The pharmaceutical and healthcare industry is rapidly coming to terms with digital technology. With consumers demanding more convenient options for over-the-counter drugs and supplements – both of which do not require prescriptions – companies are moving quickly into the booming e-commerce space. However, big players like Amazon are quickly changing the game, disrupting the pharmaceutical drug distribution with its recent acquisition of online pharmacy PillPack. With the prescription drug market expected to be worth US$1.18 trillion by 2024, it’s no wonder that online medical diagnosis, online treatments and digital healthcare services have already gained strong traction in many countries.
Challenges in digitizing healthcare
However, e-commerce pharmacies and other online medication services still face several hurdles before they can reach maturity. The lack of strict government regulation, the proliferation of counterfeit drugs and late delivery are just some of the issues. Many of these can be solved by improved supply chains and government policies, but one of the current biggest challenges to the digitization of pharmacies lies in advice and communication: firstly between doctors and pharmaceutical companies, and secondly between doctors and their end-users, the patients.
Product education for professionals
Technology is part of the solution, and for doctors with busy schedules, they can easily keep up-to-date with the latest medical products in the market. Features such as live or on-demand virtual events through Arkadin’s Digital Engagement tools prove to be effective use for pharmaceutical companies to inform and educate doctors. In fact, the The Digital Savvy HCP Survey – Top Trends 2019 revealed that doctors themselves prefer to use digital channels, especially face-to-face tablet-based communication, to receive information on the latest products available as part of their treatment plan for patients.
On-demand virtual care
Once doctors are well-informed, the gap can be closed for the end-user. Patients can now receive the best care because technology can now facilitate the same level of trusted diagnosis and consultation that they would receive in a physical pharmacy. Medical professionals can deliver care via high-quality communications technologies like live video conferencing or mobile apps, and such 24/7 on-demand virtual care can close the loop for online pharmacies and medical practices to provide dispensary advice and prescription drugs in a trusted, accessible environment.
In a US-based survey of 2,100 consumers, 66% said they would consider seeing a doctor online and even more would prefer a video doctor’s visit if it resulted in a faster prescription refill. In Asia Pacific, several players are already operating in-market:
- DoctorOnCall works with the local government to provide free virtual medical consultations for citizens in Penang, Malaysia;
- Doctor2U partners with Microsoft to connect Malaysians with qualified doctors at any hour and location;
- WeDoctor in Shanghai partners with insurance providers to offer a combination of online consults and offline clinics that give patients the best of both worlds.
For virtual consultations to close the communications gap, health providers will need to offer high-quality telepresence with low latency and strong visual detail. Ideally, such technologies may even allow for better collaboration between doctors and other medical professionals in real-time. A doctor could conduct a virtual consultation, then “dial in” a pharmacist at the e-commerce dispensary, or connect to a specialist colleague to confirm or give a second opinion for a diagnosis. That may mean not only faster service for patients, but a higher caliber of diagnoses in a greater number of cases.
A digital health ecosystem
That elevated quality of care will likely prove critical to the success of online health services – even more so than convenience or price. New pharmaceutical companies should look to provide complete treatment and value as part of a digital health ecosystem, rather than simply being a provider of commodity medicines or medical products. AliHealth in China, for example, is already providing a “web-based hospital and drugstore” or “medicine and doctor” model to include clinical service, medication guidance and overall health management.
In-person interaction with a trained pharmacist is essential, because even if a patient can find an online supplier they trust, some will miss out on the advice and recommendations they can get from one-on-one virtual consultations with a certified medical practitioner.
Pharmaceutical and medical service providers will do better if they combine their data, patient metrics, and the best of technology to optimize patient care and improve medical practice. That means building a network that includes mobile apps, live video feed, live chat, remote monitoring sensors and patients’ electronic records – the more comprehensive, the greater the opportunities.
With technology affecting consumer behaviours and processes across all industries, digital technology is giving patients more active roles in their own care and making processes more efficient for providers. However, the real test of online health services will be how strongly they can bridge the gap between patients and medical practitioners, connecting them with a higher quality of diagnoses and consultations more efficiently than before. Telehealth technologies will play a major role in closing that gap, as well those between pharmaceutical companies and doctors – bringing these technologies together into one-stop platforms for patients’ holistic health needs. It’s worth remembering the main goal of digital healthcare: not simply making treatment faster, cheaper, or more efficient, but bringing more people back to good health than ever before. That recognition will guide online healthcare providers to the right combination of technology, talent, and time for their patients.
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