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First, a provocative thought, just to get you in the mood:

Right?

Anyway, last week, I attended the 6th annual Digital Pharma East conference, put on by the fine folks at ExLPharma.

I think I’ve been to all of them – maybe I missed one? – but it’s pretty interesting to reflect back on what the event looked like a few short years ago. In the earliest years, I decided to live-blog the event, which was unheard-of in the industry. Would my laptop and I get arrested for real-time pharma updates?? Now, just about everyone has a tablet or laptop, and we’re increasingly living this digitally-connected reality that once we were only talking about.

Refreshingly, we finally seem to be past yammering over our Phase 1 Problems (P1P) – whether or not we even should participate in social media; what to do about off-label discussions; can (or should) we even be on Twitter; etc. This year, discussions were more focused on practical doing, and less on regulatory hand-wringing. That’s refreshing.

The event was attended by over 600+ folks – a pretty stellar attendance number – and it ran over 4 days. The first day was pre-event workshops; the next 2 days were the main event; and Thursday was Mobile Day. Chairing the event were two pharma digital veterans, Batman and Robin Shwen Gwee and Marc Monseau (each formerly worked inside pharma companies, both now on the agency side).

I like to give high-level summaries of events like this, so here is my string of thoughts and observations:

1. Digital Pharma East was well-planned and well-run. Bryon, Jayson, Jason, Warren, and the whole team did a solid job organizing, and were constantly circulating to make sure things stayed on track. Kudos to the ExL Pharma group.

Random thought: good food really does help the mood at an event.

2. The exhibit hall was packed with some pretty interesting vendor/providers – and I’m pleased to observe that we’re finally beginning to move from first-generation iPad apps (the one-off approach) to more robust system-level platforms. I have some definite opinions about this, and for pharma/biotech/device companies who are looking to do a digital technology audit and roadmap, I can help you with recommendations (commercial plug for my client-vendor matchmaking service).

Random thought: Having the meals and social events in the exhibit hall is smart. Also, if you’re going to give out water bottles, make really cool ones, like Klick Health did! —>

3. The social media backchannel (Twitter) was quite active during the entire event, with good participation from folks who were not physically present. However, live audience participation was somewhat muted, and this is a matter of concern – part of it, I suspect, was due to the lighting (audience in darkness), but also, we’re simply not effectively incorporating audience interaction strategies. Passive listening joined to a few minutes of Q&A at the end of a talk is so 2005. We need to do better here.

Random thought: Do not put unreadable type on your slides and expect the audience to be OK with it. That transgression lights up the Twitterstream!

4. Sometimes panel discussions can be a bore, but we did have some good ones. Tuesday’s Driving Innovation panel, led by Paul Ivans joined by Peter Justason (Purdue), Joan Mikardos (Sanofi), Melissa Bojorquez (B-I), Joyce Ercolino (CSL Behring), Alison Woo (BMS), and Patricia Choumitsky (UCB) was lively and informative.

Random thought: Along with industry expertise, it’s always nice to have a sprinkling of speakers from outside the industry at any event. New perspectives are generally quite helpful!

5. For me, and I believe for many attendees, the two most striking talks were back-to-back on Wednesday – Sinan Aral took us to school on the topic of Social Networks, Viral Hype and Big Data – Distinguishing Hope from Hype with Science. This was followed by the personable and entertaining James Musick of Genentech with a session on Social Engagement & Brands, talking about a unique digital/social experiment they did exposing people to genetics. Great stuff.

Random thought: It’s always a good idea to have some presenters who know how to have a bit of fun, especially if accompanied with an accent – like John Pugh of Boehringer!

6. Mobile Day was a reinforcement of a message that still seems to be very slowly sinking in – mobile is the new normal, and we are woefully behind as an industry even in the most basic stuff like having mobile-ready public-facing websites. This is truly the low-hanging fruit for digital development in pharma. We had sessions underscoring the tensions between centralized site development (to deal with multiple mobile platforms) vs. platform-specific creativity, and the main message here is that all of these details are still quite in flux. But mobile/smartphones/tablets are going to predominate, and it was refreshing to hear at least one speaker advocate for the approach of developing for mobile FIRST, then worrying about a “desktop” version. In my opinion, that’s the only approach that makes any sense if we understand current trends correctly.

