Digital health news update: new focus on digital at FDA and Merck

  • FDA is establishing a digital health unit under the Center for Devices and Radiological Health which will weigh the agency’s approach on topics like AI, advanced analytics, telemedicine and interoperability. Meanwhile, the agency is working through the use of real world evidence and “what clinical validation for software looks like.”
  • Merck has “significantly decreased spend on TV” while increasing spend on digital, and has two brand teams “with high digital IQs.”
  • Despite “mixed signals” from the Trump administration about the US’s commitment to advancing value-based care, several big pharmas, together with a major payer and a health tech giant, are pushing ahead with a World Economic Forum effort to establish best practices around value-oriented reimbursement.
  • Amazon has developed a “voice controlled selfie-camera” that allows Alexa to give you fashion advice by sizing up the with-it-ness of your outfits. You can imagine the implications for mental health and other healthcare considerations!
  • An “intelligent, socially-interactive robot” dubbed Mabu can, among other things, contact your doctor and read your emotions. AI-powered robotic interfaces like Mabu could have a big impact on eldercare – and adherence. The Wired video linked also looks at an AI-driven melanoma diagnostic app out of Stanford that scanned skin images at 200 times the rate of human doctors – and equally effectively.


  • The health/medical chatbot invasion continues with bots for newly-discharged patients and for those who haven’t taken their pills.
  • A study finding that rep-restricted physicians prescribe fewer drugs is not a huge shock, but raised questions about how physicians will stay informed about medications. The impact of rep restrictions was “modest” but statistically significant in 9 of the 19 academic medical centers studied. Researchers examined the prescribing habits of 2,000 physicians before and after restrictions were put in place and showed a “a robust temporal association between pharmaceutical detailing restrictions and prescribing rates of promoted drugs,” said a JAMA editorial.
  • Fascinating article on how a Canadian contact lens etailer is using programmatic for insights mining. This gets at something we’ve been saying to clients – that a lot of the value of programmatic advertising for healthcare lies not in targeting but in better understanding your audience.
  • In big data matchup news, QuintilesIMS is teaming up with to provide the former’s clinical trials and prescription data through the latter’s cloud-based platform, the better to “build a virtual one-stop data shop, accessible by smartphone, to allow drug-company officials to monitor the progress of drug-development and sales and to aid in decision-making.”
  • Four years after winning FDA approval of Truvada for PrEP, Gilead is just now going out with an unusual, almost entirely digital ad campaign centered on social media and dating sites, Tumblr and Snapchat.

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