Digital technologies, what happens in the Health-Pharma world?
The Covid pandemic has strongly impacted the healthcare and pharmaceutical world. It has produced important changes in the relationship with people and patients, in healthcare organizations, in the pharmaceutical chain and even in business models. These changes made it necessary to use digital technologies for tracing and monitoring the contagion, for the ecosystem understanding of the pandemic phenomenon and for the management of diagnoses and therapies.
In reality, we have often found ourselves faced with a certain unpreparedness in this regard, in the sense that we have realized that we have not been able to use these technologies fully. However, it has been realized how indispensable they are and in any case an irreversible acceleration process has been activated in this regard. Artificial intelligence platforms have been used to understand where and how the infection originated (also involving geo-political aspects) and to develop new vaccines.
Telemedicine technologies have been used to manage remote diagnosis and therapy. In the US, the use of telemedicine by citizens patients has gone from 11% in 2019 to the current 46% (source McKinsey), drastically reducing medical visits “in presence”. The US telemedicine business, which amounted to 3 billion before the pandemic, is now estimated at 250 billion. All this suggests how Health-Pharma is becoming a sector (and therefore also a business) increasingly dependent on new technologies. In addition to proving capable of managing the current processes of the healthcare system in a faster, more integrated and more efficient way, they are already enabling new products services and new business models.
The pharmaceutical companies are experiencing major changes in their distribution chain, where there are already too powerful player entering non-traditional (both transversal that from other industry). Furthermore, the relationship with end customers patients is definitely changing. Thanks to digital technologies, it is becoming more direct, disintermediating dealers and or pharmacies (direct online orders). This is reflected in the value chains and corporate structures, activating new configurations.
American examples in this direction are the acquisition by Amazon of PillPack (online pharmacy) and that by UnitedHealth Group (health care company) of DivvyDose (integrated prescription management).
Technology Development in Healthcare
There is a strong convergence between the pharmaceutical world and the healthcare world, an area in which new businesses enabled by digital technologies (telemedicine, home care, etc.) are rapidly developing. An emerging “middle world” (between healthcare and pharmaceutical companies), in which the lion’s share seems to be taken by pharmaceutical companies (being more business oriented than public and healthcare organizations, and therefore more ready to seize this opportunity). But service companies and technology companies that were previously outside the sector are also entering.
In the purely pharmaceutical world, Covid-19 has accelerated the changes already underway in the way drugs are prescribed (tele-prescribing) and in their distribution (web orders with home delivery). In health care, new methods have been activated in the management of visits and therapies (via web and social networks), with the development of home activities compared to hospital ones (“home first” model).
Changes are also underway in the organizations that finance medical care and treatment (the “Payers”), particularly in insurance and health benefit providers for company personnel. The technology providers are developing systems to enable such integrated management (monitoring, treatments and prescriptions with patients at home). This presupposes and implies the possibility of accessing a large amount of data and the adoption of sophisticated analysis systems (“data analitycs”) with great use of NPL (Natural Language Processing), that is, the semantic analysis of information on the Internet. and in documents. The above is coherent and synergistic with the evolutions also taking place in the world of drugs, which will be more and more “personalized”, “precise” and for “prevention” (“the 3Ps”).
These ongoing integrations convergences are the reason for the numerous acquisitions and mergers between complementary companies in these two worlds (Health and Pharma) that we see happening in this period.
Health Data Management
However, the context of health data management is currently quite sensitive. Health data breaches are increasing exponentially year after year. Such data is very valuable on the “black market” of the Dark Web. Hackers manage to illegally steal the data of millions of patients to resell them to those who have no health motivations, but who have more or less legal business reasons. A widespread practice is also that of asking for a ransom from the entity whose data have been stolen for non-disclosure. The phenomenon is much more widespread than is believed. Organizations try to keep such events hidden so as not to risk discrediting.
According to a Trustwave report, a single personal health care record can be sold on the black market for 250, compared to 5.4 for a credit card transaction data. These are the reasons for the need to adopt sophisticated Cybersecurity systems (preventive, defensive, investigative, restorative, etc.) and data ownership protection (Data Ownership). These problems affect all businesses that are based on our data.
This is the context that requires that digital business developments be based on the integration capacity of Artificial Intelligence, Data Management, Blockchain, with extensive use of Cybersecurity technologies. Their sustainability is at stake. The problem, as already mentioned, is similar for mobility data, Smart City services, telecommunications, e-commerce, etc.
The health data, however, are definitely more sensitive. The current major applications of digital technologies in the Heath-Pharma concern the research of new drugs, the management of trials, telemedicine, health services. The pandemic, on the other hand, has accelerated the need for applications of technologies for tracking people (an issue faced with great problems and resistance during the Covid pandemic, due to the connected implications of protecting privacy).
However, the greatest opportunities for developing new applications lie in the enormous new potential offered by artificial intelligence and Big Data management platforms (in this case, as anticipated, opportunities, but also problems). In the area of Artificial Intelligence, the available platforms are starting to be numerous and a shift towards more sophisticated ones is underway, that is not based only on Key words but on semantic analyzes and with so-called “explainable” algorithms (that is, which make it evident and traceable how they arrive at the result provided).
It is necessary that the data, for example those of tracking and those of telemedicine extracted and interpreted by NPL systems, are adequately protected. Indeed they should be managed by the customer patient who generated them (it is he who should grant permission for their use to those he deems useful). This prerogative is that provided by the European GDPR in its latest directives (EU Commission, 19/2/2020 COM-2020- 66 final).
In fact, it presupposes the possibility for citizens to be able to keep their sensitive data encrypted and not visible to third parties without their authorization. It is expected that this authorization could be regulated through the use of “smart contracts” (in blockchain), which legally bind the parties to the confidentiality of the data. While blockchains are now consolidated in their technology and operation, the same cannot be said of the possibility of being able to keep data “unreadable” if there is no permission from the owner. This possibility must be enabled by systems that are able to guarantee the encryption of the data at the source, with the possibility of de-encryption by only the stakeholders authorized by the owner (with the signing of smart contracts).