Q&A with Dennis Urbaniak, Managing Director, Accenture Life Sciences

Dennis Urbaniak on how social and digital are changing life sciences and how sharing health information will turn the industry on its head.

What has surprised you most about working in the life sciences industry?

Without a doubt, I’d have to say the scale of impact the industry can have on patients. I’ll never forget early in my career when I saw a new heart failure drug introduced in a hospital. One day a heart failure patient was bedridden in intensive care, and the next, after receiving the new drug, he was up and walking around.

Seeing the impact that drug had on a single patient made me realize and truly appreciate how the life sciences industry can change someone’s life directly. And thinking about that not just for one patient, but patients all over the world on a daily basis was overwhelming and inspiring.

How do you think social media is changing how pharmaceutical companies communicate with patients?

I think social media is already changing and will continue to change how we communicate with patients. For one thing, it’s allowing pharma and medical technology companies to listen to patients. Initially the industry saw social media as just another marketing channel for more branding opportunities and promotion but now, companies are seeing that they can enter into a dialog with patients and to learn about their unmet needs, their challenges and their potential solutions. That focus on listening and engaging with communities is providing the industry with a new level of insight that many didn’t expect, and it’s resulting in new drugs and solutions that are changing patient lives.

"I think the ability to share information is going to turn the industry on its head."

What are the “digital disruptions” that you think are on the horizon that could have the most profound impact on the industry?

One of the most profound changes I’m seeing is how information is created, shared, distributed and consumed. In the digital world, the industry has new opportunities not just to create new content, but also to curate interesting and relevant content from trusted sources. We’re also now capable of distributing that content and reaching people—payers, policy makers, doctors and patients—using the channels they prefer.

I think that ability to share information is going to turn the industry on its head. One example, where it’s already making a difference, is the Society for Participatory Medicine, an organization that encourages the collaboration of healthcare professionals, patients and life science thought leaders. This level of participation, which is actively informing research agendas, could never have come about without the digital technologies we rely on today.

What is the one thing you think the industry really has to get right and figure out in the next two years?

I think there are actually two things we need to address over the next couple of years. The first is finding more opportunities to engage directly with patients. As an industry, we need to recognize and respect patient voices, and we need to involve patients in policy decisions, at the state and the federal level.

The second is using technology and analytics to assess the real-world impact of drugs, treatments and services on patients. We need to leverage the immense amount of data available from electronic medical records and bring all the separate sets of data together to better understand what is truly delivering a better health outcome for patients – and which patients those are, what they share in common. We also have a huge opportunity to take advantage of data analytics to predict patterns and make modifications to therapies and the care we provide patients to provide the best possible outcomes for patients. If the entire healthcare industry gets this right, this will be the most exciting era in its history.