Companies in every industry are tapping into digital innovation to increase revenue, reduce costs and better serve customers. The pharmaceutical industry should be no exception. To date, the healthcare industry has contributed advances to telemedicine, robotic assistance and real-time monitoring devices among other technologies. However, the pace of pharma’s digital technology adoption remains slow due to the fear of escalating cybersecurity and privacy challenges, strict federal and state regulations and a need for more digital expertise.

While these obstacles are real, pharma companies need to become more aggressive in adopting digital innovation. Rather than looking at what their peers are doing in digital health, they need to anticipate new challengers in the healthcare industry, including innovative start-ups and established technology companies who are hungry for new markets. As we’ve seen with the announcement from Amazon, Berkshire and JPMorgan, even well-established companies are partnering with digital disruptors to challenge current industry practices.

Here are some steps pharma companies should take to stay ahead of this curve:

Renew Commitment to Adherence

According to the CDC, one-half of patients cease taking their ongoing medications within a year of being prescribed. As a result, US society loses hundreds of billions of dollars in hospital bills and other forms of emergency medicine to treat chronic conditions that go unmanaged. Research suggests digital solutions that can improve drug adherence even incrementally represent a huge revenue opportunity. With just a 10 percent increase in adherence, there is an approximately $124 billion global pharmaceutical revenue opportunity. While the issue of adherence is not new to pharma companies, there needs to be a different approach to solving it – the current route of creating tens of thousands of standalone mobile apps has not worked for patients nor drug companies. As a group, the top 12 pharmaceutical companies have created over 1,000 health apps, yet growth in downloads across these apps has flattened out. One study published in JMIR mHealth and uHealth noted that many popular mobile apps don’t even capitalize on standard adherence guidelines for encouraging patient compliance.

Adherence solutions work best when they are connected, contextualized and integrated into a patient’s life in a convenient way. For example, a connected smart pill bottle device for a patient with chronic disease can capture and send real-time data regarding the dosing events and location of use, which can inform patients and caregivers on how well the patient is adhering to the assigned treatment regimen and whether it is improving the patient’s overall health. With innovations like this, pharma companies can also begin to collect data regarding therapies, patient demographics, adherence and engagement.

Broaden the View of ROI

To keep up with the competition, pharmaceutical companies must make it a priority to invest in research and development (R&D) for digital health solutions in addition to traditional drug research. The current pharma business model of focusing only on new drug development instead of incorporating value-added technology and services is broken. In fact, studies show a steady decline in the productivity and ROI of pharma’s R&D investment. This requires a shift in thinking about potential returns that digital health solutions enable in the near term, such as improved adherence and market share, as well as the returns down the road, such as being prepared to operate in a connected world with entirely new business models. The challenge is moving from investing almost all R&D funds up front in the development of new drugs to a perspective that incorporates the value of software-based services and an approach of continuous improvement.

Partner with Digital Experts

When it comes to developing life-saving drugs and blockbuster molecules, pharma companies have experience recruiting the best and the brightest. A typical biopharmaceutical has thousands of PhDs and MDs, but only a handful of software engineers and data scientists. Building a digital health team from the ground up with a combination of medical and consumer/patient expertise is a significant investment from a headcount and time perspective, not to mention the challenge of reconciling the drastic differences between a fast-paced technology culture and a regulated pharmaceutical culture. Instead, look to a partner with a core competency in software development to leverage external expertise, improve patient engagement and capitalize on better digital insights.