Random thought: Presenting to doctors via iPad is not necessarily intuitive – training is necessary (this is also true of facilitating virtual classrooms, etc. – don’t assume that the same skills carry over!)

7. I did lead one magical session/discussion on The Future of Digital/Social/Pharma/Life, encouraging people to skate to where the puck is going when it comes to our new world of People (24/7 human connectivity), Pockets (mobile), and Pipes (data streams from devices and information stores). I think that many are still not aware that networks of things, information, and people are rapidly converging; and that forces of disintermediation/new-intermediation are changing our culture wholesale in ways that will totally re-shape business.

Random thought: Photoshop can make any presenter into a plasma-tossing superhero!

Reconnecting with old long-standing friends (like Wendy Blackburn, Kerri Sparling, John Mack (OK, he’s old), Chris Truelove, Zoe Dunn, Carly Kuper, and Jay Bryant is always a highlight of this conference; as is the opportunity to make new connections. I always look forward to this event and may even venture out to the West Coast next year for Digital Pharma West. Philadelphia is OK and all, but San Francisco + Digital stuff? C’mon…

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Despising the Big D

Today, I saw one of my sons blithely dipping a chip into salsa, happily munching away while multi-tasking at something else – not a care in the world about his food.

It brought a smile to my face – but there was a touch of sadness with it.

You see, my work has brought me into contact with a number of PWDs (People With Diabetes) who are active on-line. And as I’ve read their blogs and tweets, talked to a number of them personally, and done my research, I’ve come to the same conclusion that they all have.

Diabetes sucks.

I don’t suffer from diabetes, nor does anyone in my extended family. But as I see how diabetes can essentially take over one’s life – the incessant measuring, and managing, and planning, and adjusting, all because a pancreas goes out on permanent strike (Type 1) and blood sugar levels run riot – it’s obvious that for many, diabetes is a 24/7 companion. Like having been at the altar in a shotgun wedding, where you never chose to say “I do.”

Instead, diabetes said, “You will. Deal with me.”

Some of the diabetes bloggers have kindly educated me about the disease and helped me understand – as much as is possible – what a crazy and wearying ride it is every day, just to stay on top of it. The endlessness of it. The disease guilt. The survivors’ guilt. The constant fear of the future as diabetes takes its ongoing toll on health. The fear about having children. The elusive cure which never seems to get closer.

The supplies, the equipment, the insulin, the hassles with insurance. The inability, ever, to just sit down and enjoy a meal without thinking about carbs and sugars and highs and lows and bolused insulin and “will people despise me if I eat this cupcake?”

Yes, add in the lack of understanding from society at large.

I honestly don’t know how some of these friends – including parents with children who have this condition – get through the day. I can’t imagine there’s ever 20 minutes that goes by without having to think about something diabetes-related.

Tonight, we will go to a dinner with some other families, and I won’t have to think about what I’m eating, or what my blood sugar level is – I am blessed beyond measure to have a pancreas that just works. But for thousands, that is not the case and it never will be.  PWDs are blessed with amazing technology and medicines that help them live. And I’m thankful to have a chance to get to know these folks. Nonetheless, this much is abundantly clear.

Diabetes sucks.

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There’s been a lot of talk in the past year about how we need to re-think the role and profile of the pharmaceutical/biotech sales rep.

This dialogue needs to happen, given the trends that are rapidly shrinking the size of sales forces. Of course, when you poll the doctors, they are going to focus on the need for greater depth of clinical knowledge. That’s certainly important. And, if you talk to the rest of the staff, then knowledge of health plans and administrative/business issues rise to the surface. As you’d expect.

But now, let’s take a look at it from the shoes of the pharmaceutical company – the executives and managers responsible for outreach to the medical community. What does the new new rep need to look like with their perspective in mind?

The old model had much to do with reach and frequencygetting the message out. Looking ahead, I think it’s going to require a mentality much more focused on opportunity and strategy – that is, approaching one’s job as a business, and intelligently using available information to maximize proper patient use of the most appropriate therapy.

