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Health Goes Full VUCA: What to Expect in 2017

VP Strategy

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All indicators suggest a disruptive year ahead for health, fraught with Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. What are the major predictions, and how might they impact pharma commercialization? Let’s crystal ball gaze…

Similar to the Internet, “VUCA” originated with the US military as a way to describe and respond to the post-Cold War reality of rapid, chaotic transformation:

Within such an intimidating environment, organizations and individuals can gain a significant advantage by understanding core VUCA principles, including preparedness, anticipation, evolution, and intervention—and by applying its key techniques, such as strategic planning and decision making, risk mitigation, change management, and problem solving. The end goal is to lead instead of follow, stay a few steps ahead of the competition, and not get blind-sided by steadily evolving market forces and consumer behaviors.

The Harvard Business Review deconstructs VUCA into its four elements, showing respective approaches for each, embedded within a simple matrix. Labeled axes correlate and cross-reference knowledge of a given situation with the ability to predict potential outcomes:

 

vuca matrix

 

The setup is applicable to all verticals and remains particularly appropriate for pharma, now grappling with VUCA at every milestone of the lifecycle. From pipeline to pricing, data to distribution, adherence to advocacy, sweeping changes in research, markets, regulation, and consumers put acute pressures on executives. To remain viable and competitive, leaders must anticipate issues, appreciate the interdependence of variables and consequences of actions, prepare for alternative scenarios, and act on all relevant opportunities.

For pharma marketers and commercialization partners the pressures are also acute, especially given the aggressive rates of change across so many dependent specialties. The rise of exponential medicine necessitates a new era of “exponential healthcare marketing” where science, communications, and technology converge. The volatility of the marketplace, the uncertainty of research, the complexity of data, and the ambiguity of consumer expectations often stifle progress, decrease engagement, and create vulnerabilities.

The solution starts with understanding how we live in an age of exponential evolution, where speed and agility are prerequisites for success, and data becomes a sixth sense and vital differentiator. Adaptive techniques and technologies must be applied to gain insights and create personally relevant experiences. Along the way we need to stay focused on the significant trends shaping the industry, from market shifts to regulatory changes to technological developments. With antidotes to VUCA in mind, let’s take a look at each…

 

Exponential Markets

The 35th Annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference which took place from January 9-12th in San Francisco is arguably the best way to measure the pulse of the industry. Early flutters focused on pricing and value challenges, but as the conference progressed so did the mood, which shifted to the insight that data—and not necessarily new policies, strategies, or even drugs—will be instrumental in driving the industry forward. That shift “beyond the pill” to data-driven disease management and prevention signals the beginning of a state change.

 

Exponential Regulation

As we covered last week, 2016 was a monumental year for regulatory activity in digital health, reinforcing the JP Morgan insight around the evolving industry role. From patient data to real world evidence, software as a medical device to inquiry around 1-click fair balance, hundreds of FDA-approved wearables, biosensors, and platforms to a few surprises, the government is recognizing the importance of innovation, and encouraging progress through intriguing new guidance documentation, dialogue, and research.

 

Exponential Innovation

If JP Morgan helped measure the industry’s pulse, then the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) during the same time in Las Vegas was its trend setter. From major new partnerships and collaborations including UnitedHealthcare and Fitbit, to dozens of the very latest apps and tools, CES showcased an astonishing array of tech revealing the exponential growth of digital health. Smart toothbrushes, AI-controlled disease prevention and med adherence programs, next gen trackers and connected health platforms simultaneously fight and feed VUCA.

 

If all these changes wouldn’t be volatile and complex enough, triggering uncertainty and ambiguity, Congress has already begun to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a still unknown structure—while the 45th President of the United States gets sworn in later this week, already threatening the industry over pricing while also hinting at unprecedented deregulation. So if you thought last year was a roller coaster ride for the health system, hang on to your apps, as the only thing all healthcare stakeholders agree on is a VUCA 2017 ahead!

 

Exponential Partnering

Is your marketing and commercialization partner as adaptive and data-driven as your brands must be in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous climate? Do they understand the industry, the regulations, and the trends in a way that instills confidence and trust through proven expertise? At Klick Health we accelerate people, platforms, and processes to help your brands keep pace with the speed of life. Learn more about what we do and why we’re different, and how we’re uniquely positioned to steer you through a sea of VUCA.

 

More About the Author

Michael Spitz

A digital health expert since before digital health was cool, Spitz has since developed omnichannel campaigns for top pharma and device brands, and helps drive agency innovation, digital transformation, and emerging channels. See him present at conferences, read his blogs, and follow him for the latest trends and opinions on Twitter @SpitzStrategy.

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