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Digital Skills Gap Threatens Pharma’s Digital Transformation


The digital transformation in pharma is here to stay. But not without some stones in its path. All across the spectrum of healthcare, there are reports of staff shortages and a digital skills gap. This digital could pose a potential delay for many companies in pharma to evolve in this field. 

Without a doubt, many healthcare companies are benefiting from the digital transformation accelerated by COVID. Elements such as AI, data monitoring, online sales, and telehealth had a particular spotlight in the last two years.

However, to keep this up, companies need people specialized in digital skills. The problem lies in the fact that healthcare is not managing to maintain professionals in these areas. Furthermore, the need for human resources with the right set of skills is one of COVID’s impacts on healthcare workforces.

The Digital Skills Gap Phenomenon

A report published by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has noted a persistent lack of human resources apt for digital tasks. According to it, some of the main skills lacking in healthcare are related to tasks such as:

  • Computational and digital skills; 
  • Integration of clinical, industrial, and economic research; and
  • Genomic and phenotypic insights.

The surprise in this report? The fact is that this is the consequence of a lack of quantity, rather than the quality of candidates for these job posts. In short, the demand for candidates with specific sets of skills is being outrun by the supply. 

Do Current Human Resources in Healthcare Have the Right Set of Skills?

Another report by the Institute of Coding and Coventry University points to the very same problem in healthcare as a whole. The difference is that it is deeper for those already working in the industry.

A great percentage of these job positions are filled with people that display poor digital skills. These were mainly part of the senior management, even back-end officers who analyzed collected data. So, there is a barrier that needs to be suppressed in order to implement digital strategies effectively.

But, why does this gap continues to grow? The technological progress of our times is forcing a fast evolvement of the required skill sets. Allied to this, companies require from sponsors and CROs an increased volume of skills, particularly in data analytics and engineering, that is difficult to match.

For that, one of the main concerns of this report is the crossover between scientific and digital skills. Digital skills are valued more than ever, but there aren’t enough candidates. And those that exist within the companies, have the necessary skills to fill the gap, but just a little of it.

In sum, there are the right candidates in the market, but just not enough to cover the digital gap. This is a panorama seen not only in pharma but also in the whole healthcare system as a whole.

The Other Consequences of COVID in Healthcare

No doubt that the pandemic brought a series of consequences to the healthcare system as we knew it. It led to the mutation of several procedures. Not to mention, the readaptation of working methods to this new reality. Yet there’s a consequence that is sometimes mentioned in the media but not so valued in the bigger picture: the burnout of many HCP.

The pharma sector in particular has been deeply affected by a series of resignations from workers. Many of them couldn’t cope with the changing work patterns or long hours of overwork that drained them out.

In general, many healthcare systems were ill-prepared not only for a public health crisis but also for the digital mutation. According to pharmaphorum, across the EU there are around 2 million vacancies in the health and social care sector.

It goes to show the consequences of a series of resignations in the last two years. But also those people with specific digital skills are needed more than ever. Now healthcare needs to take action to maintain the progress of the digital transformation that will be inevitable.

The Need to Fill the Gap

No doubt that technology will transform healthcare as we know it. This evolution is transcendent to all work areas globally. Yet to guarantee a sustainable evolution, there’s an important detail that needs to be remembered. 

Regardless of the wonders of the digital spectrum, at the end of the day, it’s people who will develop and implement these solutions. There will always be a need for a human touch even in the most technological of all scenarios.

Little by little we are moving out of the acute COVID panorama and towards a new business paradigm. However, for sustained development to be assured, healthcare needs to attract the right people with the ideal set of skills. This will become an ever-evolving challenge, seeing that the evolution of technology will create new needs for specific skills.

Not only will pharma need to become customer-centric, but also, technology-centered to mitigate the current digital skills gap. From the growing reality of omnichannel marketing to the evolving needs of patients and other consumers, this sector has a lot of challenges on its hands. The need to adapt to the new digital scenario and provide solutions and content addressing those needs will be vital for the survival of many pharmaceutical brands soon.

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