Often this includes training in something like business acumen, but perhaps a more helpful description of the overall mindset would be something along the lines of business opportunism - savviness/insight joined to creative initiative and enterprising strategy (including pulling in other resources) to accomplish the desired business end. And while one means may be messaging with reach and frequency in mind, that is certainly NOT the end!

A business opportunist would look at the accounts in a territory with a thoughtful finger on the pulse of prescribing volume AND current prescribing habits AND treatment practices AND health plan coverage variations AND patient flow AND other important variables, and be empowered to ask this question: “Where is the greatest potential impact for the most (appropriate) patients?” This is a very different mindset than, “How can I make my call numbers this week?”

Better clinical training instead of meal-and-message-delivery services? Absolutely. Healthcare and office process knowledge? Certainly. But perhaps it’s time to re-think the whole sales rep model, and start deploying business opportunists. I’m thinking advanced training for reps who have been in the field for a year or two should be geared more toward strategic business skills. What do you think?

(Image credit)

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For years, I’ve advocated that healthcare companies gain a clear picture of the opportunities (and potential problems) presented by social networks. It’s a somewhat complicated and very fast-moving world – how does a pharmaceutical company, or a healthcare agency, get started on the right foot?

Here are three key perspectives. Start here!

1. Start small, but with a strategic, long-term plan. Don’t be “that guy”!

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2. Don’t treat social media as its own topic. It is part of a holistic business strategy.

Social Media is not a Strategy

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3. Realize that you’re not dealing with an isolated trend, or a marketing fad. Digitally-fueled networked communications is The New Normal.

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There are many particulars to learn about how social networks are impacting the healthcare space, but the most important thing you can possibly do is begin with the correct perspectives. When you understand how and why the landscape is being re-shaped by networked communications, then all the details about tools and platforms begin to line up.

One perspective to bear in mind – the usage of social networks is exploding. Check out this real-time updating table to see! And – what percentage of pharma professionals use/plan to use social media in 2011? Answer here.

Of course, everyone is (or should be) interested in current examples of how social media is used in healthcare. The absolute best resource for this is at Jonathan Richman’s Dose of Digital blog – the Pharma and Healthcare Social Media Wiki. Explore!

Roche is a leader in articulating and publishing common sense social media guidelines for its employees.

PLUS – here are some blog posts providing helpful analysis:

Social Media is NOT for Advertising Pharma Brands – Jon Richman

The Beginner’s Guide to Pharma Social Media – Jon Richman

10 Things I’d Like to Start Hearing about Pharma Social Media – Jon Richman

The Rise of the ePatient – Steve Woodruff

But Are We Communicating? – Steve Woodruff

Oh – and about those reportable adverse events

Want more? OK – Just scroll through my Impactiviti SocialRx page.

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I’m on the Amtrak Acela, enjoying a train ride with Manny Hernandez and Kerri Sparling (a couple of well-known diabetes bloggers). I’ve been determined to know more about this increasingly prevalent disease, and given that this weekend includes World Diabetes Day, I thought I’d conduct an in-train interview with these two friends about living with diabetes. So here, they speak from the heart to the rest of us who may be quite unaware of what this disease is all about.

SW: Kerri, you were diagnosed with diabetes at about age 6. Tell me how people begin to discover that there’s a problem, leading to a diagnosis of diabetes.

KS: There’s more than one type of diabetes. I was diagnosed early on with Type 1 diabetes, which means that my pancreas basically stopped producing insulin. For me, the first indicator was onset of bed-wetting in first grade, which can be a symptom of high blood sugar. A couple of months later, a urine test confirmed that I had Type 1 diabetes.

SW: Why would someone’s pancreas stop producing insulin?

KS: It’s an auto-immune disease, and the causes are still a mystery. For me, the doctors figured there was probably some hidden genetic predisposition, triggered by a virus.

SW: Was your experience similar, Manny?

MH: Actually, no. Sometimes there’s a much longer delayed fuse on the onset, so I didn’t have symptoms and wasn’t diagnosed until I was an adult. My type of diabetes is referred to as LADA – Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults. This is often misdiagnosed as Type 2 diabetes because of the later onset, when in fact it’s a form of Type 1 (we sometimes refer to it as Type 1.5).

