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Cutting edge technology for all – How?

Highlights of the Boehringer Ingelheim satellite symposium at the 22nd European Association of Hospital Pharmacists Congress in Cannes on 23 March 2017 are presented

Highlights of the Boehringer Ingelheim satellite symposium at the 22nd European Association of Hospital Pharmacists Congress in Cannes on 23 March 2017 are presented

Novelty vs. necessity: An introduction
This symposium aimed to discuss how technologies evolve from being novel, and potentially, prohibitively exclusive, to becoming a society staple. Dr Martin Hug (Hospital Pharmacist, Freiburg, Germany) led discussions between Professor David Antons (Aachen University, Germany) and Professors Ulrich Hoffrage and Julian Marewski (University of Lausanne, Switzerland) who presented key information and concepts.

In addition, Professor Sherrilyn Roush (Professor of Philosophy, King’s College, London, UK) provided insight from her philosophical perspective throughout the meeting.


The Faculty at the Satellite Symposium

New technologies that become successful typically follow a predictable lifecycle, with initial resistance regarding their uptake gradually diminishing as they become increasingly accepted. This is often accompanied by the emergence of more affordable and accessible alternatives. In addition, an important consideration is that the underlying psychology associated with cognitive behaviour and choice is a key factor associated with the way these technologies are eventually adopted.

The innovation journey: How industries grow and products become successful – or die
Innovations come and go. Many fail and subsequently disappear, while others go on to enjoy great success. Clearly not all products completely change the market place, but some do. Two eclectic examples include how the Barbie doll was once dominant in the toy industry and how the motor car has become a modern necessity for many. Unfortunately, it is often not possible to predict which innovations are going to be successful. This is because innovation is fraught with uncertainty, has to overcome a multitude of barriers (resistance), and often requires something beyond the control of the inventor: coincidence.

Regardless of the sector in question, all products have a life cycle. A key phase in the life cycle of a product is when it attracts the interest of “early adopters”. Whilst the earliest of the early adopters are keen to embrace a new concept or technology, it is vital that the “late-early” adopters also get on-board, as they are key in driving product success. The gap between these two important groups is often described as “the chasm”. When a new technology manages to cross this chasm then it is much more likely to succeed.

There are numerous current examples of inventions that are fast becoming increasingly commonplace in modern society. These include mobile phone technology, solar panels and handheld computing devices. These examples managed to cross the chasm between the early adopters and the early and late majority. Other examples, such as three-dimensional (3D) printing and electric vehicles, have yet to cross the chasm, and only time will tell whether they achieve this.

If one considers the life cycle of a novel technology, its adoption can be described by a bell-shaped curve, with time along the x-axis. The left-hand tail of the curve comprises the early adopters, while the zenith of the curve occurs when the majority have embraced the concept. When this point in the curve has been reached, the product is now no longer considered novel or innovative. Often this high level of adoption has been made possible by industries implementing a series of process innovations that have allowed for more efficient and cost-effective production. The bell-shaped curve has its disadvantages too. Society and technology move on; each innovation becomes a stepping-stone to the next ‘big thing’.

By the time the procrastinators in society have finally adopted a new technology (at the far right-hand tail of the bell-shaped curve), it is entirely feasible that the early adopters have already moved on once more. This is not a bad thing; for example, in medicine this could mean that very early adopters explore new and innovative treatments in Phase III clinical trials.


Julian Marewski


Some pharmacists are also innovators and ‘techies’. Despite medicine sometimes being perceived as a less innovative environment compared with other settings (“innovation” used, for instance, as a term one might perhaps ascribe to fast-moving consumer goods), and despite the strict compliance and regulatory environment that governs medicine and healthcare, innovation occurs rather frequently within the pharmaceutical industry. Current hot topics discussed at the meeting included microfluidic technology and 3D printing, both of which could revolutionise disease diagnostics and change how pharmacies operate in the future. The discovery of antibiotics was highlighted as an innovation of the 20th century that remains relevant nearly a century later.


More choice is good, right? More information is good, right?
“If healthcare experts had more treatments to choose from then surely patients would only see positive benefits”. Although this statement is broadly true, unfortunately, choice can also generate a paradox: there is an apparent contradiction between the initial attractiveness of a large assortment of options, which can combine and culminate in a series of demotivating consequences.

Consumers, for example, can find gaining adequate information a problem, and having more choices can lead to higher expectations and concerns about not making the right choice. Depending on the information available, several different tactics can be employed, including: one-reason decision making (decisions based on only one factor – a fast quick fix), information integration (merging information from heterogeneous sources), or information representation (where available information is presented in a transparent way). Unsurprisingly, in addition to the information available, brand recognition heavily influences consumer choice too. In a consumer scenario, the influence of advertising on choice can never be ignored.

Pharmacists and other healthcare providers make important treatment choices on behalf of their patients. One of the ways hospital pharmacists do this is by playing a key role in selecting drugs and technologies for use in their hospital. When new and novel options are presented to them, like when they are choosing a new telephone, they may be early adopters (for example those for whom the latest smart phone is a must) or late adopters (for example those who would be inclined to replace their phone with the same model). Novel agents and technologies still, however, need to overcome the healthcare expert ‘chasm’ if they are to become mainstream and available to a larger patient population.

Support for the development of this editorial report was provided by Boehringer Ingelheim

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