Pharma USA offers a glimpse into the minds of pharma innovators

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by Randy Wambold

Where can you get the best soft pretzel in the country and learn how pharmaceutical companies are harnessing innovative technology within the same few city blocks? At the Pharma USA conference at the Philadelphia Convention Center.  

While I told my boss that I went to Philadelphia for the conference on March 16-17, the truth is that I went for the pretzels. But I learned a few things about the latest biopharma trends in between bites of that salty deliciousness. 

Pharma USA brings together a heavy-hitter list of North America’s leaders in pharmacy and healthcare technology, patient experts, medical affairs liaisons, policy changemakers and more.  

Over the course of two action-packed days, the biggest players gathered to discuss everything from the latest trends to how to address some of the biggest challenges facing the healthcare industry today.  

Meanwhile, attendees could take part in peer-led sessions and informal networking “coffee breaks” to exchange ideas. The atmosphere was electric, thanks to health and safety policies allowing everyone to connect face-to-face (mask optional). It was exciting to join thousands of people all passionate about improving health outcomes.  

COVID-19 ignited the spark for innovation 

Before I dive into the major trends I saw at Pharma USA, I want to first talk about COVID-19. Of course, it’s impossible to discuss how healthcare has changed without mentioning how the pandemic transformed the entirety of the healthcare landscape.  

And pharmaceutical companies have been at the center of that transformation for the last two years. Their business models, organizations, people and processes were stress-tested in ways nobody could have foreseen. At the same time, I’ve seen healthcare providers and pharma companies collaborate and communicate in new ways to rapidly develop solutions to one of the biggest health crises in recent memory.  

From my experience at Pharma USA, I can say that energy and community spirit haven’t diminished at all. If anything, it’s only burning hotter. Nearly every keynote and workshop referenced COVID as motivation to continue to accelerate innovation across the industry, and its presence is evident in all the takeaways I’ve listed below.  

Four of the biggest takeaways from Pharma USA 

Here are some of the major themes that emerged across the many sessions I attended and conversations I held over the course of the two-day conference: 

1. Follow the data 

OK yes, I’m biased toward this theme as an employee of a company that provides healthcare commercial intelligence. But nearly every session I attended focused on how pharma companies mine their data for more insights to make better decisions.  

No matter where a pharma company is on the FDA drug development process, accessing the right intelligence can help them avoid costly mistakes, get the expert feedback they need to improve their drug and potentially reach commercialization faster.  

2. Telehealth is here to stay 

Nearly everyone I spoke to confidently said that telehealth is here to stay. We’ve thoroughly explored telehealth’s stellar growth during the height of the pandemic in our four-part blog series written by my colleague Todd Bellemare, SVP of Professional Services.  

I recommend you give it a read, but as a quick summary, Todd digs into how telehealth has impacted the broader healthcare landscape both today and in the early days of the pandemic. Trends in telehealth adoption have slowed as time goes on, but Todd shares how healthcare providers across certain specialties are finding telehealth to be an invaluable part of their toolbox.  

One of the opening keynotes at Pharma USA even touches on similar conclusions from our own research. Technology like telehealth and remote patient monitoring has caused the patient journey to evolve. Pharma companies are considering the implications of these shifts, as well as the new opportunities now available.  

3. Pharma companies now recognize the value of social media 

The industry is giving a lot of thought to the changing demographics of the patients they serve and those implications.  

I would not have expected to hear TikTok referenced so often during a pharma conference, but clearly social media platforms and the demographics driving their users are on the minds of pharma’s biggest players.  

One fascinating case study I heard discussed detailed how Lilly Medicine used social media to drive awareness of critical medical information and educate its followers in order to elevate its position as a thought leader and authority in the healthcare industry.  

The case study also discussed how other pharma companies can use social media to gain insights into how healthcare professionals are conversing. By engaging in what Lilly calls “social listening,” pharma companies can dial into the language their customers are using in order to provide them with the right information in ways they’re familiar with.  

Overall, I was impressed with the attitude of “we need to embrace and leverage social media,” rather than resist it. 

4. Big tech has entered the pharmaceutical arena 

Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Google were the talk of the show floor on the second day of Pharma USA. 

In case you missed it: big technology companies have been making moves across the healthcare industry, like Amazon’s partnership with Teladoc and Oracle’s acquisition of Cerner.  

Many are watching these companies transform other areas of the industry and work to solve issues around time spent collecting and patient info, often cited to be a source of physician burnout, and streamline the patient experience.   

Oracle, for example, may use Cerner’s cloud computing infrastructure to revolutionize how patient data for EHRs are collected, stored and shared. Meanwhile, Amazon is making it easier and more accessible for anyone with an Alexa device to connect with a doctor, which could also help doctors expand their territories. 

While some people I spoke with voiced their concern about what this could mean for the biopharma industry, the prevailing opinion seemed to be that there could be much to learn and benefit from these shifts in the market. 

If you’re hungry for more discussion and projections on how the latest mergers and acquisitions are reshaping healthcare, check out episode three of our podcast: “Deal or no deal? A look into healthcare IT M&A with Ben Rooks.” 

Learn more 

My time at Pharma USA left me encouraged and even inspired (but not hungry). Pharmaceutical companies are working hard to capitalize on the innovations brought about during the pandemic.  

Speakers, exhibitors and attendees alike are thinking about how to take advantage of the opportunities to propel the biopharma industry forward.  

The right application of technology and healthcare commercial intelligence are sure to play a huge role in helping companies achieve their goals and improve the lives of the patients they serve. 

 If you missed us at Pharma USA or want to explore how you can use our intelligence to create new paths to commercial success, start a free today.  

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