Guest Column | January 11, 2017

Health Tech Portfolios: Taking A Page From Big Pharma's Playbook

contract pharma finance and trends

By Blake Marggraff, CEO, Epharmix

The proliferation of technology has injected a much-needed fresh perspective into the healthcare industry. Many of healthcare’s newest solutions, often devised by technologists, have the potential to bring better, more affordable care. But new, high-tech entrants would do well to learn from the mistakes and successes of others in the space, including those of an unlikely model: Big Pharma.

Combining portfolios of targeted products with robust, stage-gated pipelines, pharmaceutical companies have already cracked the code of offering medically useful solutions for a myriad of indications. It’s time for digital health companies to take a page out of Big Pharma’s book and start using the portfolio approach: innovation through iterative processes and indication-specific solutions.

Creating Value With A Portfolio Of Tech Solutions
Healthcare technology companies can expect a number of benefits when offering a portfolio of solutions. First and foremost, it’s important to remain acutely aware individual health systems and their needs will differ. Health systems and patients are becoming increasingly wary of “Swiss Army Knife” platforms that claim to solve all problems for all patients. These platforms breed feature creep and mediocrity.

A portfolio, on the other hand, offers the ability to sit down with a client, demonstrate the functionality of a new tool, and hear, “That’s exactly what we’ve needed this whole time.” Additionally, offering a portfolio of solutions can yield long-term alignment with clients’ interests and the industry’s incentives. Healthcare businesses, particularly large enterprises, innovate in series.

It’s a common practice for an individual system to pick a specific focus for improvement based on past performance and upcoming incentives, improve that area, and then move to the next. Thus, vendors must create their own opportunities by aligning with customers’ current and future needs and delivering lasting value by growing the breadth of solutions within their respective portfolios. The flexibility of providing diverse solutions means health tech companies can also help systems more effectively acclimate to new standards of care and ever-evolving economic frameworks.

Entities like AMA and CMS work to bolster the quality of care for all patients, and providers often struggle to balance care quality with financial sustainability. When correctly executed, tightly focused health tech can create predictable value by aligning with quality metrics, potential penalties, and even reimbursement codes.

3 Moves From Big Pharma’s Playbook
Every company is different, and establishing new or revised processes and procedures becomes more difficult as the product offering solidifies. This challenge, however, can be more easily met by following pharma’s formula for success. For nascent health IT startups, clinical advocates with hands-on experience can have a direct effect on each venture’s likelihood of success.

For patient-facing systems especially, it isn’t enough to speak only with tech-savvy end users. Both care providers and their real, representative patients should be engaged during problem discovery and solution iteration. Bite-size experiments involving the most engaged users of the system are almost always more informative than bloated surveys or feature-laden prototypes. After evaluating current processes and procedures, follow these three tips from Big Pharma’s playbook to improve your chances of building a successful portfolio:

  1. Expect failure … at first. Initial versions of potential solutions typically don’t work as expected — or at all — and many will never be viable. The largest pharmaceutical companies realize a sub-10 percent success rate over the course of research trials. They also face dramatically more expensive processes in initial discovery and post-approval commercialization. The good news is, unlike Big Pharma, tech-based solutions can be scrapped and reinvented on the order of days.
  2. Build pipeline-style processes. Most tech companies already recognize the importance of customer validation and functionality. Especially in healthcare, specific checkpoints or stage-gates can help balance R&D expenses with competitive advantages and long-term returns. Clinical researchers are familiar with the phases of research and know that prospective randomized controlled trials may not always be appropriate. But the upshot of staged validation is a stronger and more demonstrable ROI.
  3. Associate specific solutions with relevant thought leaders. More focused technological solutions can allow for more targeted relationships with thought leaders and influencers. The benefits of heavyweight support are intuitive. However, research demonstrates that working with key opinion leaders can help patients and vendors alike. Innovation paired with known authorities can speed time to market and more successfully establish new standards of care.

Healthcare technology and pharmaceutical companies may not seem like they have much in common. But both focus on providing effective solutions for the greatest number of health systems and their patients. Big Pharma has already shown the value in creating portfolios of offerings, and many tech companies have already felt the consequences of failing to do so.

New and growing health tech vendors should consider those lessons well and learn to deliver longer-lasting value by creating portfolios of solutions to meet the constantly evolving needs of the industry.

About The Author
Blake Marggraff is CEO of Epharmix, a company at the intersection of medicine and consumer technology offering interventions that use automated phone calls or text messages to manage patients’ conditions while collecting disease-specific data. With interventions designed by leading doctors and clinically proven at medical institutions, every patient can benefit from Epharmix.