Digipharm Europe 2010: Digital engagement to improve health
Digipharm Europe 2010, the largest gathering of professionals from the pharmaceutical industry and communicators in Europe, took place on 29 and 30 September. This conference was an opportunity to present digital communication strategies put in place by eMarketers and discuss the role and impact of these new means of communications in the health sector. The European event was also a chance to discuss changes in regulations and to discover new ideas on the use of social networks. The presentations and debate were numerous and very rich in ideas during the two days. Here is a brief overview of Digipharm Europe 2010 which attempts to highlight key trends and questions that emerged during the conference.
“The pharmaceutical industry is engaged in digital”
The enthusiasm and awareness of the value of engaging in digital was very clear during the Digipharm 2010. Moreover, the pharmaceutical industry is no longer asking whether these emerging communication channels are relevant. Today, all Pharmaceutical companies have to develop strategies that reflect local and global communications to provide new services and to better understand the needs of patients, physicians and all health stakeholders.
Indeed, one of the strong messages of this conference was that despite the constraints of regulation (varying by country), the pharmaceutical industry is using digital today to engage through social networks, developing more and more other services including through mobile channels. Thus, within these constraints, it tries to enter into a conversational relationship with patients, doctors and everyone involved directly or indirectly with disease or medication. Attitudes have changed and instead of thinking about what it can’t do, this industry creates content, services, blogs, Facebook pages and is active on Twitter.
“The patient before technology”
Amidst this enthusiasm for the opportunities opened by these communication channels, it is important to continue to maintain a commitment to patient care. However, it is essential to bear in mind the objective of all these communication strategies. Many industry stakeholders have expressed the fact that these technologies must be relevant in terms of services to the patient or doctor. It is therefore important to ask the right questions such as: “Does our communication strategy allow us to respond efficiently and in a relevant way to the needs of patients? Did they really need this service?”.
Indeed, often the technologies appear to be the solution to the problems of communication because they are fresh, innovative and will certainly stand out from competitors. However, it is important to stay focused on patients’ needs and be aware of the temptation of technology. Whether local or international, strategies need to be designed globally and all channels of communications necessary to achieve goals according to regulations, budget and human resources constraints must be taken into account. Moreover, according to the territory or disease area, the audience is different and this multiplicity of factors complicates the challenges of communication. It is these exciting challenges that we as stakeholders in the pharmaceutical industry will address in future communications campaigns and it is obvious that for this purpose, digital has its place.
“Large Campaigns” to “Continuous engagement”
Social Media is an extraordinary source of information and exchange. All players have realized the health benefits of being present on these social platforms. Digipharm was an opportunity to see innovative communications projects that integrate the social dimension. Thus, social networks are increasingly used in communication campaigns and some of the presentations confirmed a willingness to be open to comments, whether positive or negative interaction with patients or create a transparent relationship with health professionals.
One particularly interesting aspect presented at this conference is linked to a new player, the “e-patient”. He participates with his new habits of communication and new information sources (online) to influence the structural and organizational changes within the pharmaceutical companies. With these new means of communication, information available from these e-patients becomes extremely abundant and needs to be analyzed, measured and understood by different actors in the pharmaceutical industry to identify and interact more effectively with each other.
Thus, to be in tune with this new environment, pharma needs to develop, engage and educate their teams across the board (R & D Department, regulatory, marketing, communication) and at all levels of authority. Thus, some industry stakeholders presented the importance of considering the impact of digital engagement on the internal organization, explaining how roles in digital marketing and communications are changing.
Communication campaigns should be part of overall and long-term strategies, because the notion of engagement is ongoing on these new channels. To be recognized as a credible and authentic stakeholder in health online, it is necessary for pharmaceutical companies to change their communication model, but this means rethinking the management of human resources, and the allocation of financial resources to implement overall communications strategies that address the needs of patients.
“Social networks, new uses for the pharmaceutical industry”
The conference also provided a new perspective on the use of social networks by the pharmaceutical industry. To date, social media tools seem to have been primarily used by marketers and communicators. Thus, Creation Healthcare showed what other use could be made of these networks by exploring the “mentions” of drugs and adverse events within social media, at a worldwide level. We have shown the level of adverse drug reactions that could be detected on social media, constituting potentially reportable events, to improve pharmacovigilance of pharmaceutical companies (details here).
Knowledge about the possibilities and uses of social media is still in its infancy, but certainly this perspective makes it a particularly exciting time when new opportunities appear for pharmaceutical companies.
“Regulating at a global level? The question remains.”
“Using social media guidelines to engage employees in pharmaceutical companies”
DigiPharm Europe was also a time to revisit Roche’s famous Social Media Guidelines for employees and better understand why and how these rules were put in place. The goal was to have simple and easy rules to remember to enable all employees to use social media while guiding them with a few “common sense”rules (Roche Social Media Guideline (pdf)). To keep things simple, Roche decided to reduce the number of rules to seven. This initiative demonstrated the importance of commitment and collaboration of all departments in such initiatives, particularly with the legal Department in this particular case.
“A digital environment for the patient”
Communication strategies presented by pharmaceutical companies included a “digital environment” allowing the patient to have access to relevant information about his health from his favourite social networks (such as YouTube, Twitter, or Facebook), his mobile phone or any other digital platform such as a tablet for example. Thus, many services and content around the disease can be offered to patients using the most appropriate channels to enable him to better understand his illness.
“Collaboration of all health stakeholders”
Also present were some of the largest online networks of doctors and patients – PatientsLikeMe and Doctors.net.uk – to present the richness of these communities and demonstrate how the pharmaceutical industry can collaborate with them to improve their understanding and relationships with them.
Another strong idea discussed at this conference is that it is essential for companies in this sector to develop more efficient models of collaboration internally and externally to develop coherent projects to improve the quality of life of patients: “engage each stakeholder for a common cause, their patients”. And it is here that new digital channels of communication (mHealth, ehealth, social media, …) can contribute to achieving the objectives of companies in this sector.
“Uses of Mobile Internet – mHealth. Ready?”
A vision of the evolving use of mobile and the Internet has been presented at the conference. Thus, the level of Internet access through mobile devices such as mobile phones or tablets, is expanding and this trend will intensify in the coming years to surpass the connections from desktop computers by 2014 (1). This increasing mobility will once again have a significant impact on communications. Thus, to continue to communicate more effectively and enable patients to access the information they seek, the pharmaceutical industry will have to adapt its content to these new practices and develop innovative strategies, including mobile marketing. This is a new challenge for the pharmaceutical industry.
If this article has made you think about your healthcare engagement strategy in a new way, and you would like to talk to an expert who could help you develop your ideas, Creation Healthcare can help. Contact us now to find out about our approach to global healthcare engagement strategy.
(1) Source: Stanley Research