Guest Post: DigiPharm ‘Reflections from the floor’

DigiPharm 2013

This post was kindly provided for us by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab), Editor-in-Chief, News-Medical.Net

If you were looking for DigiPharm to tell you exactly what you should be doing in the digital pharma space, then you would have been disappointed from the outset. There are simply too many digital marketing variables and options in 2013 to provide an all-encompassing and efficacious digital marketing prescription.

From the very beginning it was clear that this is a complex field to navigate. Professor Brian Smith used evolutionary economics to show that just like in the rainforest, where several species thrive, the pharmaceutical industry is likely to evolve to a place where several business models operate. The halcyon days of pharma business as usual appear over.

To survive you need core capabilities. To thrive, you need distinctive capabilities to create a sustainable advantage. But to accept the inevitable digital change organisations need to be dynamic and willing to adapt to the ecosystem that is the pharmaceutical business in the web 2.0 era.

It was clear from Ragnar Gaseby that Pharma is faced with a challenging environment. Not only are there many changes taking place in terms of who makes decisions on what is prescribed, but there are also many austerity measures and the shocking realization is that whilst pharma has traditionally been a market of growth, it saw a 1% decline 2012.

Many believe iPads and eDetailing are critical to developing the Doctor – Sales Rep dialogue. But as Martyn Glanville stated, iPads will not save you. They are simply a means to an end. To thrive in the digital space, you need a new strategy, and revised operational models that mesh with apps, iPads and social, taking advantage of technology that moves away from one-way push marketing to ‘co-creation'.

Digital techniques also allow the Pharma industry to be more relevant and personalized. But who are those individuals it should be targeting? As many of the keynote speakers pointed out, the patient should be viewed as the customer, the ultimate key stakeholder.

Peter Askel Villadsen outlined how Leo Pharma has made the move to patient-centricity. Their goal is to develop a global brand that goes beyond pharmaceutical. They may not be able to mention any prescription offerings, but they can engage with their patients, and perhaps more importantly, with competitors' patients.

The problem with many pharmaceutical companies, according to Dr Nick Broughton, is that they treat HCPs as the customer; whereas in fact HCPs are just people they have to deal with to get to the patient – "the only end user".

One of the highlights of DigiPharm was hearing from those ultimate stakeholders: Michael Seres, a Crohn's patient who received the 11th bowel transplant at Churchill Hospital, Oxford and Paul Buchanan, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 44. Both found little available information relevant to their situations and so they set up online communities, which have since taken off.

This was a demonstration of how digital can change the power of patients, something that is already occurring with patient organizations now exerting more pressure on governments. It is now easy for patients to find information on their condition online. As Michael Seres pointed out… the busiest doctor in the world these days is Google.

David Hunt, another great highlight, called attention to the previous barrier between the individual and the information. In the past, people didn't choose information, they were simply given it. Now things are different: people can actively choose the source. They are no longer isolated; they are part of a vibrant, educated community. Thus pharma no longer chooses the channels, they are chosen by the patients, who decide when they wish to consume information and through which channels.

But how can you get people to choose your information? Quality content is obviously a necessity, a ‘core capability' in Prof. Smith's terms. However, it is about more than that. As Hunt stated, money is no longer enough to create a brand. To earn a customer's respect, Pharma needs to start thinking differently. There needs to be a balance between ethical and commercial drivers.

Patients understand that pharmaceutical companies make money. In fact, Paul Buchanan stated how he cares very much about the profit in pharma, as without it he would no longer be alive. However, customers also want something they can believe in, and, as David Hunt demonstrated, being better can also be better for business.

A great example of "Good Pharma" came from Shona Davies, the Global Programme and Communications Leader for Univadis, a non-promotional, free of charge online HCP community that publishes both good stories about competitors and bad ones about MSD.

Davies highlighted the value of non-commercial engagement and how Univadis is about corporate responsibility, not charity. The key to keeping customers on side is to be transparent: they don't expect you to be gaining no benefits from a project; they simply want you to be open and honest about what you are gaining.

In summary, many more challenges, questions and hurdles for the practitioners of Digital Pharma.

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