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How Digital Health Can Reshape Pharma’s Hole in Healthcare

In light of the proposed shift to value-based healthcare, Gérard Klop and Marcos Gallego Llorente of Vintura set out their vision for how pharma can grow its role in digital health provision.

With analysts predicting that patient numbers could double in the next few decades, hospital lead times will need to be cut by 50% simply in order to maintain care provision at its current levels. But given the rate at which personnel are leaving the profession, even this feels like a tall order. To address this challenge, smarter diagnostic tools and a growing role for remote care will be of huge importance in the new healthcare environment.

The pharma industry is already growing its role in delivering hybrid solutions combining therapies with diagnostic and smart solutions and devices, and it could play a significant role here – not just in creating and providing medication, but also in providing smart solutions and data-related tools.

Secondary prevention (slowing the progress of existing conditions or avoiding relapse) presents a particular opportunity for pharma to add new value in the real world. For instance, diabetes management is already well established as an example of digital health in remote care, but smart monitoring and targeted interventions are also making inroads into the management of auto-immune disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular health issues and cancer – both in monitoring the progression of those conditions and in averting flare-ups.

As well as doing more to proactively support healthcare providers and patients, digital health opportunities provide a chance for pharma companies to capture and become a trusted source of important data about patients’ behaviour/trends and their wider well-being.

Significant Impact Digital health solutions can have a significant impact in two major ways. The first is at the healthcare provider level, where the latest advances in genetic testing and biomarker measurement might boost the early detection of conditions and inform decision-making about treatments. The second is at the patient level, once an individual has entered treatment. Applications here include teleconsultations, remote monitoring of chronic conditions, and chronic disease self-management, including associated education, reminders and prompts to modify and maintain desired behaviour.

In a hospital/speciality care setting, digital health can transform the early detection of serious diseases. Teams managing targeted screening programmes, such as checks for lung cancer in high-risk populations, may already use artificial intelligence and machine learning to ‘read’ high volumes of medical images efficiently, and detect even minute traces of the disease that may be invisible to the human eye.

One example is Cosmo Pharmaceuticals’ GI Genius AI-enhanced endoscopy aid device, which detects colorectal lesions during a colonoscopy and is now approved for use in Europe, the US and Canada. The device is marketed worldwide via a partnership with Medtronic. It works in real-time, as an adjunct to the gastroenterologist, highlighting regions with visual characteristics consistent with different types of mucosal abnormalities – such as colorectal polyps of all shapes, sizes and morphology.

An even greater game-changer using smart diagnostic tools would be its potential impact on incidental diagnoses – for example, the ability to spot nodules on the X-ray of a 25-year-old athlete presenting with broken bones. Potentially this is something a smart algorithm could do with minimal additional expense as part of a standard set of tests.

Pharma’s role in such scenarios is linked to the wider theme of how the industry can become more deeply embedded at the different stages of clinical pathways, relieving pressure on healthcare resources and being present as part of the solution.