How to deliver digital solutions with a design-thinking model

Kick start your digital transformation journey and learn why human empathy is foundational to innovation and product success

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Pharma IQ
11/16/2020

Ahead of their joint session at Pharma IQ’s exclusive one-day masterclass, we caught up with Anne-Sophie Royer, Head of Strategy and Development and Spencer Ball, Creative Director, both at SGK Health, to discuss how thinking like a designer can prove transformational in improving the patient experience and fulfilling deep-seated desires in the pharma industry.

Pharma IQ: How can the pharma industry use design thinking to enable innovation and improve patient engagement?

Spencer Ball: Design thinking is behavior based. It is all about observing actions and behaviors that align with your processes and how to create a stronger sense of empathy. It can kick start any form of innovation or new user market idea because it can give you two perspectives of the market in respect to the business and the patient. With this method, you are able to bring a “fresher perspective” to creative processes so you are not bound by rules that exist within one category. Design thinking creates innovation around patient care and that is a really powerful tool.

Anne-Sophie Royer: My thinking around design thinking is very similar. Connecting with users in a one-to-one form of engagement or a way that is more authentic will give the pharma industry a deeper understanding of the functional and emotional needs of the patient and for whom the solution, product and service is being created for.

A design-thinking approach tackles the business challenges with the human at the center to work toward a solution that is successful for the patient and business. It entwines the needs of people with the possibilities of technology and the requirements for business success, which makes it an interesting tool to enable innovation and improve patient engagement.

Pharma IQ: How does this concept compare with other industries and what can the pharma industry learn?

ASR: The industries that have already integrated the principles of design thinking into their businesses are those that have undergone a digital transformation. With digital transformation being one of the biggest challenges for pharma companies, it is unsurprising to see they have fallen behind in the integration of design-thinking principles too. It is about changing that traditional approach to business or innovation and turning toward the user experience.

Pharma companies can learn from other industries who have embraced design thinking to shorten product development cycles and create differentiation. The competition of getting treatments out to market are marginal, so businesses need to be differentiated by service or application convenience, for example. Design thinking will give pharma companies an opportunity to go “beyond the pill” and create a new communication perspective in regulation, product development or via more innovative ways to stay relevant with their audiences.

SB: A good example of what Anne-Sophie touched upon is the development process that went into creating the first iPhone. This was a product of design thinking because Apple was pre-empting where the market was going and getting a product to market ahead of expectation. With design thinking, you can really take advantage of all pre-existing conditions – the market, industry and regulations – and build them into your processes from the very beginning to ensure you don’t come up against these hurdles later on in your process.

Pharma IQ: In your opinion, have the priorities of the pharma market changed since Covid-19 and how is design thinking being used to support market changes?

ASR: The Covid-19 crisis has created a pivotal moment for the pharma industry to act as a catalyst for change. Personal health has never been more important and people are increasingly having to self-manage their health using digital tools. The pharma industry is under intense pressure to deliver change fast and so it is only natural to see priorities evolving. I think we can expect to see pharma companies starting to develop a deeper understanding of patient emotion by spending more time observing behaviors and needs, adding this empathy layer to their innovation approach.

Another priority I see progressing in response to Covid-19 is pharma companies working closely with all of their stakeholders, from iterating innovation, ideas or concepts, to working together to overcome some of the biggest challenges in adapting and accelerating processes to gain speed to market. The Covid-19 pandemic has completely disrupted the traditional innovation process so it will be interesting to see how design thinking will be integrated into new ways of working.

SB: National health services around the world are under intense pressure and in many countries you can no longer book an appointment with the doctor as easily. This is forcing a radical change in behavior that was slowing happening before Covid-19 but the pandemic has only accelerated that. Pharma companies are now finding they have a direct link with patients through the kinds of products, services or tools they offer. The design-thinking model will be extremely important for refining user experiences and maintaining that direct relationship between pharma companies and patients.

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Pharma IQ: How do you see the pharma industry using design thinking in the future?

SB: I think the direct relationship patients are having with pharma companies will continue. Patients are certainly looking to pharma companies for trusted health advice during the pandemic and I do not see this stopping when the future of health is becoming self-managed or more personalized. However, patients will need the right tools for this to continue to happen, whether that is through apps or telemedicine, there has to be a smooth process in place to make those interactions meaningful and functional, which design thinking can definitely help with.

ASR: It is difficult to predict the future because the pharma industry is at a pivotal crossroad where it can build on the trust already formed with patients through the pandemic or revert to traditional modes of communication. I go into how to rebuild trust with patients in more detail in my article, but for context, pharma companies now have the opportunity to connect with their patients on an emotional level by creating new products and services that reliably meet their needs. I suspect if the industry pivots this way then design thinking will help to create a more diverse panel of communication. We have already seen this develop in packaging design, but it can also be used to expedite clinical trial design, research and development programs, as well as in sending finished products out to market by facilitating the workflow process and user experience.

Save your free seat at Pharma IQ’s exclusive one-day masterclass to discover how design thinking, digital transformation and connected packaging can advance your digital communication strategy on the patient and amplify the customer-brand connection in an increasingly digitalized business world.

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