that the future is brighter than ever for those that can.

Key findings

  • Pharma's digital disruption provides opportunities to provide better care at lower cost.
  • Human experience and design is at the center of change.
  • Companies need to adapt today to be relevant in the new economy.


Contact us

Patrick Schorderet

Senior Manager, PwC Switzerland

Tel: +41 58 792 5245

Robert Ballantine

Advisory Partner, PwC Switzerland

Tel: +41 58 792 2241