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By Sophie Haydock
Ghada Elkhodiry EMBA2021 on the digital transformations sweeping the pharmaceutical industry
In any other year, choosing an annual highlight for an entire industry might be a little tricky. For experienced healthcare strategist and EMBA student Ghada Elkhodiry, 2020’s pick for healthcare is easy. “With the development of the coronavirus vaccine, we’ve seen several global players successfully accelerate the development phase of a new drug to cater to urgent need. This has been incredible to witness.”
The vaccines have not only brought hope to millions but ushered in a new era for the pharma industry where, as Ghada puts it, “…more joint ventures and alliances between organisations will create more value and opportunities, long after the crisis is over”.
Ghada’s current role sees her working across a global healthcare provider to lead development and implementation of digital marketing initiatives, including e-commerce, websites and digital marketing campaigns, as well as training other staff in how to promote digital transformation.
However, with over 13 years’ experience working for healthcare companies across the Middle East, Africa, Pakistan and Turkey, Ghada has often found healthcare organisations frustratingly slow to adopt new technologies. “Pharma has always suffered from a scarcity of untapped opportunities, especially in terms of digital advancement,” she says.
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“COVID-19 meant we had to work collectively to fight the pandemic. Organisations started to pool resources with their competitors.”
In many cases, it was the pandemic that finally forced evolution. “When remote communication became necessary, businesses couldn’t afford to be without a robust online presence. Many companies had to completely rethink their business models.” The result was a sudden industry-wide adoption of technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, expanded use of real-world data (RWD) and increased investment in technology startups.
There’s also been a welcome up-kick in collective problem solving. “Previously, the crowded market meant organisations were all trying to set themselves apart by being the first to bring new products to market. COVID-19 meant we had to work collectively to fight the pandemic. Organisations started to pool resources with their competitors and work more closely with state organisations and bodies like the World Health Organization (WHO) to fight the disease.”
The rise in telehealth, where patients receive care remotely, is something Ghada is especially excited about. “The pandemic has replaced unnecessary in-person visits with virtual care models, where doctors are able to meet patients, diagnose conditions and dispense prescriptions via instant messaging or video conferencing. 2020 has been game-changing for the industry, yes, but also for the wider public.”
Such advancements are particularly useful for people living with chronic health conditions who now no longer need to plan their lives around appointments. “Patients appreciate the rapid response rate of digital tools, their ease of use, and the opportunity to access more personalised care,” explains Ghada. “There’s a lot more two-way communication between patients and providers, which enables better informed self-management of chronic diseases. It can be very empowering.” This is not only more convenient for the patient, but quicker – and therefore cheaper – for many pharma companies.
“2020 has been game-changing for the industry, but also the larger public.”
Ghada believes these changes will soon become permanent. “Healthcare organisations have been able to use digital tools to reach customers at a significantly lower cost than traditional physical interactions. This is not something that will go away after the crisis ends.”
Although Ghada was enjoying a successful career before applying to London Business School, she says she knew she needed to build a strong ‘business layer’ on top of her science and technology foundation in order to lead in an ever-changing world. Currently based in Egypt, she applied for the EMBA at LBS’ Dubai campus in 2018.
“We always talk about dealing with disruption – COVID-19 took that from an idea in our textbooks to something we were dealing with first-hand.”
With graduation fast approaching, she could never have predicted the challenges her cohort would face in 2020 but says she doesn’t feel that their experience was tarnished by the crisis. “If anything, the experience of studying during the pandemic gave students a chance to test their skills. We always talk about dealing with disruption – COVID-19 took that from an idea in our textbooks to something we were dealing with first-hand.”
Ghada was able to apply classroom learnings to her current role, guiding her team through the early months of the crisis. “The support, coaching sessions and webinar series offered by LBS helped me realise that as much as you need to manage the business, you also need to remember that you’re really leading people. I often think about the ‘Leading through a pandemic’ webinar with Professor Kathleen O’Connor, where she explained how to communicate during difficult times and maintain trust, compassion, stability and hope. This really helped me feel confident in my decision making. It’s no exaggeration to say LBS offered me a true toolkit for success.”
Today, Ghada is motivated by the possibilities of combining her interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) with social justice. “We know that a nation’s health, wealth and vitality is inherently linked to its ability to advance in science, technology and engineering. And yet historically, science has been seen as objective, neutral and apolitical. It’s not. The real people behind the science have their own social values and biases. This is where social justice comes in. If we as STEM members don’t start these conversations, who will?”
This outlook is partly inspired by her own experiences working in a male-dominated field, where “women often need to work twice as hard to get half as much”. But rather than holding her back, Ghada thinks these experiences have ultimately spurred her success. “I had to be very disciplined and determined, always studying, practicing and working on my focus. That gave me a very clear vision for success.”
Looking forward, Ghada wants to encourage more women into STEM roles and fields. “Improving equality within the industry will improve the services we can offer to patients from all over the world. This is why combining STEM with social justice is so important – because ultimately, everybody benefits. I’ve been very fortunate so far, and now I want to give back and continue to diversify STEM for the better”.