A healthy market opportunity

I was interviewed recently on the latest developments in digital pharma marketing. Here’s an excerpt of the story from the HotHouse blog:

The rise of digital in all its forms – Internet, mobile, social media, online video – has fuelled the shift from selling and marketing products to selling and marketing services, as consumers have replaced manufacturers at the centre of the marketing universe.

Everything from product development to promotion to post-purchase evaluation is today built around understanding and meeting customer needs.”

This is abundantly apparent in an area like healthcare. From a product-focused sector based solely on convincing doctors to prescribe medications based on scientific evidence (and a few educational dinners), drugmakers are building portfolios of services aimed at patients and doctors around their brands, helping healthcare professionals tackle issues like patient compliance and health education as direct promotion takes a back seat.

Big numbers

I discussed the implications of these trends with healthcare digital strategist (and HotHouse content producer) Ray Welling in this month’sHotHouse podcast. And while the growth of online generally as a medium and a marketing tool has been impressive, the numbers for healthcare are truly staggering.

Read the full story


EHRs and investment deficit disorder

Just read a comprehensive, well-researched, thought-provoking article in the New York Times about the global economic crisis and the tasks facing Barack Obama as he tries to turn the US around. Smack dab in the middle of it was, of all things, a reference to electronic health records:

“One good way to understand the current growth slowdown is to think of the debt-fueled consumer-spending spree of the past 20 years as a symbol of an even larger problem. As a country we have been spending too much on the present and not enough on the future. We have been consuming rather than investing. We’re suffering from investment-deficit disorder.

“You can find examples of this disorder in just about any realm of American life. Walk into a doctor’s office and you will be asked to fill out a long form with the most basic kinds of information that you have provided dozens of times before. Walk into a doctor’s office in many other rich countries and that information — as well as your medical history — will be stored in computers. These electronic records not only reduce hassle; they also reduce medical errors. Americans cannot avail themselves of this innovation despite the fact that the United States spends far more on health care, per person, than any other country. We are spending our money to consume medical treatments, many of which have only marginal health benefits, rather than to invest it in ways that would eventually have far broader benefits.”

Sadly, Australia is not one of those “rich countries” referred to in the article; our progess toward implementing electronic health initiatives is far behind even the US…

There is also a discussion on how the US spends too much on medical treatments that don’t work particularly well (trouble ahead for the pharma industry). The whole article is well worth reading: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/01/magazine/01Economy-t.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

Patients embracing Web 2.0 / Health 2.0

The number of consumers in the US using Web 2.0 technologies in relation to health matters (dubbed ‘Health 2.0’) has doubled in the past year to 60 million people, according to a study just released by Manhattan Research.

Manhattan defines Health 2.0 consumers as people who have: 

  • read health-related blogs, message boards or participated in health-related chatrooms;
  • contributed or posted health content online such as: writing or commenting on a health-related blog, adding or responding to a topic in a forum or group, or creating health related web pages, videos or audio content; or
  • used online patient support groups, message boards, chatrooms, or blogs.

The report says, “Pharmaceutical marketers are catching on to the trends, but there’s a long way to go before brand media closes the gap between where consumers are and where budgets are going – only a small fraction of overall pharmaceutical advertising spend is currently allocated to online campaigns. But as we’re seeing with our clients, consumer trends are prompting marketers to put more weight behind digital strategies.”

“…. Social media is a powerful force impacting the pharmaceutical industry – whether or not brands choose to participate. Taking too conservative of an approach to a channel which thrives on two-way dialogue and open communication will undoubtedly distance brands from consumers – especially for those looking to reach the groups most engaged in Health 2.0. And even if brands aren’t yet ready participate in conversations, some sites sell aggregated data to pharmaceutical companies looking to understand the experiences and challenges that patients face.”

Creativity important in healthcare

The Australian Research Centre (ARC) for Creative Industries and Innovation has released a report on the use of creativity in healthcare. It found that:

“Creativity is highly integrated into the provision of healthcare goods and services and serves most aspects of the operation of the healthcare system, particularly in information and knowledge management, the supply of medical skills, clinical services and infrastructure. Australia’s creative capability has a central role in helping the healthcare system to adapt, to become more efficient while delivering better outcomes and to provide the range of clinical services demanded by the community…. The innovation processes appeared to be particularly effective when creatives worked closely with key stakeholders (medical professionals, patients or the community).”

