In late January, I wrote a blog titled Trends Impacting Pharma in 2020. Now, in May, we see how quickly things can change.

In response to COVID-19, the pharmaceutical industry has accelerated its digital transformation to address what are now not just trends, but imperatives — like patient-centricity and virtual engagement.

Last month, at EyeforPharma, North America's largest commercial pharma event (which became a virtual event due to the coronavirus), I listened to industry leaders address what’s impacting pharma today.

  1. Engagement: Prioritize reaching healthcare professionals through omni-channel communications, with an emphasis on digital. 

  2. Patient-centricity: The industry must meet the needs of patients, caregivers, and advocacy organizations, including through digital health.

  3. Resilience: Early investments in technology and innovation are enabling adaptability. Artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics are helping to drive sales, marketing, real-world evidence (RWE), and research and development (R&D).

  4. Opportunities to evolve: Will the crisis bring an opportunity to work more closely with regulators and healthcare systems? Will this have a lasting impact on clinical trials? And will this open more conversations about data sharing across the industry?

The health crisis will have an enduring impact on the pharmaceutical industry and its engagement with patient and provider communities. At the event, our own SVP of Healthcare and Life Sciences Glenn Wada shared his thoughts on the future:


Digital and virtual engagement is accelerating

Digital interactions are no longer nice-to-haves. Pharmaceutical companies are relying on these channels to engage with patient and provider communities. In fact, according to the Yale School of Management, pharmaceutical companies are accelerating digital transformation in R&D.

Digital and virtual interactions occur across all business sectors, from sales, marketing, medical affairs, and R&D. Here are some examples:


Clinical trials

Due to the focus on COVID-19 treatments, many clinical trials are at a standstill. In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Dr. Kevin Sheth of Yale Medicine estimates that “as many as 200,000 clinical trials across the world may be affected.” This halt in development potentially delays crucial product introductions to market. 

Trials require close contact with physician and patient communities. Without the right digital infrastructure in place, we risk bringing crucial drugs to market for patients who need them most.

We can use digital communication approaches to drive enrollment of highly engaged and active patients. Digital access to EHR data can streamline the enrollment process. Physicians can use telehealth services where applicable, and care coordinators can schedule home healthcare visits. These are all ways technology is speeding up the process.


Interactions with healthcare professionals

Even before the pandemic, the pharmaceutical industry was seeing diminishing returns on face-to-face interactions with healthcare providers. Now, as health systems and physicians prioritize COVID-19 activities, and with non-essential workers home, in-person meetings are all but gone.

Pharmaceutical companies are thinking about how to interact with physicians in engaging, productive virtual environments. For example, reps are using a variety of digital channels to inform and educate physicians in a more personalized manner.


Contact centers

When most of the country went under stay-at-home orders, many pharmaceutical companies rapidly set up remote call centers and patient-specific call centers. It’s why service is a part of the Salesforce Care solution to help pharmaceutical companies continue to support customers, even from virtual environments.

As a result, pharmaceutical companies are now seeing how feasible it is to operate virtual contact centers. This also provides access to talent pools beyond current physical locations. Plus, huge capital investments in physical infrastructure may prove unnecessary as companies look to reduce costs.


AI and predictive analytics drive proactive action

Pharma leaders are asking, "How do I get information and facts to my patient and provider communities? How do I address their concerns promptly?"

This is where predictive capabilities come in. With intelligent analytics, pharmaceutical companies analyze available data and trend models. They can then proactively engage patients, healthcare professionals, and other key stakeholders with these insights. They can better target physicians with the information they need, when they need it.

For example, we've had numerous new instances of Salesforce solely around the COVID crisis where the focus has been, "How do we get information and facts out to patient and provider populations more effectively to calm the population and make sure that they're taking care of themselves in a manner that actually lowers the curve?" We believe that timely, relevant, best next step, predictive capability is part of the solution to emerge.


Collaboration is a new forcing function

It’s incredible to see the digital-based workflows and cross-industry collaboration going on right now. One of our customers, a major national lab vendor, knew they needed to quickly establish community testing via drive-thru labs. They rapidly conceived of a process that was primarily paper-based because that seemed fastest and easiest in the moment. Still, they also knew it would be extremely inefficient and impossible to scale, and reporting would be a nightmare. 

They needed speed; they needed to get lots of people tested, and needed to get the right people tested, while not overwhelming the testing site. They needed a digital solution, but it required engagement and support from a diverse set of stakeholders. They turned to Salesforce and AppExchange partner Skedulo to design and implement a capacity-based appointment booking app for COVID-19 testing centers.

An add-on for the standard Skedulo app allows teams to easily schedule testing appointments based on the capacity a testing location can handle at any given time — effectively alleviating lengthy wait times and ensuring compliance with social distancing guidelines.

Companies should be prepared and expect to coordinate and collaborate more digitally.


Enduring models in a new normal

As you adapt your pre-COVID plans, be proactive as you chart a path forward. A strong recovery will depend on accelerating digital engagement strategies, AI initiatives, and collaboration.

For more information, catch Glenn’s session (below) from eyeforPharma.