colorful magnets writing out "2016"

What will 2016 bring for pharma? Well, the cognoscenti are in consensus that there will be more ugly wrangling over drug prices, but beyond that media and political certainty? I canvassed the office, and here’s what I heard:

  • Large pharmas will make a big push into programmatic advertising. Pharmas have so far largely shied away from going programmatic, due to worries about data security, privacy and regulatory pitfalls, but as automated placement is proven and growing more sophisticated, and pharmas can’t resist the siren song of hypertargeted advertising forever.  To paraphrase Kent Brockman, I, for one, welcome our new algorithmic overlords.
  • A major health data breach will give pharma and tech a nasty case of the willies, as consumers, professionals and politicians ask awkward questions about the security of their data (and no one has truly reassuring answers). There have been some scares already – think 2014’s iCloud hack, or more recent news that criminals have been hacking Fitbit accounts as part of a warranty fraud scam – but the big shoe yet to drop is when hackers steal health data specifically for resale or blackmail or whatever. Our studies show that consumers are concerned about data security with sensor tech, but that they will take calculated risks where they see benefits to their health or their bottom lines. That calculus could change with new facts.
  • The long-awaited EHR vendor consolidation will start to happen. Okay, granted, people have been saying this for years, but there’s only room for one 1,000-something vendors in this here marketplace.  As the number of huge enterprise EHR systems dwindles, opportunities will emerge for pharmas, whether through bolt-on services or in-EHR offerings such as coupons and patient education.
  • At least one major U.S. brand launch will be online-only – no TV. So far, we’ve seen some smaller brands and brands abroad do digital-only launches, and we’ve seen some excellent digital-forward campaigns (looking at you, Gilenya) – but this is the year pharma starts to cut the cord completely. And it’s about time, too, as our data shows that online ads are just as memorable as TV among those consumers that request a specific branded drug from their provider.
  • Pharma will shift dollars out of DTC TV and into digital ads, resources and services in recognition of the facts that 1.) consumers are looking for info online when making healthcare decisions, and 2.) among those requesting a specific branded Rx by name, recall rates for online ads and TV ads are at parity.
  • FDA will mellow out on busting wayward pharma promotion. This one actually seems to be happening already – in 2015, the agency’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion issued a record low number of enforcement letters, and since OPDP’s . Some think the agency is feeling the heat of some serious First Amendment challenges to its regulatory authority, but it’s clear that they’re rethinking the nature of promotion – and regulation – in a digital age. Not that this means more guidance will be forthcoming – FDA brass have stated that they don’t want to issue regulations that become outmoded the day after they’re published, and technology is moving at breakneck speed.

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