Do you see the Volkswagen coming?

By April 30, 2009Uncategorized

In Barry Levinson's wonderful film Tin Men, there's a great recurring symbol of the coming future (the film is set in Baltimore in the fifties). Every so often, in the distance, a Volkswagen Beetle is seen driving along — the harbinger of the coming Sixties, which would change everything forever.


Every once in a while, I see the same thing in pharma. Today, I saw it in a post in the Pharma 2.0 blog. The post is about a company called Sensei (which is a Japanese word meaning "teacher" or "mentor") Here's what the author, Bunny Ellerin (great name) wrote:

Sensei, a mobile tech developer better known for its weight loss tools,
launched My Diabetes Guide, an iPhone app to help patients manage their
condition. It focuses on the basics helping people remember what To Do,
To Eat and To Ask. Available for only 99 cents, it will be interesting
to see how many people buy and use it.

It sure will.

Healthcare, like law, has become an industry in which patients are expected to conform to the system. The system doesn't really conform to them. Doctors no longer make house calls — patients have to go see them. Billing is incredibly complex and patients are expected to just figure it out. It's also an incredibly expensive service, and patients are expected to just swallow hard and pay up. In most industries, this is the kiss of death.

Consider the music industry. Records (and later CDs) were available on pieces of plastic and consumers had to travel to a store to find them. As soon as a more convenient alternative arrived — one that better suited the consumer's actual needs — CD sales fell off a cliff.

As we have repeatedly written in this blog, compliance is a huge issue in pharma. The core problem is that the actual patients who need to take a drug are forgetful, distracted, and disinclined to keep taking a drug that gives them no immediate, obvious benefit. What everyone is looking for, or should be, is a compliance aid that complements the way patients actually live their lives.

This seems like one. Apple has sold over 21 million iPhones worldwide. Besides design, one of the keys to the phone's popularity is the library of third-party applications that developers can write for it. This is one of them.

Basically, for a dollar, you can add a little program to your iPod that will help you remember to take your meds if you're diabetic. Since the normal location of the iPhone is your pocket, there suddenly is an incredibly intimate, tight link between something that's part of your daily life and compliance.

For the first time it seems, compliance has been turned from an outside force trying to get into consumers' lives to an inside force, and it's all powered by the rapid expansion of smartphone use. If you can do this with the iPhone, why not Twitter? Facebook? I think this is only the beginning.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Hi – thanks so much for your reference to my site and my name! I’ll never forget that the first day of my MBA program, my seatmate (to the right) looked at my name and said, “I can’t believe I came to Harvard Business School to sit next to someone named Bunny!” I promptly befriended my seatmate to the left…Anyhow I am curious to hear from those with diabetes about Sensei. The price is a non-barrier – it’s about how well it adds to the day-to-day management of the condition.

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