Digital Health Tools Expand in Emerging Markets

Abbott's "beyond the pill" healthcare ecosystem nudges people to follow the medical advice received from their healthcare professional through behavioral science.

CHANGING LIVES     |    Nov. 12, 2020

Advancements in digital healthcare are rapidly changing how care gets delivered around the world. For example, the adoption of telemedicine alone has increased exponentially in recent months. Electronic health records, increasing use of artificial intelligence to predict outcomes and greater acceptance of apps for tracking health also change how people interact with their healthcare teams.

In emerging countries, the number of doctors per 1,000 people is often well below the average of 3.3 found in developed countries1. This means doctors are stretched for time to meet their patients' needs. Given that the doctor-to-patient ratio is often low in countries such as India, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, China, and Russia — advancements in digital health can provide much needed access to healthcare services. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the adoption of digital tools in these regions has grown exponentially2.

Abbott is expanding its focus on reaching medical professionals and patients in many of the emerging countries where it operates through a free program called a:care, which aims to improve the patient's health journey. Let's take a deeper dive and learn more about a:care from Sammy Karam, senior vice president of emerging markets for Abbott's medicines business.

Sammy Karam, Senior Vice President Emerging Markets, Established Pharmaceuticals

a:care in Emerging Markets

Sammy Karam is responsible for Abbott's medicines business commercial operations in emerging markets, where a:care is launched in 13 countries.

According to Karam, a:care "goes beyond the pill to inform and train healthcare professionals to improve medication adherence through behavioral science, which in turn helps people achieve better health."

In a typical healthcare journey, patients start with symptoms, do research and then see a doctor. Once an individual gets an appointment, the doctor may provide a diagnosis and send the person home with a prescription. Karam notes that in countries he serves, there's a shortage of available physicians compared to the number of patients. Some countries may already have telemedicine links to see patients, which helps, but once home, patients may still be on their own to manage their condition. We know that people are prescribed medicines, but don't take them or don't stick with them.

Non-adherence to prescribed medication is a huge challenge, in particular for chronic conditions. And that's not only the case for countries with limited access to doctors. Studies show that globally, people typically take only about half their prescribed doses3.

That's where a:care bridges the gap. Well-designed digital platforms with high-quality, scientifically validated information can support people in taking charge of their health. a:care, our online and offline healthcare ecosystem, provides doctors and pharmacists access to tools and information to nudge patients in the right direction to stick to their treatment and provides individualized support for patients to better understand, manage and monitor their conditions.

"Our ultimate goal is to provide a supportive and cohesive approach to managing health," Karam says. "We're in the background with education and adherence tools, bridging the communication between patients and their loved ones, doctors and pharmacists to support the patient's health journey and enhance the overall success potential of a treatment."

The a:care platform also supports physicians with online learning and webinars. Karam says his team has had thousands of doctors take part in webinars and educational events to learn about adherence and latest behavioral science techniques on how to best help people on their health journey. These workshops are based on scientific principles on behavioral science from Nobel Prize winners Daniel Kahneman and Richard Thaler and have already received endorsements from the International Society of Hypertension and leading medical societies in various emerging countries – in Russia, Vietnam, and Thailand for instance.

Growth of Digital Tools

The digitization of healthcare across the world has increased the amount of data that healthcare providers and companies collect. Predictive analytics allow for more personalized medicine and outreach. Digital healthcare tools, such as the a:care platform, can use those analytics to provide more personalized healthcare experiences, meeting people where they are.

Many countries have adopted telemedicine and virtual visits with doctors, including remote diagnosis and touchless medication delivery. The COVID-19 pandemic fast-tracked this technology, as many countries needed to offer more access without contact. Karam says Russia and China saw increases in virtual visits4,5 and successfully managed patients through virtual appointments, email and webinars.

These digital health technologies continue to expand, as do the job roles needed to support them. Karam oversees more than 10,000 employees overall, across 66 markets. He says the success is reliant upon finding the right talent. Politics, societal elements and supply chain access can all change quickly, and his teams always need to have backup plans for any project.

Employees working in these markets need to be entrepreneurial, creative and able to think fast in rapidly changing situations.

"We are making a difference, bringing medicine to people who traditionally wouldn't have access," Karam says. "Every day we reach 18 million people in emerging markets who take our medicines to live better lives through the power of health. It makes me proud to work at Abbott when I consider our mission and the important role we play to ensure people live their fullest lives."



1OECD (2019), "Doctors" (indicator), (accessed on 18 April 2019)
2McKinseyz (2020), How COVID-19 is reshaping China's medtech industry, (accessed on 20 August 2020)
3Nieuwlaat R, Wilczynski N, Navarro T, et al. Interventions for enhancing medication adherence. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;2014(11):CD000011
4Telemedicine centre doctors assist COVID-19 patients,, 18/05/2020,
5Sun S, Yu K, Xie Z, Pan X. China empowers Internet hospital to fight against COVID-19. J Infect. 2020;81(1):e67-e68. doi:10.1016/j.jinf.2020.03.061