Network effect of industry-crowdsourced physician data

Pharmaceutical CommercePharmaceutical Commerce - March/April 2014

Diving for customer insights through an ocean of crowdsourced data

Crowdsourced data is being used today in various aspects of the consumer world—think TripAdvisor, where millions of consumers compare travel notes through a global network in the cloud. Socialized data is also amassed and leveraged in the business-to-consumer world., for example, is the world’s largest single source for restaurant reviews which are all generated by consumers while Uber—with its up-to-the-second crowdsourced data about available transportation services—is the app to get if you need to find transportation in major cities.

However, in the more complex business-to-business (or business-to-prescriber) world where specialized and highly regulated industries like life sciences reign, many complicating factors have made crowdsourcing difficult yet there is tremendous potential for the pharmaceutical enterprise:

• Opportunity #1 — Single repository of industry-wide data. To date, there has been no single source of reliable customer or molecular data in life sciences. Data is valuable, especially in an industry driven by science. But even customer demographic data has been considered a precious asset in life sciences, a secret sauce not to be shared. This is starting to change.

• Opportunity #2 — Reliable gatekeeper across the industry. The life sciences industry needs an industry gatekeeper or arbitrator to verify the accuracy of the data, unlike some other sectors where this is less of an issue. Facebook, for example, doesn’t concern itself with details like accuracy but who in the life sciences industry can validate every physician’s office hours? Estimates of the true cost of poor data quality vary but some experts put the cost in the region of $600 billion per year. For an individual company, other observers put the cost of bad data at 20–35% of operating revenue. [1] In addition, not only is data verification to ensure accuracy important to the life sciences industry but also so is managing privacy to control—what is shared and what is not shared.

Data stewardship from an unbiased third party, therefore, is an absolute must in order to make crowdsourcing work in a regulatory environment. At Veeva, more than 100 stewards manually validate the accuracy and appropriateness of each and every physician data update—about 1,500 validations per steward per week—crowdsourced from a customer base of users networked in the field. So when a sales rep indicates a particular low-prescribing physician as having moved to a new territory, stewards call that physician or check other sources to verify before accepting the update as fact. Claims that an HCP has a new specialty? This, too, is arbitrated by a neutral party… along with any other crowdsourced updates.

• Opportunity #3 — New technology advancements. Until recently, there was no sophisticated data management technology advanced enough to overcome these and other barriers to effectively leverage crowdsourced data in the pharmaceutical industry. The good news is that modern cloud technology is making most of the barriers to crowdsourcing obsolete. “Privacy concerns and fear of an uncontrolled forum are both perceived roadblocks to crowdsourcing that can be overcome with the right combination of technology and services,” says Eric Newmark, program director, business systems strategies for IDC Health Insights. “Multitenant cloud applications offer the potential to address these challenges.”

Early success with crowdsourcing can be seen in research environments where there’s an enormous benefit to short-cutting some of the basic molecular research through collaboration. Lilly Ventures, for example, manages a portfolio of investments in companies across a collaborative marketplace for life science innovation by leveraging collective resources. Also, the Mini-Sentinel pilot project at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is illustrative of crowdsourcing at work by collecting pre-existing electronic healthcare data from multiple collaborating institutions. In the last few months, too, a new network of merged and verified data in the cloud offers life sciences companies an opportunity to reliably crowd source customer data across the industry to gain more accurate data for lower cost than what is possible individually and the data continues to improve over time, thanks to the crowd. Then there’s a more recent crowdsourced discovery project launched by academia involving 1,000 citizen scientists from around the world who will be equipped with kits to test for antibiotic activity in their respective areas. Each tester will upload their results to an open-access database that the public and antibiotic researchers can mine for insights into potential drug candidates. [2]

Up-to-date customer profiles

With each new level of industry crowdsourced data, richer and richer insights can be uncovered. At its most basic level, an industry network of crowdsourced customer data provides life sciences companies with complete, always-up-to-date customer contact information (addresses, names, affiliations). Rather than each individual company spending the resources to track healthcare professional data—a painful, expensive process involving many different systems and support services—companies can instead tap into the network. Organizations benefit from massive economies of scale that come from every networked company continuously contributing and updating the central database in the cloud. As these updates are verified and become part of the master data repository, the data gets better and better over time to create something being coined as the ‘Network Effect.’ Better quality data, in turn, enables field sales representatives to reach the right physician faster, for less, and provide better value. More accurate data also supports compliance and reporting, like those required by the Sunshine Act.

