Interview with Paul Tunnah on the state of digital healthcare

Check out the interview with Paul Tunnah, CEO at pharmaphorum

Pharmaphorum – how do you explain it to non-doctors?

I founded pharmaphorum with the aim of truly ‘bringing healthcare together’ – joining the dots between all stakeholders in healthcare and specifically ensuring that the pharmaceutical industry is informed about the opinions of others, e.g. doctors, patients, technology enthusiasts etc.

So on the surface we look like a ‘traditional’ online publication with news, features and multimedia, whose primary audience is the pharmaceutical industry. However, we really try to ensure we capture all the voices from beyond pharma and keep the industry informed about their perspectives.

Because of this we provide something that people see as different and that has helped us become one of the biggest global publications in the pharma industry. We attract the interest of doctors, patients, advocacy groups, governments, investors and so forth, in addition to becoming one of the ‘go to’ places for digital health updates.

How do you describe yourself to doctors?

To doctors we would say that we recognise their situation has become more complex in recent years. Aside from the fact that most doctors are expected to do more with less resource, they encounter new challenges in the forms of restricted budgets, and local or national reimbursement decisions for medicines. They also treat empowered patients who believe their voice is as strong as those of medical professionals.

This evolution requires a fundamentally different narrative with the pharmaceutical industry, that goes beyond product detailing and sponsored medical education. There needs to be more continuous dialogue and alignment on the issues beyond drugs, and this is something we try to facilitate with our content, in addition to ensuring their views are also heard by pharma.

What would be the key points of your State of the Union speech on digital healthcare?

It’s not about digital healthcare in the same way that it’s not about digital anything. Healthcare, like every other industry, has already been digitised and it needs to be an integral part of everyone’s role.

The digital revolution has democratised healthcare, opening up medical information to all, transforming how everyone communicates with things like social media, and driving a big data revolution that offers unprecedented potential to diagnose a disease before it becomes symptomatic, delivering truly personalised healthcare at the individual patient level. In addition, digital therapeutics, such as using VR in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, are now competing effectively with medicines in some areas.

Across all these aspects – communication, information, data and treatment – commercial organisations need to stop seeing digital as a siloed specialism and integrate it into the fundamental DNA of the company and everyone’s roles. It’s true that there is still a need for digital champions, like the increasing number of Chief Digital Officers, to make this happen, but their focus should be on making ‘digital’ roles redundant over the next decade.

How far along are we in finding the balance between healthcare and selfcare – it seems to me that a lot of digital measuring is still clearly on the non-healthcare side of the equation.

It is true that digital measurement has moved more quickly in many other industries than in healthcare, primarily due to two factors: the strict regulatory environment within healthcare and the nervousness about misuse of highly sensitive health data.

However, I think we are on the cusp of breaking through both these barriers. The medical regulatory bodies are starting to put in place more structure around regulating digital measuring (and therapeutics), as witnessed by close dialogue with organisations like the DNA testing company 23andMe. In addition, we have a new generation of people coming through who are much more comfortable sharing their data, including health data, provided they see tangible benefit in return.

There are also movements, driven by a number of companies, aimed at controlling the dissemination of health data and putting it firmly under the control of the patient.

This more mature regulatory and data environment will see a leap forward in digital measuring and treatment in healthcare over the next few years.

Representing media in the healthcare space – does that differentiation impact your work? How?

Being a media company comes with a sense of responsibility in any industry – we have all read a lot about ‘fake news’ recently and the power of the media to influence critical things like elections, trials etc.

However, in healthcare this is amplified. Delivering the right or wrong information can literally be life or death, even if it’s not at the level of specific products. If patients believe the wrong information on specific treatments, or lose trust in a medical company, they may stop taking essential medication, which could lead to life-threatening situations.

Equally, it is important not to offer false hope on treatments that have no clinical evidence to support their efficacy, or to overhype the potential of development treatments to address diseases where there are very few options, as this can cause distress.

We take this responsibility very seriously. We like to offer all the perspectives of all stakeholders, but always keep an eye out for anything that could mislead or harm patients.

The interview has been originally published on the special issue of CoFounder