Here at OTC DASHBOARD, we aim to keep subscribers up to date with the latest on how the digital revolution is impacting consumer healthcare, and looking back at 2017 we’ve seen the world’s first digital pill, a new smartphone-controlled pain device and the FDA’s approval of the first medical mobile app, among other things. We also continue to report on the future disruptive impact of the Big Tech companies, and in this vein our blog this week highlights some of the major healthcare developments in 2017 from Amazon, Apple and Google.
Amazon & retail
Among the Big Tech titans, Amazon looks set to be the major healthcare disruptor. Not only will it win share from bricks & mortar retailers, following its move to acquire Whole Foods in summer 2017, but it will continue to expand its OTC e-commerce offering. In March 2017, it launched a (limited) VMS range under its Amazon Elements umbrella brand, while in late 2017 there were reports that Amazon was in exploratory talks with leading generic marketers Mylan and Sandoz. There will be major regulatory hurdles to overcome before Amazon can have its own OTC range, but not everyone sees Amazon’s push into the healthcare space as a threat; Perrigo CEO John Hendrickson has said that the company would welcome Amazon as a “natural player on the OTC side”.
In the meantime, Amazon has been expanding its retail footprint. In India, Amazon announced in September 2017 that it was partnering with Dabur to create an online marketplace for Ayurveda medicines. With this traditional system growing in popularity in India, the move will help improve the company’s connection with consumers, particularly Millennials. Dabur is responsible for developing content and will have prime visibility with branding and banners. In Europe, there were also rumours (later denied) that Amazon was in talks to acquire online pharmacy, Shop Apotheke.
Apple & devices
Though Apple is unlikely to disrupt healthcare in the same immediate way as Amazon, it did take a significant step forward in summer 2017 with the announcement that it would soon be offering users the chance to monitor their glucose levels. Apple has partnered with medical device maker Dexcom and linked the company’s glucose monitoring device with its own Apple Watch. Apple has also previously been reported to be hiring a small team of biomechanical engineers to develop sensors that monitor the body’s blood sugar levels. The team are said to be working on non-invasive sensors that do no require users to prick their skin for blood testing. This could extend the Apple Watch’s uses into new diagnostic areas, and give it a potential future role in major Rx-to-OTC switches. As our recent infographic showed, the wearables market is forecast to continue its growth.
How smartphones and wearables can play a role in future OTC switch activity is likely to become clearer in 2018. Last week, FDA Commissioner Dr Scott Gottlieb identified some major policy goals for the FDA next year, writing: “We are considering innovative action in the nonprescription drug area to expand the scope of drug products that can be made available to consumers without a prescription. We will be proposing to allow certain innovative approaches for demonstrating that a drug product can be used safely and effectively in a nonprescription setting.” Specifically, he said: “Examples of such conditions could include use of self-selection questions on a mobile medical app prior to permitting access to the drug, or other innovative technologies to improve safety. Through use of these types of additional conditions, we hope to create a new paradigm of drug safety with greater flexibility that will benefit patients and public health.”
Google & health information
Google also has its role to play in healthcare. It was reported in August 2017 that, six years after it last held the title, Google had overtaken Apple to become the world’s most valuable brand, worth US$109bn, according to Brand Finance’s Global 500 2017 report. Amazon’s 53% brand value growth nearly propelled it to the top spot in 2017, but the online retailer retained its No.3 ranking, with a brand value of US$106bn.
Perhaps Google’s major area of innovation in the healthcare space has been in providing new digital tools to access health information. In February 2017, we reported on Google’s launch of Health Cards in Australia, after working on the project with doctors and medical agencies, including the Mayo Clinic. Google then announced in August 2017 that it was partnering with Walmart to offer personalised voice shopping, and the platform went live in October 2017 with the launch of Google Home. Until January 2018, customers who buy a Google Home or Google Home Mini from Walmart will receive up to US$25 off a Walmart order when they link their Walmart account to Google Express. They will then receive recommendations based on previous Walmart purchases.
As a result, Google is now in an AI battle with Amazon (Alexa) and Apple (Siri), which will have deep implications for healthcare. Voice-activated technology will not only affect the way we shop for medicines, but it will also change how we search for health information. How this new technology will affect social media and advertising remains unclear though. As Nicholas Hall said: “I believe that all social media companies will be forced by governments to police content, cut back on access and pay significantly higher taxes. We have absolutely no way to measure the impact of social media and the internet on our business (apart from largely unaudited e-pharmacy sales), and I’m astonished at predictions that the internet will consume 80% of all media spend in the next few years. I don’t understand it and I don’t believe it.”