Adeseun: With Technology, Nigeria Can Achieve a Perfect Healthcare System 

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Country Manager, IQVIA, West Africa, Remi Adeseun, spoke with Emma Okonji on the recent launch of IQVIA’s digital healthcare platform, HCPSpace, and how the company is using technology and data in strengthening the nation’s healthcare systems. Excerpts: 

 

You can be considered as one of the key thought leaders in the area of pharmaceutical sales and marketing in the country, what new challenge drove you to the launch of IQVIA?

The highest levels of professional recognition in the nation’s pharmacy industry are the Fellowship of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, which by God’s grace was conferred on me in 2012 as well as Fellowship of the Nigeria Academy of Pharmacy. However, my involvement in the health space is beyond pharmacy and that is what has brought me to IQVIA. I have been in pharmacy all my life essentially. I started as a medical representative with Sandoz, then operating as Swissco Nig Ltd, under the Jagal Group in 1989, with my first tour of duty in pharmacy ending in 2005 as Country Manager for Janssen Cilag, a Johnson&Johnson company after spending 16 years exclusively in pharmacy.

In the last 12 years, I have gone on to do other things in the health space including a medical technology start-up, Robot representing a foremost German dialysis equipment manufacturer, from which I am on a sabbatical. Another start-up in the not-for-profit sector, which I had been engaged in is Smile Train where I was Regional Director for West Africa.  Smile Train is the world’s leading charity exclusively devoted to the surgical treatment of children born with cleft lips and palette.  I started it in the sub-region and ran it for two years, took another break and then I moved on to an advocacy project, PSN-PACFaH – Partnership for Advocacy in Child and Family Health, a Gates funded programme,  where I served as the Programme  Director in charge of Strategy for two years. We were successful in advocating for policy changes in the treatment for childhood killer diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia, with Amoxicillin dispersible tablets and Zinc/ORS respectively, becoming the first-line treatment in the National Standard Treatment Guidelines as well as the National Essential Medicines List

As such, I have traversed a broad spectrum of healthcare sector in Nigeria. Interestingly, human data sciences also traverses the entire spectrum of the health sector from the pre-clinical stage, research and development to clinical trials all the way to phase four –post-marketing surveillance.

 

How successful is IQVIA since its launch?

IQVIA has been successful over the last six decades, working with companies in the research and development (R&D) space as well as doctors, pharmacists, nurses and the other healthcare professionals who use the pharmaceutical products. In the commercial space we are able we to help in putting together the data which is the gold standard where countries are able to tell the patterns of usage of the various pharmaceuticals items in the world within various therapeutic classes in what is known as the National Pharmacy Audit. This system allows an executive in a Global Pharmacy company to sit at his desk in Switzerland and have access to information on how well his products are doing across over 100 countries. This is the kind of scale and breadth of practice that IQVIA brings.

A nationalistic passion of mine has been to contribute to remove the stigma of Nigeria being high on the ignominious list of countries that don’t have reliable data. I have always thus been inclined to work with other like-minded people to get Nigeria into the comity of nations with good and reliable data.  IQVIA’s core strength plays in this space and so I welcomed the challenge when the regional leadership of the company reached out to me to help lead the charge in West Africa.

 

 

Why was IQVIA launched in the Nigerian market, considering that human data science and information management systems haven’t really been fully established in the country?

IQVIA is the synergistic product of the merger between Quintiles and IMS Health in 2016.

We decided to come up with a unique name that abstractly reflects the two companies but more importantly to assure the healthcare community that the company existed to help them solve their various needs via human data science.

Human data science is a relatively new category that we have brought to life and it draws on our strengths in the life sciences plus decades of deep technical and analytical data capabilities.

As a result, IQVIA is today the world’s leading company in the area of human data science.

Currently a gap exists. In the world that we live in today, evidence is what drives informed decisions and evidence isn’t something that happens by chance. It is something that has to be planned for – design data collection strategies, identify the transaction and collection points, and partner with a wide range of people who are data suppliers. The information you get from that is processed and becomes useful as a feedback report to various stakeholders including the suppliers mainly manufacturers, importers and their distributors. IQVIA through the data and analytics information assets that we’ve developed around the world, which we are currently working to develop in Nigeria, can be a ready source of that informed decision-making process. This would enable government to take evidence-based decisions that would help fast track development and prevent policy flip-flops and medicine-after-death approaches to issues.

 

Are our health professionals ready to make the transition into the digital age?

Transformation, many times, takes us along with it. If you look at the introduction of what brought digital into mobile, digital as we knew it then was fixed and stationary so at best you had some form of equipment that allowed you digital procession; a desktop, computer, etc. Steve Jobs, who is the founder of Apple did not receive request from any one that we want hand-held, but he looked at people, how we work and how things can be done differently and boldly brought the first of its kind smart digital capabilities into our hands using the smartphone. So something that was already revolutionary enough, the mobile phone, he further revolutionarised it by bringing digital home. Digital as we knew it then was fixed and stationary so at best you had some form of equipment that allowed you digital procession; a desktop, computer, etc.

The same is happening in the healthcare sector. Without asking for it, people are beginning to recognise that having tons of paper files, nobody can find the right file for the patient in two hours and the patient is waiting such a long time before finding their file is not the way to go. Gradually, electronic medical records are creeping in.

