Aurora Magazine

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Pharmaceuticals in a Digital World

Published in Mar-Apr 2021

How pharma companies should position themselves to compete in a digitised world.

Evolving patient needs and demographics, innovations in medical technology, complex healthcare systems and access to emerging markets are just some of the many demands of the pharma and life sciences sector.

The pharmaceutical industry is facing rapid changes as we move into digital transformation and business acceleration. With business transformation comes the need to ensure continuously aligned mindsets, attitudes, perceptions and a shared vision. Changes in technology, processes and procedures mean that to keep current, professionals must re-skill and up-skill to comply with the growing demands of the industry. From compliance issues and acquisitions to bringing a new drug to market, employees in the pharmaceutical industry know that continual learning is essential for career success. Equally important is the need to change the way the organisation delivers learning to suit this fast-moving and challenging environment.

Sales training continues to be the bread and butter for many pharma companies, and learning and development (L&D) departments and traditional classroom-based courses are still very popular, offering learners direct feedback from instructors as well as opportunities to network with colleagues. But inefficiencies built into courses as well as time and cost constraints, mean that companies are increasingly looking for learning methods that complement traditional, instructor-led training. Mobile technologies and social media have a growing impact on learning delivery, as time-strapped learners look for ‘bite-sized’ content to consume wherever and whenever it suits them.

As digital technology becomes more embedded within healthcare, it opens up the potential to use technology in more engaging ways to deliver learning. The use of digital platforms for training is also cost-effective because you can train personnel on-demand at any time of the day or week. L&D departments are also moving to new offline options; for example, companies like Genentech and B. Braun equipped their sales forces with iPods, allowing the efficient distribution of video or audio podcast courses with relative ease. Although there is no ‘one size fits all’ training design that will work for all companies, some basic principles have proven to be most effective.

1 Short Modules: Bite-sized modules retain better attention among employees, particularly when there is a large volume of information to disperse across teams. Modern research supports the theory that our brains respond better to targeted information that is repeated often, rather than large volumes of data delivered at a one-off learning event.

2 Cloud-Based Servers: Cloud-based distribution systems, portals and gateways deliver highly personalised content and tools to users on a wide range of devices and channels that are accessible from anywhere, any time. As new drugs are launched, digital content on cloud servers allows employees to be updated rapidly about the composition, treatment and side effects, among other properties, of these drugs. A notification is then sent across to inform everyone of the update and can be accessed anywhere, any time on any device. Thus, the training material remains truly dynamic.

3 Scenario-Based Learning: Online learning is the perfect tool to support managers in an immersive training environment where they meet realistic work challenges and receive realistic feedback by the use of simulated scenarios which use narratives to guide learners through certain situations which can be adapted based on the choices and responses of the learners.

4 Goal-Based Assessments: Another factor that L&D departments are delving into is data analytics to assess if training dollars spent lead to positive changes for the learner and their customers. They are pooling performance data, post-course assessment results, financial data and other metrics to create ‘dashboards’ to view an employee’s performance on test scores, time to completion, and compliance on policy exams.

5 Specialised Training Modules: There are varied job roles in the pharmaceutical industry and although most employees require some amount of common knowledge, all of them do not need to know everything. Designing training modules specific to a job role allows the content to cover a wider spectrum of subjects. It also saves the employee from having to go through unnecessary information.

Additionally, a single source of content should be adaptable for different audiences. For example, a sales executive and a marketing manager may need access to the same information, although the work they do is different. This means that a marketing manager needs to find the best features of the drug to pitch to the consumer. However, a sales representative will need more information about the features that will help them market the drug to medical professionals and retailers. Highlighting the information that best suits their needs individually will present a far more effective result.

Adaptive Learning: Instead of assuming that everyone comes to a training programme with the same level of existing knowledge or skills, adaptive learning solutions first establish what the individual already knows. It then becomes possible to complement that knowledge with short, highly relevant learning modules. Learning today needs to be much more closely tailored to the needs and interests of individuals. In other words, it needs to be personalised.

Interesting Content: Ensuring the course is interactive keeps employees focused and engaged. A very popular choice for mobile-based training is using short, animated video clips to present complex information. Visuals are the best medium for learning as our mind records and comprehends visual cues better. Information presented via this medium is retained more effectively by the trainees.

Here are some examples of areas within the pharmaceutical industry that can benefit the most from a digital learning strategy.

1 Sales: Traditional classroom training is often a challenge to attend. Sales reps are always on the road, and their schedules make it difficult to attend classroom training. Digital and mobile delivery approaches are ideal when developing pharmaceutical sales training courses helping sales reps stay on top of newly released product information. Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, Ethicon, used micro-learning platforms for their sales team to increase product knowledge. They trained more than 1,000 reps globally where their knowledge increased by 49%.

2 Manufacturing: For any new laws, procedures and regulations, compliance training is required, as well as the push for environmental compliance in recent years. Due to the unrealistic mounds of information to be taught, traditional methods of learning are no longer viable. As in any industry, taking employees from the production floor and putting them in classrooms for training can mean production slowdowns and loss of revenue. Digital learning is the perfect solution for up-skilling employees without interrupting production levels. Capital Blue Cross used micro-learning to achieve 40% improvement in knowledge retention and reduce 66% of errors in the manufacturing process.

3 Marketing: According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the pharmaceutical market is undergoing a radical change and as a consequence, the role of the medical representative is broadening. PwC stated that there is a pressing need for specialist marketing personnel who can serve the needs of experts in various branches of medicine. The digital medium can be used to transform the normal medical representative into a specialist by providing comprehensive training on products related to a particular medical speciality. Short, mobile-compatible digital content goes a long way in helping medico-marketing personnel master complex concepts. They can also be used to provide just-in-time training support very effectively.

4 Safety and Compliance: Safety is an important concern in the pharmaceutical industry, especially in laboratories and manufacturing plants. The global nature of the industry necessitates companies to abide by legal requirements and language considerations, depending on the country. With the help of micro-learning, Merck helped to reduce accidents in 52 manufacturing sites around the world and rolled out the module at once across the globe covering more than 24,000 at one go. This resulted in a reduction in accidents and promoting a safe working environment.

As with every other area of life and work, digital technology is fundamentally changing the way we approach learning. Pharma companies will need to position themselves to compete in this increasingly digitised world by delivering information to people as and when they need it and measuring the impact that learning is having on business outcomes.

Fauzia Kerai Khan is Chief Executive, i&b Consulting, Training, eLearning.