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Wireless Data Applications and the Pharmaceutical

Posted on: 11 Apr 01


In this feature, previously published in Pharmafield, Nicky Hickman looks at what developments in new technology will mean for the rep. With internet technology becoming smaller and more portable and
In parts of Asia-Pacific, mobile 'phones are known locally as 'handy's' and that's really the best way of thinking of the new generation of mobile 'phones, pocket-sized computers and other mobile devices. What's happened to the technology? Two strands of information and communications technology are merging in our pockets. The first is computer technology. If you've read the novel 'Stark' by Ben Elton, you'll remember the Japanese tycoon who turned a profit by making his consumer electronics products so small, everyone kept losing them and hence having to replace them. Until now there's been a 3 horse race between mobile 'phone giants Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola to make the smallest phones. Now there are new players on the field, Casio, Compaq, Psion, HP and 3Com are all competing to be the brand in your pocket. It's now possible to buy a PocketPC for under £500 and get 32MB of memory, and 206Mhz of processing speed. That's fast & fat, and means that the truly wired pharmaceutical rep can have much of the functionality of his laptop in the palm of his hand. The second major development in technology has come in the development of new mobile communications technologies which enable not just communication with the Internet (through WAP), but also the transmission of much larger amounts of data (hence rich text, or images) using new network protocols such as GPRS and in 2002 UMTS transmitting at speeds way beyond the current 9.6kbps (by comparison most home PC's will communicate at 56kbps). What's happened to our business? Pharmaceutical sales is no different than any other business, customers are the focus of all attentions (or should be), and the driver for innovation. There are many changes in the business of healthcare in the UK, but key strands which will affect the way in which pharmaceutical reps use these new wireless technologies are:
  • Decentralisation of care out of hospitals, and even GP's surgeries and into the community. This is exemplified in the new NHS plan "For the first time social services and the NHS will come together with new agreements to pool resources".
  • Increased use of non NHS resources to develop programmes of care, and deliver treatment "there will be a concordat with private providers of healthcare to enable the NHS to make better use of facilities in private hospitals" . Most importantly, with the pharmaceutical industry itself; "The UK pharmaceutical industry is to advise the National Health Service on which drugs it should adopt in developing services for diabetics and older people."
  • Greater communication between patients and healthcare professionals for example, each patient is to receive a copy of any letters concerning their care.
  • Increased use of e-business systems and software in both the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare organisations around the world. Taken together these changes in our business environment are even now changing the role of every pharmaceutical executive who works all or part of the time in the field. So what will this mean in real life? What can be done now? For some time now, it has been possible to use an electronic personal organiser or PDA and PC synchronisation technology to store contacts, diary, memos and some basic applications such as word processing and spreadsheets. The main types are: Palm computers (US), Psion (UK), and Windows CE manufacturers such as Ericsson, Casio and Compaq. By purchasing synchronisation software for your desktop diary and contact management system (eg Outlook, Lotus Notes or MS Exchange) you can quickly keep up to date with expenses, notes and email. Plus save a load of time keeping your diary and contacts up to date. These don't have to be connected to the Internet to be useful and effective tools for the rep. New software available can now connect you to your email on the road, and give you access to your company LAN or intranet (eg. This will make the technology really work for reps, some things to look out for in the coming months. Using a WAP mobile phone or connected handheld computer you will be able to:
  • Check a colleague's diary through mobile phone or handheld computer
  • Book a meeting room or training course
  • Order clinical papers, supplies and collateral materials
  • Record expenses and call reports on the road. Your car becomes your office. New regulations governing the use of mobile communications in cars and falling prices of in car systems, will soon give reps transform the car into an office on the road. One key technology will change the way that you use information on the move. GPS (Global positioning system) has been used in marine transportation for years, and is now in use in systems such as Traffic Master. The technology enables the device (normally installed in a car) to pinpoint your location to within a few meters. As well as bringing traffic information, and route-planning software to the car, these systems also offer greater safety on the road. For example, in America Chrysler have fitted their cars with a system which automatically activates a call to the customer care centre when the air-bag inflates. The car is called and if there's no answer or the driver's in trouble the emergency services are called and dispatched directly to the map reference shown by the GPS system. One can imagine being able to call up statistics on sales within the brick location of your car. So on arrival at the doctor's surgery, pharmacy or hospital, the rep uses the touch-screen installed in his car, connected to his handheld or mobile phone. Today he would