The world is such that peers influence one another. As a patient, you see a colleague who has visited a particular clinic and in 30 minutes he is out while you spend  three  hours in your hospital. You end up asking what the difference with his own is, and he tells you it’s got electronic medical records. The next time you are looking for a hospital, you will look for one that has gone electronic. There are certain global moves that will make people embrace digital, but more importantly is that companies like ours are helping even the conservatives through the HCPSpace that we are introducing to understand digital value and embrace it. There are quite a number of networks in Nigeria that are dedicated to promoting the advantage of digital and we at IQVIA are proud to be leading that charge and creating the right environment for both healthcare practitioners as well as providers of digital technology to come together to improve healthcare practice in Nigeria.

What gaps do you expect the IQVIA HCPSpace to fill in the health sector?

 

One of the opportunities we saw was to look at how new media has helped to bring efficiency to how we work. If you look at Facebook, for instance, if it were to be a geographical expression, it will probably be the biggest continent in the world in terms of the number of people that use Facebook. When you see such a movement that is able to bring people from all over the world to network, you start to see how this can be used for specific purposes. We got the idea that if we are to have a virtual platform that individuals do not have to build by themselves, everyone has its own core areas of competence as well as interests. So if you as a medical doctor or pharmacist start to develop your own digital environment, that is time you could spend delivering better pharmaceutical care or medical care. We at IQVIA, for whom that is our core existence, technology, are taking that challenge on and providing a platform that is available for networking among healthcare practitioners of the same group for instance, so pharmacists can reach out to pharmacists, what is going on in our area, what are the cutting edge new development and beyond that, build on the work that is being done on getting greater collaboration among healthcare practitioners. So you see pharmacists, doctors working together to solve patients problems.

We also thought that we could develop the HCP Space in a way that we work with the regulators to identify genuine or validate genuine healthcare professionals, and have them in this secure environment where they can interact, form groups, have access to learning and development, continuing professional development either for the medics or pharmacists, nurses and laboratory scientists. This is building on the work that the Nigeria Academy of Pharmacy did last year and which I was a part of.  That is the inter-professional collaboration thing, and taking it from ending up as  having been a talk-shop and providing a tool that allows those professionals who have indicated willingness to collaborate to now have a tool that enables them to do so on an ongoing basis, without having to bother about how to maintain the infrastructure for that.

That is the service we have come to provide and we know that ultimately this would allow people access beyond even the practice in Nigeria, because the HCPSpace is for the whole of Africa and the Middle East. For the first time, a multinational is kicking off its new product development in Nigeria. Typically, things get developed in other parts of the world and brought here, but because of the confidence the IQVIA leadership team has in Nigeria market place in terms of the eco-system we have seen in health and tech, we are very confident that we can do this and take the HCP Space to other parts of the world. So even before other African countries, India, South Asia, and Middle East, Nigeria will be launching this IQVIA HCPSpace first in Lagos.

 

Research shows that there are similar products out there in the market place. Why should a health practitioner be interested in HCPSpace?

The great thing about IQVIA HCPSpace is that unlike other platforms that exist for networking, this is the first that is dedicated absolutely to healthcare professionals. So it is not a jack of all trade approach. It is a dedicated resource so that conversations can be open, intense, relevant and secure.  You have it in a way that networking, news around the healthcare space both local and national is curated especially for the healthcare professionals. Job opportunities that are local in nature to the various countries where we exist are curated again as well as international opportunities. You have learning and development platforms, key opinion leaders who are from these areas, who know the exact trends and best practices, holding webinars on this platform and generally providing access in this first phase that will be limited to just the healthcare professionals themselves. I think the key value proposition is that you have a platform where an organisation has put its technical resources behind it to maintain it so that the healthcare professionals can operate in an environment that is exclusively dedicated to them. Ultimately, it will reach out to also allow the healthcare professionals transact all the things they do, whether it is referrals, prescriptions, purchases and all the other phases of transactions they may have. The next phase will be to integrate all of that into the system while the final phase will be access to also the patient platforms so that patients can engage healthcare practitioners, book appointments, among other things. We however will start off HCP Space focusing on inter- and intra-professional collaborations among the HCPs themselves.

 

From a tech standpoint, how do you intend to break the barriers of use, such as poor internet/network connection that might prevent a widespread adoption?

One of the biggest barriers of use is portability. Research tells us that many people engage online through their hand-held devices. So HCPSpace has been optimised and designed specifically for mobile. There are quite number of other platforms that are for healthcare professionals which are just web-based, desktop things that you can only access on the on a desktop or laptop, without anapp form. HCP Space is available as an app and as well has the web interface. It is not one that squeezes itself from the desktop version to try and fit on your phone. It is designed specifically for the phone and it is available on the IOS for Apple users and the Android for all the other smart phone users.

A lot of thought went into it and it is also been managed technically with great collaboration. We have an advisory board that has brilliant, very well respected key opinion leaders, from medical practitioners, pharmacists to other health professionals including Nursing and Laboratory Science. The chair of the board is a mental health specialist, Dr. Femi Olugbile, a former Permanent Secretary Lagos State Ministry of Health and Founding Chief Medical Director of Lagos State University Teaching Hospital.

 

Why should healthcare companies and providers care about leveraging digital tools such as big data, transformative technology and analytics?

The biggest film and camera company back in the day was Kodak;they had all the resources in the world. When digital came into its space, they did not seem to care and carried on business as usual. We all know that they eventually became obsolete and extinct. Change is constant and it is important for everyone because digital is a transformative change that if you do not join, you will be left behind.  We are trying to pass that message across as others are doing and using those positive examples of those who have embraced change in the technology space for health, making health outcomes better. It is a continuous thing. Government itself has to be involved in it as well as advocacy groups because when it catches on well, there are efficiency gains, effectiveness gain and an overall development plus economic value created. Jobs will be created as a result of digital, transferable skills that can be deployed in other areas and just a general uplifting of the wellbeing in both the health and the economy of the population.