The Digital Transformation in Life Sciences: Where Do We Stand? Industry Leaders Are Speaking

The Digital Transformation in Life Sciences: Where Do We Stand? Industry Leaders Are Speaking

This piece on digital transformation in life science starts a three-part series addressing the challenges, opportunities and possible approaches to successfully embrace the digital era. This article focuses on the opportunity that digital transformation brings for commercial operations and field base medical functions. The next articles will discuss the impact of digitization and big data on R&D and Industrial Affairs. These articles will be published in future Tribune issues, so stay tuned!

Tefen has been supporting life science industry leaders for the last 35 years. During the last seven years, Tefen Management Consulting has helped Life Science organizations embrace digital transformation and adapt their organizations. Recently Tefen held a round table discussion about digital transformation with commercial operation leaders, region heads, as well as heads of global marketing, all from leading life science companies. The following themes were discussed:

  • Where does the industry stands after a few years of ongoing digital transformation?
  • How deeply is the digital transformation “mindset” spreading across the organization?
  • What are the key steps to leverage digitization while creating customer/patient intimacy?

Our society is fast-moving towards digital. We use our mobile devices for nearly every aspect of our everyday life, from shopping to education and healthcare. We spend on average over three hours per day immersed in the content pouring from our smartphones. The average number of times an adult person reaches for his smartphone looking for an interaction is 2,617 per day.[1] Digitization affects almost every aspect of human life and it is, as well, affecting today's organizations, which makes capturing its benefits uniquely complex.

Doctor holding patient's hands

We have already noticed an increase demand for digital communication between patients and their healthcare providers. This has prompted life science companies to develop more efficient digital communication channels[2] and gain deep knowledge about their downstream customers – the patients.[3] As more data is tracked and made available for individual patient care, the volume of healthcare data is increasing by 48% annually.[4] According to a survey conducted by Accenture in 2016, 45% of US consumers are accessing their records mainly through EHR systems (Electronic Health Records). The same survey shows that 77% of US customers and 85% of US physicians are convinced that mHealth (Mobile health) devices can help patients engage with their health,[5] and furthermore, already 69% of physicians are accessing patient information through EHR systems on their mobile.[6]

Independent studies reveal that patients, including the ones suffering from chronic diseases, seek other patients' insights and are sharing their experiences on social media communities (e.g. Twitter or even Facebook) even before seeking advice from their practitioners. New technologies enable patients to increase their healthcare awareness far before their first symptoms appear. For example, personal genome identification (e.g. 23&me) at an accessible price (<US$100) allows people to be informed about their potential risks earlier than their physicians. This trend is also illustrated through crowdsourcing in the industry, which started back in 2006 with innoCentive, an open innovation platform. Other platforms, such as PatientsLikeMe followed, allowing patients with the same conditions to share their symptoms, feelings about treatments and even adverse events. Over ten years crowdsourcing platforms blossomed in eight categories with solutions that range from patient caregiver connective collaborative consumption to contagious disease surveillance, allowing patients and/or practitioners to share their insights on specific conditions.

The eight categories of crowdsourcing in healthcare

Through methods like crowdsourcing, digitization allows stakeholders to challenge the classical hierarchy of information ownership. Nowadays patients are the ones who can easily and quickly share and access medical and health related information. The classical prescriptive monologue of the practitioner is being replaced by an open dialog between the patient and the physician. This is forcing a change on how the life science industry, practitioners and providers are communicating with patients about their health, diseases, treatment and products. The patient is taking the place at the driver's seat and will co-own the decisions related to his health, like he is used to do with other consumer goods.

How much is digital transformation spreading across organizations?

Life sciences companies, health care organizations, payers, social media and consumer goods companies are accumulating huge volumes of consumer/patient data, which is helping them to better understand consumer/patient behaviors, motivation and influencers. They are reorganizing their marketing organizations into powerful analytic machines segmenting and sub-segmenting population in order to personalize their campaigns accordingly to customer needs.

A significant amount of life sciences companies is already engaged in the digital world. However, their digital actions are an effect of their “analogical thinking." Life science companies should take an example from different industries that have already been going through a digital transformation, and first start thinking digital and then, accordingly to their objectives, decide whenever to act in a “digital” or a “non-digital” way. This triggers key transformation questions around capabilities, system and infrastructure, organization, culture, business and operating model and governance. For more information on multi-channel in life sciences, see the December 2016 Tribune issue.