have to dial a connection, but very soon these networks will be 'always on'. He accesses the company intranet showing sales in the brick, last recorded call and other surgery details. This could be triggered by the GPS system. He notes that one other GP in the surgery recently requested a clinical paper. He calls up the paper and sends a message to the surgery fax machine to print out the paper. Future applications The reps role as an educator, and the increased level of cooperation between public and private healthcare professionals will, I believe be enabled and enhanced through increased use of mobile data products and services. As healthcare professionals increasingly use point of care systems to access databases and care management systems, the rep will find himself transferring training videos wirelessly from handheld to handheld. Promotional gifts will become software packages for, say the management of patient vaccine records or a subscription to an online news feed on the latest techniques in geriatric care. Through corporate networks, the rep will quickly be able to access to company resources available to their customers (eg. A training course on mental health services). It is likely also that there'll be an increased use of the rep to make direct sales to dispensing practices, pharmacies, hospitals and clinics. Online procurement systems, being pioneered in the UK by companies such as PharmiWeb, and in the US by will soon link healthcare manufacturers, distributors and suppliers together to enable fast online trading. The rep will be increasingly called upon to recruit buyers directly into these trading environments, and as classical intermediaries, it is likely that they will be able to place orders on behalf of new customers, or check the most recent purchases of their clients. Images, sound and video are all available now if you're using a Pocket PC such as the new Cassiopiea E115, but as with the PIM tools outlined above, their real power will only be made apparent once they are linked in with company specific systems. By 2002 reps, along with GP's and CRA's will be amongst the power-users of mobile data technology. This will have real business benefits, enabling faster analysis of sales requirements, better real-time field management and increasing the level of cooperation between pharmaceutical companies and healthcare professionals. But it's not all about business. Right now I imagine you're thinking one of 2 things, either 'I've died & gone to gadget heaven', or 'What's in it for me'. The good news is that if your company gives you a WAP phone, you get access to all sorts of other personal services online whatever takes your fancy, as with the Internet, so you can get the shopping done whilst you wait in the doctor's surgery, and check out your horoscope, lottery results, TV for that night or even look up a recipe for supper. If your car's kitted out you can also expect to be able to get computer games available for passengers which'll keep the kids happy. You might also choose to use your connected car to access thousands of online music sources using MP3 files instead of having lots of CD's or tapes in the car. Keep out of traffic trouble spots, and check your stocks and shares or sports results, even place a bet. All from the comfort of your own car… The possibilities are almost endless it all depends on what you find handy. Author Nicky Hickman, business development director of Magic Ant Solutions that bring networks to life Jargon buster! WAP - Wireless Access Protocol, enables different types of telecommunications networks to talk to each other, e.g. send email or access news-wires from the Internet over mobile GSM networks. GSM - Global System for Mobile, the most widely used digital mobile communications network GPRS - General Packet Radio Service, transmitting at speeds of 171.2kbps which is 3 times as fast as fixed (landline) networks, and up to 10 times as fast as current GSM networks. The difference between the two is that GSM is a circuit switched networks retaining the call in a stream transmitted over the airwaves. GPRS on the other hand, like the Internet Protocol (IP), first breaks down the call into a series of packets which are then transmitted over the network and reassembled at the other end. Both Vodafone and Cellnet are due to launch GPRS services before the end of the year. EDGE - Enhanced Data for GSM Evolution - Enables transmission speeds of 384 kbps over existing GSM infrastructure, and those network operators unable to gain a UMTS license, will have this kind of network upgrade as an option to compete in providing mobile commerce and wireless internet services. UMTS - Universal Mobile Telecommunications System, the so-called 3G or 3rd Generation mobile telecoms system or grown-up WAP as we might like to think of it. Recently licenses were auctioned for the UK, this type of network will enable higher transmission speeds and will offer true global roaming and can support a wide range of voice, data and multimedia services. Data rates offered by UMTS are: vehicular - 144 kbit/s; pedestrian 384 kbit/s; in-building 2Mb/s. LAN - Local Area Network - internal company communications network. Many pharmaceutical companies are large enough to operate a WAN (wide area network) between different sites worldwide. These networks are typically protected from the Internet and other networks by complex security systems. Intranet - Similar to a LAN but accessible through a browser interface (eg. Internet Explorer, Lotus Notes or Netscape Navigator). This means that the internal company network operates like a mini-Internet. Extranet - Private Internet network between a company and it's customers and suppliers, employees and partners. Like an Intranet this is a browser interface and Internet Protocol network.
  • Nicky Hickman

    Last updated on: 27/08/2010 11:40:18

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