The study concluded: “There is consensus that the healthcare system needs to change if it is to address the range of demand, supply and contextual challenges that it faces, and to at least maintain the quality of health outcomes and the supply of medical service providers… Australia’s creative capability has a central role in helping the system to adapt, to become more efficient while delivering better outcomes and to
provide the range of clinical services demanded by the community…. Overall, healthcare creative employment is growing faster than total employment in the system, and the growth is particularly significant in technological areas (film, TV, software). Interestingly, some medical professionals are
using the technologies routinely. With some training and technological enhancements, and in the hands of clients, they are also being applied in healthcare. With further technological advances, such uses could expand opportunities for innovation and improvements to the healthcare system.”

Google, Microsoft, now Amazon?

Call it the commercialization of healthcare online. First it was Microsoft Health Vault and Google Health offering personal health record (PHR) solutions for consumers. Now Internet pundits are saying the healthcare industry should look to Internet giants Amazon for ideas on how to bring healthcare into the 21st century. Anna Maria Virzi, writing on the ClickZ network, says that patients should have access to information about their health records in the same way UPS or Amazon tracks package deliveries.

“A doctor’s follow up communications with a patient – though not exactly marketing – are all part of a customer feedback loop that can help keep a patient and her family informed to make better choices about continuing care,” she writes.

She cites the example of Group Health Co-operative, a Seattle-based managed care organisation. Patients there were first given the opportunity to contact physicians by e-mail about eight years ago and by 2008, “nearly all of the organization’s 850 physicians communicate with patients online; physicians respond to 97 percent of the queries by or before the next day.

“First and foremost, this is to take better care of patients,” associate medical director Matt Handley said. “It saves a patient in-person visits. It leaves a record for patients to access, and it indirectly improves access [to a physician].” He said it was “much safer than paper records.” 

“Once patients realized the benefits of e-visits, Group Health Cooperative promoted the initiative in advertisements.

“But, Group Health patients won’t find any ads popping up in the clinical messages they receive from physicians. ‘There is no spamming, no promotional messages to patients through our electronic medical records,’ Dr. Handley said.

“Group Health professionals say the retention rate was 6.5 percent higher for enrollees who used the digital health record system than those who didn’t. ‘Two-thirds of the patients say this is a very important thing to them when they think about where to get their healthcare,’ Dr. Handley said. ‘It’s hard to give this up.’

Health tops email for Boomer Web use

The 2008 Boomers Online Media & Social Networking Study by J Walter Thompson and Third Age has found that seeking health and wellness information tops the list of Web-based activities reflecting the most interest, at a whopping 97 percent. Email comes second at 96 percent. As someone who just had his first ECG yesterday (Lipitor, here I come), I know that this figure is partly age-driven, but it shows how important the Web is to healthcare. Here’s the top ten list:

All ages and professions need to get with Web 2.0

This one is a couple of weeks old, but recently came to my attention. Richard Smith, ex-editor of the British Medical Journal, CEO of BMJ Publishing and now involved with open access journals, wrote a terrific blog on the BMJ about how doctors need to expose themselves to the world of Web 2.0/Health 2.0 and the possibilities it presents.

He writes, “Web 2.0 has the potential to improve global health greatly and to solve complex problems in health science. (However,) the barriers to these potential achievements are social and cultural, not technological.

“The machines we can fix. It’s the people – particularly old timers (that’s anybody over 40) – that are the problem.” Smith, who is 56, has some simple advice for his fellow old-timers. “The only way to really understand Web 2.0,” he says, “is to jump in and start using it.”

He recommends everyone sign up for Facebook and concludes, “The essence of Web 2.0 is that it’s bottom up and participative: it’s created by the many, not the few…. Doctors, I fear, are too fond of a top down world – because they are usually at the top. But that top down world is crumbling. Think of Nicolae Ceausescu’s statue being hauled down and smashed. That’s the old world of Web 1.0. Get with Web 2.0 in a serious way or become a yesterday’s person.”