Harriet Messenger – New technologies are allowing pharmaceutical companies to be in direct contact with patients. How is this transforming the industry and what are the opportunities and the pitfalls?
Felix Jackson – Nothing has really changed with regards to how pharmaceutical companies can interact with their patients. We’ve always been able to provide information for patients. In fact it’s a regulatory requirement that pharmaceutical companies provide patient information. What’s changed is that the digital framework enables them to do this much more conveniently online and much more powerfully. The places that I’m seeing theses changes are places like disease awareness, where pharmaceutical companies are using digital awareness to raise education and information about a certain disease and when to go and seek treatment from a doctor. Also in their support of patients post prescription. So when a patient is prescribed a drug and needs detailed information on that drug, pharmaceutical companies are doing quite a lot of work to provide that information digitally.
HM – And are there pitfalls to this at all?
FJ – Yes, one of the problems with digital, is that it is very global and so traditionally the pharmaceutical companies are regulated on a geographical basis, by country, and traditionally that has been quite easy to control, handing out leaflets in a specific geography. Now with the Internet, if you put something online it can be accessed from all sorts of different parts of the world and that can cause issues. However, I don’t think those problems are that major. If you think it through, it’s about how you are aiming and targeting that activity and if you’re aiming at UK patients and filter websites in the UK then it’s very easy to control, or at least easier than some companies worry about.
HM – How are pharmaceutical companies using social networks?
FJ – Pharmaceutical companies are using Twitter for corporate activities such as job seeking and as a tool to get press releases out to journalists. But I’ve also seen quite clever stuff going on where pharmaceutical companies seem to be using it for stock alerts or any stock issues they may have or when things come back into stock. Pharmaceutical companies are also using Facebook for public facing disease awareness. One of the things about Facebook is that in the US it’s okay to do direct consumer advertising, so there’s been a greater up take and companies are actually using it for promotional activities to patients. But, of course, in Europe it’s not being used for product promotion to patients, its only being used for disease awareness.
HM – Patient’s forums, self-management apps and other Health 2.0 tools generate a huge amount of data, how are pharmaceutical companies using this data?
FJ – I don’t think it is being used that much considering the potential. But an area I think it is being used is in clinical research. This is slightly different because it’s with a standard type of electrical record, so a GP surgery or in a hospital record. But I saw a clinical trial being run using electronic health records and I can easily see that moving on, for example: looking at people capturing their own data, perhaps glucose measurements or blood pressures. I’m not seeing them doing it at the moment but I think there’s that potential there for the future.
The other area I can see it being used is for recruitment – finding patients who are experts in certain conditions. They are really key to transforming healthcare in the future. Inviting those patients in to represent the patients groups or work with pharmaceuticals to improve services in the long term.
HM – In the future, if for example patients are able to manage their own healthcare through personal tracking and digital health records, what part would the pharmaceutical industry play in this?
FJ – I would probably argue that it’s not in the future. I think it’s happening now. I think patients are able to manage their healthcare through tracking and digital records.
HM – In an ideal world we would have digital patient records where all our information is stored in one place, from tracking our fitness to our maternity records. What would this mean to pharmaceutical companies?
FJ –Digital patient records completely make sense. If you’ve ever carried your own records, then its really odd when you don’t have access to them. My wife and I have three kids and when each time she has been pregnant she has carried her own pre-natal records, she has been in control. It makes sense, because if we go down to Cornwall she takes her records and if she needed to go into hospital there they have everything they need. That concept applies to everything across healthcare. Obviously you don’t want to have it in the back of your car but having them online clearly makes sense.
And data, when used appropriately, I’m not talking about free access for everybody, but appropriate access for responsible researchers could be incredible for an inside perspective. This idea of real world data and doing real world clinical trials, where you can actually look at how real world patients take your medicines and then look at the issues they’re having or the number of episodes of care they have. Would be amazing. It’s enormously important, not just to the pharmaceutical industry but also to medicine and healthcare as a whole.
HM – What technologies are pharmaceutical companies using to collaborate with health professionals? Can you give some examples?
FJ – It’s just early days, and obviously digital is relatively new to the world, but it’s really transforming healthcare now and the pharmaceutical industries are part of that and therefore are being transformed too.
You’re beginning to see them use some simple stuff like trying to get information out there by using Facebook and apps to interact with patients and disease awareness. It’s doing traditional activities online, giving the sales force ipads as they go and see doctors. Sales forces are also doing virtual video conferencing calls.
A lot of the experts and thought-leaders are saying they’re trying to get people to do things differently. That doesn’t mean totally ripping up what they have been doing for years and putting it in the bin. It means adjusting what you do, understanding digital and adjusting. So, for example, you don’t just put a flat PDF type manual on your ipad, you need to make it interactive, high quality, with video content and give it to the doctor so the doctor can use it.
Then you can look at other areas where actually there is incredible communication potential. To connect globally is really important because it is a global industry. So the ability to collaborate with people around the world all the time, with all sorts of different expertise (whether they are top industry leaders or patients who have real on the ground experience of a product), is critical to pharmaceutical companies to develop and improve improve their own medicines.
HM – For entrepreneurs, how can they tap into the pharmaceutical industry? What should be its role in promoting the Health 2.0 movement?
FJ – The industry is actually one of the most innovative industries and you can forget that when you’re working with the marketing end of it. Sometimes the marketing departments are quite traditional and tend to stick with the same ways they do things. But the pharmaceutical industry as a whole is an incredibly innovative industry. You only have to look at medicine over the last fifty years to see how much incredible innovation has been done. What I’d like to see is that kind of innovation, that kind of innovative spirit and entrepreneurial spirit being moved to the commercial and scientific end of the business where you need to start seeing much more innovative ways of enhancing the medicines.
From a Health 2.0 perspective it’s really important because it’s so difficult, this is a huge industry, its B2B, its not business to consumer which means that it’s a very difficult industry to get in to and it’s very difficult to work within it. So, having something like Health 2.0 to bring people together to share and connect, I think is really important. That’s why I am a supporter of it.
HM – Finally, Health 2.0 Europe is an important showcase of cutting edge innovation, which is transforming healthcare. What are you hoping to see at the three-day event?
FJ – One of the big things I think Health 2.0 brings is a really good connection with the US and at the moment I can’t afford to go to the US, so I look to Health 2.0 to bring some of that expertise.
It’s the same with innovation and healthcare, I think the US is leading many of these areas, so to have that expertise come over to Europe is really important for us. But also remembering that Europe has its own innovative and cutting edge areas and I’d like to see them as well. There are some really brilliant stuff going on.
Find out more about Health 2.0 Europe here.
Harriet Messenger is a journalist at ZPB Associates.