COVID is 'catalyst' to digitally transform life sciences
Dassault Systèmes (Euronext Paris: #13065, DSY.PA) today reveals the findings of ‘A sustainable future for business post-COVID’, a new survey into the sustainability of the life sciences industry, which found that the COVID pandemic has acted as a springboard to reassess how the sector operates and helped make leaps towards mass digital transformation. As the industry prepares for a post-COVID world, the tools and skills adopted during the pandemic can act as a blueprint for a more digitally-savvy and sustainable sector.
Lessons from the pandemic
The COVID pandemic has shed light on many inefficiencies in the life sciences sector, according to the survey: 70% of companies admitted to relying on outdated processes, which prevented them from collaborating remotely during the pandemic. Worse still, 62% even struggled to access COVID-19 research due to these outdated processes.
This revelation had a stark impact on the future of the sector amid a global crisis, with almost three in four (73%) companies admitting they struggled to innovate due to the pandemic. A similar proportion (70%) struggled to upskill its workforce, creating additional pressure on an industry that needed to operate faster and more seamlessly than ever before.
While the industry took drastic steps to better address the COVID-19 crisis, these outdated processes have also impacted the industry’s ability to improve patient outcomes outside of the pandemic. Most respondents had to postpone R&D efforts into other treatments to focus on COVID-19 (74%), the launch of new treatments and products (69%), or research into sustainable materials (70%).
To better manage its new mandate to deliver better patient care at a faster pace than ever before, and across a wider range of disciplines than previously, the industry needs to address three fundamental challenges: business and operating models, product innovation, and upskilling people.
The role of data
As a result of these outdated processes, the majority of respondents have had to postpone implementing their sustainability goals (70%); by contrast, the pandemic has increased the amount of waste their organisation produces (70%).
Despite this, becoming net zero remains a strategic priority for most organisations (69%), following increased pressure to improve the industry’s sustainability credentials and ambitious government goals to drastically reduce the country’s emissions by 2050.
To address this, the industry needs access to data to better assess its current practices and devise strategies to become more sustainable. Yet, three in four (77%) companies surveyed admit they lack data to evaluate their carbon footprint accurately. A similar proportion (77%) recognises it needs a centralised data management solution across its entire supply chain to get a holistic picture of the emissions its operations create, including scope 3 emissions happening outside of the company’s premises
The case for virtual twins
In light of the pandemic, a majority of the industry has quickly adopted solutions to improve digital collaboration, such as virtual twins (71%). Virtual twins are a set of digital tools enabling users to collaborate, access swathes of data and create virtual models and simulations of products to test out hypotheses – from testing out a treatment on a virtual model of an organ such as a heart, to running entire clinical trials without the need for placebos – and simplify information sharing among departments and third parties, including regulatory offices and government bodies to speed up time to market for new treatments.
These solutions are already playing an integral part in the clinical trials for COVID-19, and are increasingly being used to provide R&D teams with data to support future research.
Looking to the world post-pandemic, virtual twins will not only play a part in improving collaboration, but also underpin the industry’s effort to become more sustainable. Respondents to the survey consider that they are a critical technology required to achieve their business’ net zero carbon goals, alongside augmented and virtual reality (51%), automation (44%), the Internet of Things (39%) and Cloud Computing (35%).
By removing the need for physical prototypes, virtual twins enable companies to reduce their waste and carbon emissions. This provides companies with more effective methods to improve the lifecycle of their products and provides an advantage to avoid losing customers to more environmentally-savvy competitors. As a result of this unique approach to innovation and operating models, 70% of respondents see virtual twins as integral to achieving a carbon neutral world by 2050.
A wake-up call for life sciences
Richard Coxon, Director, Life Sciences at Dassault Systèmes, said: “The pandemic was a wake-up call for the life sciences industry: while it had been progressively moving to digital ways of working, most operations were still done in person in a physical lab until governments enforced lockdowns.
"Overnight, entire companies had to learn to work remotely, while delivering critical support to patients and dealing with the biggest pandemic since the Spanish flu at the start of the 20th century. This shift to a completely digital way of working was unprecedented and the industry had to choose its battles. Unfortunately, this meant that many sustainable initiatives had to be put on hold to provide critical support to patients – and do it fast.”
He continued: “We now have vaccines being rolled out all over the world, which means that the industry can start tackling the remainder of its challenges – starting with ensuring it creates a sustainable environment that supports innovation, enabling workers to develop new skills while reducing the sector’s impact on the planet.
"The need for better digital solutions during the pandemic has fast tracked the adoption of virtual twins and shown life sciences professionals all over the world how they could innovate, support patients and each other faster and in a more environmentally-conscious way. As we look to a world post-COVID, it’s clear that the industry has turned to a new chapter – one where products, people and the planet are in symbiosis, underpinned by digital tools and strategies, including virtual twins.”