We recently facilitated a discussion between executives of leading global life sciences companies who are leading regional operations, global marketing, market access or operational excellence functions regarding the level of digital maturity of their organizations. Here are some of the key take-aways from the discussion:

Even if specific regions or countries show variation in the breadth, depth and pace of adoption, all participants converged toward the limited adoption and impact of digital across commercial operation or field medical affairs with Medical Science Liaisons specifically. “We have 'limited' the use of digital channels to emails, targeted to practitioners who have agreed to receive emails” (Head of region). “We are buying space on specialized sites for promotional purposes” (Head of marketing). “We partner with digital companies to initiate Skype-like remote detailing with practitioners” (head of commercial operation).

This discussion also revealed that “content marketing for mobile marketing is not widespread or even used – depending on country maturity" (Head of marketing) “The campaigns are not developed enough to be adapted to mobile communication” (Head of Marketing). Content marketing will be discussed later in this article.

The discussion also revealed that sub-segmentation of patients', based on data analytics to personalize the use of communication channels for patients or stakeholders, is not a common practice. “The use of sophisticated analytics (big data, pattern identification AI, algorithm development, predictive analysis) to better understand customers and patients' needs is simply not in place yet in most of the world except for in the US at some extent.” (Head of marketing and market access)

This discussion acknowledged that there is a myriad of digital initiatives across companies, but that companies often lack a clear digital roadmap to oversee all overall transformation. These small-scale initiatives may be easily deprioritized with budget constraints.

A digital visualization of the heart

Our participants have identified a few key success factors for life sciences companies to spread and leverage their digital culture across their organization.

  1. Leadership: As in all transformations, leadership's commitment and its visible engagement is the key to disseminate a new culture and grow interest, motivation and excitement across an organization.
  2. System and Infrastructure: All participants considered the level of data and their analytical capabilities for transforming data into meaningful patients, customers’ and stakeholders’ insights weak. The diversity, volume, structure of the data and ever-evolving analytical capabilities (deep learning, algorithm development, machine learning, predictive analysis and artificial intelligence) can force an organization to adjust its information management strategy.
  3. Capabilities: Internal stakeholders are often uncomfortable with digital marketing. They tend to see digital marketing as an “add on” to what they have done over the years and adopt a risk-adverse approach. Therefore life science companies should have dedicated digital teams focused on digital campaigns, with the mandate to champion and diffuse digitalization in the organization.
  4. ROI (Return On Investment): As observed by the interviewees, measuring the financial performance of any investment is legitimate. If the participants agreed that ROI is a good measure of performance, they also agreed that organizations’ scrutiny regarding digital investments and their projected ROI is more stringent than for any other media.
  5. “Glo(c)alization”: With countries adopting different digital multi-channel marketing at different paces, local adaptation and execution is the key to success, even if the value of having consistent global messages tailored for key patient categories remains. For example, in many cultures emails remain the most common digital media that is used for communication. In some countries, like China, Facebook is not allowed and is replaced by a local social media platform. And so, even if the companies need to localize their offerings, the trend in most emerging countries is similar: it's the shift towards patient's ownership of his/her health.
  6. Open Innovation Mindset: The life science industry owns a small portion of patient/customer data compared to the amount of data that the stakeholders collect by themselves with different wearables and mHealth devices. Moreover, even if the analytical capabilities of life science companies are developing, digital innovation is led by a myriad of emergent high tech companies innovating at a pace that cannot be matched internally. Therefore, life science companies should develop a network of partners that will help them stay ahead of the curve for data analytics.
  7. Entrepreneurship: "Digital transformation will diffuse across an organization if nurtured and developed on its own by digital experts who will be leading the digital transformation and will diffuse it across the organization until it becomes ubiquitous and dully integrated in the company DNA." (Head of Region)

What are the key steps to optimize the use of digital to create customer/patient intimacy?

Even if 95% of marketers are running a multi-channel digital marketing campaign and 73% of businesses already have a working strategy in place, only 30% of the marketers are saying they are confident that their strategies will work.[7]

First and foremost, if the world is going digital, the foundations of marketing don’t change: “The aim of marketing is to know the customers, the product or service best fit to him/her and sell them”- Peter Drucker. Indeed, the art of promotion and sales requires an in-depth knowledge and understanding of your clients' behaviors and preferences and the ability to make people connect with the product or service emotionally. This is where the digital transformation brings an ocean of opportunities.

The 5 stages of your digital marketing transformation journey are as shown and explained below:

The five stages of your digital marketing transformation journey


A digital marketing strategy cannot be treated seriously without the use of high quality data that can be used to generate high quality content.

