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Fake it till you make it in digital health: 4 demystified truths

For years, digital in healthcare is becoming the new hype for people seeking higher-ranked positions or promotions.

Let’s look at why and how people tend to fake they are experts until they make it to a senior role in digital within our industry.

Truth #1: it is easy to be an expert in digital healthcare.

That is partially true.

While our level of adoption is low, and our speed of change is not even something we can comment on, anyone coming from outside the industry has an edge. Suffice it to say that multichannel, social media and all the buzzwords we got are staying in slides, or at best, in a procurement contract with a vendor managing everything.

The only barricade is the jargon.

We like to use a specific vocabulary to make it healthcare-proof. Second, you make it expensive, so it sounds like the industry is unique. If you master these 2 points and browse SlideShare, quora, and visit eyeforpharma here and there, you might be able to go back to work and build your magic slides.

On the other hand, I see a change in a couple of years. Medical teams or startups realise they are the digital people we are seeking. Their job has changed from clinical trials to patient recruitment to developing digital medicines. Technologies are no longer new: machine learning, in-silica testing, and telemedicine.

Last but not least, startups came to bring agility to the equation. It is a matter of time for the industry to structure the “how” and “what” as everybody aligns so quickly on the “why-s”.

Information systems folks also got it. They are looking at structuring companies through systems that bring agility. Who wants to manage hardware and software when technologies floating around create so much appeal and impact?

So what about commercial and marketing people? And you guessed it; this is where most of the magic could come or, unfortunately, the BS.

Simply put, we in commercial operations and marketing are lucky to face the customers (whoever they are) and hence understand needs and connect them with value propositions. While everybody will argue doing the same, the science of sales and marketing exists for a reason.

Now being disruptive, with new business models, and driving new experiences for brands while embracing new channels and technologies for our products and services is the G spot where we are genuinely expected. Here I claim that the digital tactics we need to implement are not rocket science because of the delay we got as an industry. What is tricky is taking these slides and adopting them as a process or a new way of working in everything we do. This leads us slowly to the second truth.

Truth #2: I need to focus on strategy, not implementation.


While strategies are entertaining, friendly to develop and exciting to absorb, the hard part is not there. Now, most people would argue one thing: you can’t master all the aspects of digital activities anymore, as the amount of layers or stacks has progressed so much that you’ll need an army internally to reproduce the value chain.

Here again, I come back to my favourite KPI, which is the adoption of a tactic. I see so many slides and presentations arguing to go left or right where we haven’t even developed a sufficient adoption on a channel like an email marketing or e-detailing. It is like you look at youtube videos to motivate you to do sport, while you don’t practice it. It feels good but has no impact.

I argue that digital healthcare is not strategic, especially in digital marketing. It is merely translating and sequencing tactics that have 20 years old. The right strategy is to drive a company to better partner with other third parties or focus on its core, such as medicines and medical devices.

The second aspect (strategic this one) is people. Digital tactics are constantly evolving, and even if you have great vendors, you’ll need the people to get it for them to make it work. Here, the vision to build up these capabilities and processes is critical. You’ll need the leaders of tomorrow.

Truth #3: If I am a leader, I’ll make it work

I hear this one often. If you know how to manage people, you’ll learn how to handle a field. It is perhaps true, but we have here to bring another component: culture. There is something about the web and digital: you’ll know when people get it. It is not something written in a resume or a defined skill. Instead, there is something about people in this field that always keep themselves surfing on edge, testing new digital tactics on their girlfriend/boyfriend projects, continuously learning, giving back and sharing.

Of course, you’ll need to be a true leader to drive it from a corporate perspective, but you’ll need this cultural aspect that forces you to destroy your beliefs at every turn when you evolve in unknown territories. There is a beautiful humility to it, followed by a lot of practicality and hands-on experience.

Having no experience or not being a subject-matter expert will make you obsolete in 24 months.

So, not all good leaders will make excellent digital leaders for a healthcare firm. But, there is a good reason the industry is looking outside now and hiring new faces to disrupt these beliefs and start creating a culture.

Truth #4: Innovation is the new digital gold rush

In my recent article, I was referring to how well we are shifting from digital to innovation as a buzzword in the industry. There are good reasons for it, as now digital is so established that it feels “operational” to raise some appetite. Innovation is then sexy. Everyone has heard of startups; if you have not worked with one, it is like missing something.

So as referred to above, yes, innovative partnerships are the new game. However, how well a company will establish these partnerships to offer value to patients, payers, partners, and HCPs is critical.

You’ll have hard choices too. Innovation is either iterative or disruptive. We are referring to the last one regarding digital innovation. And it is a gamble. Firstly, the success rate. From a patent point of view, innovative technology is not a healthcare-proofed innovation, as you’ll need a lot of clinical evidence (and hence money) to accept it.

Digital innovation is also not compatible with the pharma agenda. R&D is taking a lot of time, and commercial is stressing sales cycles too often. You bring failure rate and experiments to the equation, and your innovation department is born to die.

Ideally, you’ll want to get your innovation people out of the daily business in a separate building or country. However, you could partner with a big tech company and let them run the digital innovation for you. This, of course, is at the risk of teaching them how the industry works.

That’s all, folks.

I am optimistic (yes, I know it doesn’t feel like it here), but if you know me, I genuinely believe that the industry is at a formidable turn and can’t wait to see who will shape the foundations of a new paradigm.

My job’s most challenging part is making this field so easy that we don’t call it digital anymore and that more people can lead this.

We should call it a daily business in 2019 and reach the bluff when needed.

I’d love to hear from you and your experience if this rings a bell. Have you experienced or seen a “digital parade” in your company? Feel free to share.

Haider Alleg
Haider Alleg
Entrepreneur Haider developed a toolbox for bringing brand performances to life, helping organisations of various shapes and sizes navigate the unknown and generate growth. This led him to build Kainjoo in 2012, a fast-growing consulting firm supporting ambitious leaders from top 500 Fortune companies. With Allegory Capital, he supports regulated industries to innovate through portfolios of emerging tech and channels.

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