How can the healthcare industry build trust with consumers?
One of the many ways the pandemic has impacted society is that it has firmly cast the healthcare industry in the public spotlight. From producing ventilators and PPE to developing life-saving vaccines, consumers have looked to pharmaceutical and healthcare companies to keep us safe and find a way out of the Covid-19 crisis.
As a result, healthcare companies have an opportunity to build upon this and utilise their marketing to drive greater engagement and trust with consumers. When it comes to effective marketing, it’s vital to remember the important role which visuals play. Consumers increasingly engage with brands through the visual communications and storytelling they absorb while online or browsing through media channels. These visual communications can have a huge impact not only on consumer purchasing decisions but also the relationship between brands and customers.
At Getty Images, we work with healthcare companies throughout Europe to advise them on their visual content. This study forms part of the research for our insight platform Visual GPS, which looks at the key factors affecting consumer decision making and how that impacts their visual choices.
In partnership with YouGov, we surveyed 10,000 consumers globally and have been tracking this consumer sentiment for the past two years. This latest deep-dive into the healthcare industry is part of our wider on-going research, and aims to better understand how consumers in different regions are interacting with the healthcare sector and what motivates their visual preferences.
Our research revealed that many companies are not using visuals as effectively as they could. In the UK, for instance, the vast majority of consumers do not feel represented by the visual communications which businesses are producing – only 7% of British respondents to our global Visual GPS survey say they felt represented. That is even lower than the global average of 14%.
This latest deep dive into the healthcare industry has uncovered some important insights that can help us better understand how consumers in different regions are interacting with the healthcare sector.
Mental health should be centre stage
A key finding shows that mental health remains a highly relevant issue for consumers. Over nine in ten British consumers think it is important to talk about mental health and put it on an equal footing with physical and emotional health. Not surprisingly, 55% of British consumers believe that more people are being diagnosed with depression due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
There is a growing awareness of the importance of mental health across Europe. Health and pharmaceutical companies should acknowledge this in their visual communications but do so in an empathetic and compassionate way. Only five years ago, visuals around mental health often depicted people alone, isolated and expressing feelings of shame, whereas now we are seeing a more empathetic and supportive approach to visualising mental health - with an increasing number of positive visuals showing support groups, or individuals proactively seeking and finding support.
Visual communications that show support for mental well-being in a meaningful way will resonate deeply with consumers.
A more holistic approach
Another key finding is that consumers want to focus more on holistic health. Our survey found that the majority of UK consumers place an almost equal importance on emotional, physical and mental health, and almost three quarters (73%) placed the health and well-being of family as a top priority.
It’s important that healthcare companies reflect this. Our research paired with ongoing image testing revealed that consumers want to see visuals that humanise healthcare, so companies should consider visualising inclusive care across intersecting factors such as age, ethnicity and gender. Brands can help establish trust with their customers by highlighting a collaborative relationship between medical professional and patient, as well as ensuring that their visual choices feel genuine.
Technology and innovation in healthcare are gaining traction
Thirdly, eHealth and purposeful innovation was another key finding. Consumers want innovation that will meaningfully support their care. Particularly in Europe, the older generation will pay more for brands that use technology to provide advice and recommendations, while Gen Z & Millennials are willing to pay for self-service capabilities. It’s important therefore for healthcare companies to incorporate purposeful innovation in their visual communication and demonstrate consumers at the centre of accessible eHealth.
Given these insights, what visual content do consumers expect to see from pharmaceutical brands? Our research highlighted three key themes.
- Consumers want to see how healthcare companies fit into people’s lives. Accessible health services are a key factor here. Decision makers should build trust by showing consumers at the centre of a holistic healthcare ecosystem.
- Consumers want to see the emotional rewards others get from using a healthcare company. This can be achieved by building brand loyalty through empathetic and inclusive visual storytelling.
- Finally, consumers want to see people who are similar to them and their lives. British consumers want to see people that look like them and reflect their lived experiences in advertising and brand communication. Decision-makers should ensure that their visual communication is inclusive and authentic and represents the diverse population of the market in which they’re operating.
Ultimately, the key to successful visual storytelling for pharma and healthcare businesses is to ensure that they understand what matters to their audience while establishing trust of care. An important element of this is authentically representing the full spectrum of the population. That means representing all ethnicities, ages, abilities, body shapes, sexuality, religion and genders, to ensure patients of all backgrounds feel included and represented.
Healthcare brands should bear in mind that, as a result of the pandemic’s impact on healthcare systems around the world, consumers may be feeling anxious about whether they will be able to access care if they need it. The healthcare industry has an opportunity to reassure customers and build greater engagement and trust by showing them that they matter through inclusive visuals that represents them authentically at the heart of brand storytelling.