Other voices, other rooms: new conversational opportunities for pharma

Picture 2Throughout the last two days, I’ve been far more concerned about what patients and those seeking health information online actually find than I have been about how many invisible adverse events can dance on the head of a pin (or rather, a needle).

I seldom reblog content, but this patient perspective on the second day of the FDA Public Hearing on Promotion of FDA-Regulated Medical Products Using the Internet and Social Media Tools (the best overall perspective on which may be found at fdasm.com) compelled me to:

And Pharma – I am interested in the FDA-approved language and data (safety and efficacy) on the branded medications I take being easily accessible on the Internet and understandable.  I am not interested in pharmaceutical advertising, being approached by a pharmaceutical representative, or any overt contact of any kind.   I am happy to have them listen and correct grave misinformation if they believe that the particular forum is not sufficiently self-policing. Medication is not like shoes. I am happy to look at shoe advertising, talk to shoe people, and if the president of Zappos would like to come to my house, I’d bake him a cake.  I take medications because I need them and I’ve worked out a plan with my health care professionals of what, when, and why I will take them.  I welcome tools and information to boost my understanding, adherence, and coping, but I’d prefer if it came through a medical society or patient organization (even if pharma sponsored, I’d feel that it has been reviewed and tailored by people with interests more aligned with mine).

People seeking health information (you can call them patients if you like) are increasingly doing so online. They trust the opinions of their peers’ user-generated content, patient organizations, and medical societies. The inconvenient truth for the legion of pharma marketers is that they are less likely to be interested in, listen to, or believe in any message issued directly by pharma.

The patient opinion stated above suggests that there is an indirect opportunity here for pharma to respond to a pressing need by providing (by which I mean facilitating access to) high quality, independent, reliable, relevant, patient-oriented health information presented in non-clinical language.

How can this be best achieved?

This project would seem well-suited to the micro-conversational, small scale, relational, indirect social media activity (call it ‘marketing’ if it makes you feel more comfortable) that a progressive pharmaceutical company could do a lot worse than embark upon, FDA rulings or otherwise, right now. Pick a therapy area. Build or redeploy the talents of a multi-lingual global team with a clear strategic plan as to how, why, when and where they intend to support the community they have identified and access to sufficient effective, consistent, shared resources to be able to deliver upon their promise tactically.

What will these resources look like?

Short answer: see above. Slightly longer answer: they will not be of pharma’s own creation. They will neither be branded (although support can be acknowledged), nor will any editorial influence have been exerted over them. The very best of them currently exist in a format that is neither easily accessible, nor easy to use, nor widely known among patient communities. However, that is the fault of their publishers rather than pharma, is rectifiable, and must be the subject of another post at a later date.

How will they be redistributed?

Pharma will offer a proactive response to a reactive perception. A member of a team becomes aware of a need through their listening posts, and responds by reaching out with help, for example with a link to a piece of health information that meets the criteria stated above. They will not ask those they are assisting to submit their details, register on a site, or otherwise give up personal information in return for their help. This is a gift, freely given, without expectation of tangible recompense.

The reward for pharma is intangible but nevertheless very real, and lies in its reputation having been augmented in the eyes of the person they have assisted in their search for high quality health information, and the possibility that this individual may share the story, as well as the information, with the community that they are a part of. This simple, contemporary customer relations concept works in other verticals. Neither the FDA nor any other body is likely to be able to find a reason to stop pharma from experimenting with it if they are prepared to do so.

Picture 4In one sense, expecting the industry to be the primary provider of this information as well as the manufacturer of pharmaceuticals is akin to expecting a farmer (no pun intended) having grown your food to then relocate to your kitchen to cook it for you.

How much more enjoyable it is to be able to graciously accept an invitation to dinner when we consider it to have been offered without obligation on our part rather than endure the same as a duty in the expectation of having something demanded from us in return merely because we are hungry.

4 thoughts on “Other voices, other rooms: new conversational opportunities for pharma

  1. Good Assessment of the current and future landscape. They’ll tell us only what they want us to know, perhaps medical professional societies should take up the slack with laymen language on their sites.

  2. Great post Andrew. Providing links to trusted third party content would be a great way for pharma to engage an online community. In theory, pharma could do well to experiment with this on a small scale at first as a way to build online presence and push things along in this direction. Obvious challenges like needing to see a ROI on any such initiative would need some convincing, but there are bound to be plenty of relevant examples to draw on to help build a case!

    • Hi Ed

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. The ‘I’ pharma would be getting a return on in ROI here would be ‘integrity’ rather than ‘investment’, although you could say pharma would just be redefining the sort of investment it was making: investment in its reputation rather than a financial investment. I’d posit that the two are inextricably linked, anyway.

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