“The pharmaceutical industry needs to stop thinking of the phone book as their competitive edge,” said Ian Elverson, senior IT manager for Accera Pharmaceuticals. “Names and addresses are public information for HCPs. Phone numbers and email addresses are a bit harder to get, but still don’t represent strategic information. We need to accept the fact that everyone has this data… Then we can re-direct our resources to focus higher value activities and information.”

This higher value information comes in the form of life sciences companies separately managing customer information proprietary to them. While core customer information (addresses, names) are shared, modern cloud systems can clearly delineate and keep separate account data that forms the true competitive advantage of any personal customer relationships.

Better customer engagement

Dive another level into crowdsourced data and companies can capture another layer of data from their collective interactions with healthcare professionals across the industry—not just from a sample. For example, it’s possible for organizations to get reliable email addresses based on which emails bounced and which got through; what day of the week calls happen at what address; office hours and ‘best address,’ and more. The industry can also benefit from affiliations data by looking at all of the doctors in on a group call or all of the doctors that were seen at a specific address. There are dozens, even hundreds, of possibilities for data insights that ultimately lead to improved customer engagement.

“If crowdsourcing techniques can help life sciences companies like ours better understand customers so that we can start to see trends on how patient care is evolving amidst changing government directives, then what are we waiting for?” asks Tom Helmstetter, director of information technology for Janssen. “This collective knowledge might show us how to adapt our business model to handle future challenges, better support physicians, and help improve patient care—that’s what is most important.”

Improved customer relationships

Customer demographics, customer interactions, and now going one layer deeper enables life sciences companies to understand their customers’ preferences. Crowdsourced data across the industry gives life sciences companies a greater understanding of customer behavior and habits over time so that sales, medical, and marketing teams know precisely what customers want to know, when and how they want to know it—ultimately improving the customer relationship. For example, companies might leverage crowdsourced data to find out what time of day, on which day of the week that pediatricians in southeastern Pennsylvania take calls. For physicians that spend time online, pharmaceutical companies will now know the date and time of all of these interactions. A brand manager who needs to launch a new drug can find out which oncologists prefer email based on up-to-date crowdsourced data instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy a targeting database sourced from surveys that are months old. The network effect of crowdsourcing across the industry provides that brand manager with much more accurate data at a dramatically lower price point.

All told, companies benefit from understanding the physician’s channel preference based on actual behaviors collected, anonymously, industry wide. By crowdsourcing multichannel interactions across all companies, sophisticated technology will be able to generate detailed customer perspectives that are simply not available today. Already, some life sciences companies have uncovered rich insights, helping to drive better, more personal interactions with customers.

All this comes not a minute too soon. One of the chief reasons more life sciences companies are accepting crowdsourced data is that their customers now demand a higher level of personalization. Healthcare providers are growing increasingly more comfortable with new channels and expect the same kind of customized experience that the consumer world provides daily. Furthermore, healthcare professionals don’t have time for anything less today—they don’t have the luxury of wading through messaging that doesn’t precisely serve a purpose when it is needed. It’s a win-win for all parties concerned.

New customer insights

At no other time has the need for accurate and current data been more important than it is today as competition intensifies, customers’ channel preferences evolve and regulations governing customer engagement increase. Yet, life sciences companies struggle to produce a single source of the truth. They are forced to cobble together and maintain a myriad of costly data and software systems and, in the end, much of the data management and validation processes still require significant manual intervention. In contrast, better data enables better multichannel selling and marketing, for less cost.

The tools required to start cracking through these layers are available now: cloud technology, a single source of continuously updated industry-wide data, and data stewards to validate it all.


Dan Goldsmith is general manager, Veeva Network, at Veeva Systems ( Previously, he was GM, Europe for the company, and has an extensive background in life sciences CRM and MDM, working with many international life sciences companies while working with Accenture, IBM and PricewaterhouseCoopers. He has a BS, mechanical engineering, from the University of Rochester.



The Actuarial Review, “The Value of Data Management to Your Organization,” by Aimee Siliato. 2012.; Also, referenced in 2013 at


FierceBiotech IT, “Wanted: 1,000 citizen scientists to crowdsource antibiotics research,” by Nick Paul Taylor. December 5, 2013. Read more: Wanted: 1,000 citizen scientists to crowdsource antibiotics research — FierceBiotechIT

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