The significant increase in volume of both structured or unstructured data and rapidly evolving analytical capabilities can lead an organization to adjust information on management strategy, analytical capabilities and infrastructure, both internally or/and through partnerships with expert companies. For their part, life science companies are starting to leverage their CRM (customer relationship management) by adding additional analytical capabilities.

Accessing this data is obviously a critical step towards the ability to generate relevant and differentiating insights about patients and others key stakeholders that lead to better understanding or even prediction of patient behaviors and preferences. In fact, through this ability the life science industry can understand the patient in the real world, contribute within the health care value chain and improve patients' outcomes as well as increase the efficiency of the health care system.

Starting initiatives that may lead to value added outcomes for patients and the healthcare system are of top priority to life science companies across the value chain. These initiatives may lead to value added outcomes for patients, and the healthcare system would be one of the top priorities of the life science companies across the value chain. 


The transformation digital journey should start with mapping the customer/patient journey:

The patient journey - infographics

Mapping the journey allows organizations to see how their customers interact with various touchpoints through different channels in their information or treatment journeys. Moreover, this process helps to fully understand the dynamics of target customers and their behavior.  It highlights where the customer experience doesn't match up with customer expectation and opportunities for improvement. It is important to mention that in life science and healthcare, customer journey maps can be very complex as healthcare is interconnected and made of interdependent stakeholders. The journey mapping will help identify the current pain points and how to move customers to the desired behavior.


The objective is to bring customer needs into alignment with a company's business objectives, offering the vision for an optimized solution. This can be done through:

  1. Segmenting customers based on patient journeys and stakeholder interactions
  2. Identifying the role of others stakeholders and touchpoints in addressing current pain points or unmet needs affecting improved patient outcomes and disease management efficiency
  3. Identifying early service solutions ( to address pain points along the patient journey to move the customer/patient to the desired behaviors.


In 1996 Bill Gates said “Content is king!” and in 2017 this statement is still valid; and offering relevant and useful content is the key to successful marketing. Content marketing, along with digital marketing, emerged as a method that will make potential customers better informed instead of merely promoting products and services in the digital world. Essentially, content marketing relies on creating a relationship based on trust between patients and other healthcare system stakeholders.

80% of digital decision makers prefer to get their information from articles rather than from traditional advertising and 58%[1] of consumers think that a company producing video content is more trustworthy than one that does not.

What are the key insights?

  • Tailor your messages according to your audience
  • Customize your digital multi-channel communication to your targeted subpopulations. Select your media so it fits the habits of the targeted population


With the rapidly evolving environment, it’s becoming crucial to remain agile when adjusting to new situations, and develop solutions and multi-channel marketing campaigns on a continuous basis, while integrating them with patients' and health stakeholders’ feedback. This is closed loop marketing.

How it can be achieved?

  • Identifying Key Influence and Impact Indicators (K3I) that measure the performance of a campaign is crucial to being able to adjust your campaign dynamically. Today, while quantitative indicators of performance are well identified, measuring the direct impact and influence that MSLs messages has on sales is more difficult. Qualitative indicators based on behavioral analytics may help measure performance (impact and influence) and evolve key messages and channels on a continuous basis.
  • Correlating qualitative and quantitative performance indicators will help life science companies to predict future behaviors and continue to optimize key messages and campaigns.

In this article we showed that even if the Life sciences companies are progressing with digital transformation, this transformation is slow to diffuse into the organization. This is due to the fact that the panelists' and leadership's commitment and its visible engagement is still a key success factors along with capabilities, infrastructure and operating model. 

In the next issues we will see that, as in commercial operation functions, digital is already transforming R&D for the patient’s benefits with the opportunity to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of R&D. We will review and how it could continue helping patient’s centric innovation in the future.


By Dr. Philippe Salphati, Managing Director and life science Partner, and Aleksandra Los. Consultant, Business intelligence and analytics specialist


[1] Mobile revolution, Max Pepe, 2017

[2] Assessing the implement ability of telehealth interventions for self- management support: A realist review., Vassilev and al, 2015

[3] The interplay of customer and product innovation dynamics: an exploratory study., Bohlman, Sparyol, quails& Rosa, 2012, Kanyan, 2015

[4] 5 data issues challenging our current healthcare system, Commvault Systems, 2016

[5] Patients want a heavy dose of digital”, Accenture 2016

[6] 5 data issues challenging our current healthcare system, Commvault Systems, 2016


[8] CMI, Content marketing institute, 2017



Dr. Philippe Salphati

Managing Director and Partner at Tefen Europe

Digital Transformation, Business Design and Transformation, and Commercial Excellence expert in the Life Sciences sector

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