The Boehringer Ingelheim approach to digital – Part 4: Be a mate worth having

Candice O'Sullivan
November 1, 2012

This is Part 4 of a five-part series exploring how Boehringer Ingelheim and its Director of Digital Communications, John Pugh, are leading the pharma industry’s shift into the digital space.

In July this year, Boehringer announced a new collaboration with Healthrageous, a US-based digital health management company, on a lifestyle behaviour modification program aimed at improving the health status of people with Type 2 diabetes mellitus.

The pilot program is one of the first initiatives Boehringer launched after announcing its new ‘beyond pill’ philosophy –– a fancy moniker for the company’s renewed commitment to business models and healthcare innovation that offer patients more than just drug treatment alone. Aligned with this approach, the new diabetes program aims to leverage digital technology to help make the personal journey of self-managing diabetes easier and more effective.

In brief, participants receive digital coaching via an Internet-based tool accessible by smartphone. A personalised action plan details health behaviour improvement goals with biometric feedback, indicating when goals have been met. The program provides incentives for achieving progress and social networking support, along with more practical support such as medication reminders and supply and strip refill ordering. To assess the pilot’s value, wireless glucose meters transmit patient data to clinical monitors. This allows Boehringer and Healthrageous to analyse the impact of the digital intervention on changes in lifestyle behaviours, glucose control, other clinical parameters and medication adherence.

At the heart of this initiative is a company trying to understand how individuals become and remain engaged in self-managing their health.* It’s a question ripe for the 21st century, when chronic diseases are more prevalent than ever and public healthcare systems are chronically under-resourced. And Boehringer’s response is made for the 21st century. This comprehensive digital platform represents much, much more than the token patient support measures we typically see from pharma companies. This is more than a fridge magnet and information leaflet. This is a real-time tool tailored to each individual that aims to meet patients’ aspirations for their health and wellbeing while overcoming any limitations their current lifestyle may place on achieving the desired outcomes.

And it’s the innovative use of digital technology that is enabling this new kind of product-service mix. As patient support programs become more common, brand managers need to question their definition of, and purpose for providing, ‘beyond pill’ support. Are you just supporting sales or are you aiming to support the patient in equal measure? If the latter is true, then the time has come to invest in (MA-compliant) digital tools that truly add value to your patients’ lives. Because in this day and age, we really can do better than a fridge magnet and a texta.

*And, to be appropriately cynical, to also understand what drives medication adherence and ultimately sells more product.

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By Candice O’Sullivan, Director and Head of Strategy at Wellmark. You can find Candice on Google+ at +Candice O’Sullivan.

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