About To HIT The Fan

In the past month I've been to two large healthcare marketing conferences: ePatient Connections and ExL Digital Pharma East, both in Philadelphia. While ePatient (naturally) emphasized the patient point-of-view and Digital Pharma was primarily industry-centric, participants at both conferences highlighted the rising power of the online patient advocate, the impending widespread adoption of health information technologies (HIT), and (of course) the power of social media. What wasn't discussed, however, was how all these elements are related and additive, spelling big change over the next few years for the healthcare system and its participants, including pharmaceutical companies.

We already know how revolutionary the advent of social technologies has been on marketing. A conversation that was once physically limited by geography has become boundless. Socialization obviously isn't new, but our ability to compress space and time, connecting with people we would never normally meet, is. The impact this phenomenon has had on all industries has been profound, but HIT and new regulation encouraging (or even mandating) its use is about to amplify this shift within the pharmaceutical industry in particular.



For the first time, networked electronic medical records (EMR) will make patient-outcomes data available on a large scale. At stake is comparative data and real results, not proxies like surveys and self-reported patient data from the likes of (which, by the way, boasts 7,000 to 15,000 new patient enrollees per week*).

Not only will health care professionals, managed care organizations, and countless other institutions finally have information on which to make data-driven decisions, but patients will have unparalleled access to their personal medical history, along with how their health and treatments compare to the mean. Combined with information available online and access to communities of peers with similar data, this new access will facilitate a sea-change in how medicine will be practiced and managed in the very near future.

While advertising is already facing the challenge of aligning with customer needs, which are increasingly influential via social media, the addition of HIT into the mix gives patients evidence to substantiate what are now just hunches. Not only will your message have to compete with "sentiment" online, but these sentiments will be backed by collective and comparative data. This information will be shared, and it will become more powerful than any advertising.

So what's a pharmaceutical company to do?

First, it will be more important than ever to make sure you are responsive and trusted. Tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Claim a voice in interpreting the data to help your customers. It will increasingly be about good products that work, not marketing magic. Get rid of all marketing not based on actual, meaningful superiority in efficacy, safety, or documentable improvement in adherence or quality of life. HIT will make these strategies unsustainable moving forward.

Second, reform clinical development. Create new approaches to trial design (including comparator study arms, pharmacoeconomic analyses, and quality of life measures) that can generate a true competitive advantage.

Finally, recognize that there is no real space for pharma promotion with the new EMR systems. Instead, think about HIT as a way to measure post-marketing surveillance, segmentation, and clinical needs assessments.

We're in for a change. HIT is about to make social media much more influential and medicine much more participatory. And even if you can't change the future, you can prepare for it.

*Note: For more information on the rising tide of personal health metrics, see Wired magazine's excellent four-part article on the subject.

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