SW: So in your case, and for many other people, there’s not someone “at fault” – this disease was not caused by bad parenting or too many lollipops…

KS: Absolutely not! Type 1 diabetes is not my fault, my parent’s fault, or anyone else’s fault. It’s a disease that I have to deal with and manage, but there’s no-one to blame.

SW: But do you still feel a sense that people, out of ignorance, try to assign blame for your diabetes?

KS: Yes, and that’s because there’s a lack of awareness about the causes of diabetes, and the various types of diabetes. Part of managing diabetes is managing the disease, and part of it, quite frankly, is managing misconceptions.

SW: In the simplest terms, what are the major differences between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes?

MH: In Type 1, you have a malfunctioning pancreas, which no longer produces insulin. In Type 2, the body develops resistance to insulin – your body still produces it, but insulin is not able to do its job properly. Both are called diabetes, but the treatments and management strategies can be quite different.

SW: You’ve both explained to me the day-to-day, hour-by-hour management of diabetes, including a mix of regular insulin injections (or use of high-tech devices to pump insulin into your system); monitors; test strips, etc. There’s really no relief, no let-up, from keeping blood sugar levels under control, is there?

MH: No. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to all sorts of additional health problems, so it’s vital to try to maintain consistent control. Perfect control is impossible, but good disease management is increasingly possible with the right tools and approaches. And even then, diabetes sometimes decides to do wacky things.

SW: If you could get one message across to those of us that don’t experience this disease, what would it be?

KS: That even if we don’t look sick, we still deserve a cure. Managing diabetes is a marathon, with the constant threat of health complications at every step. We have to try to do the best we can with a uncooperative pancreas, and we hope that someday we can move from unceasing measurement and management to a cessation of the disease.

MH: I would advise people to get connected – there is a very active and supportive diabetes on-line community (DOC) that can become a very valuable source of help and information – be sure to share what you’re learning with your physician.

SW: I have a lot to learn. At least I understand that I’m not going to “catch” diabetes from a doorknob or anything, right?

KS: You realize that if you keep hanging out with us your pancreas will stop working… :>}

SW: Ummmm…hey, pardon me while I head over to the Club Car…!

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Go Big Blue!

Go ahead – watch this video and a child with diabetes gets a week worth of life-saving insulin:

From the fine folks at Diabetes Hands Foundation, with sponsorship by Roche Diabetes Care. Every view counts – please pass it along via Twitter and Facebook!

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This week, I enjoyed the opportunity to gather with a large number of professional colleagues at eXL Pharma’s 4th Annual Digital Pharma East conference.

I’ve attended this conference 3 or 4 times and it gets better every year. This year was no exception. The eXL team (Bryon Main, Jason Youner, Jayson Mercado, and others) did a great job organizing a multi-faceted event that contained far more variety than most of the ePharma conferences I’ve attended.

Instead of giving a recap of content (ably being done by several others – here, here, here, here, here, here, and including this very cool video essay by DoctorAnonymous, Mike Sevilla!), I’m going to list out some of my high-level impressions and perspectives as a veteran conference correspondent and industry networker.

1. It was great to have participation from savvy ePatients and ePhysicians. I can’t underscore enough how much it matters for pharma professionals to be exposed to “customers” on the ground, especially those emerging into thought leadership. Not only did I get to renew ties (and meet for the first time) some of my ePatient friends, but I was also privilege to have long discussions with Mike Sevilla (DoctorAnonymous online) and Bryan Vartabedian (Doctor_V online). Bryan ably served as co-host along with Shwen Gwee, the social media guru at Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

2. Mobile is huge. And getting huger. If you’re not thinking about the intersection of communications and mobile devices, then you’re trying to make a faster horse-and-buggy while cars whiz by.

3. We’re finally moving past the first few years of very limited social media case studies into a variety of interesting approaches and efforts. Frankly, the ePharma conference circuit was getting a bit wearisome as industry struggled with the very basics, but now the on-line efforts are maturing, and increasingly being tied into off-line (integrated) efforts (Applause from audience). The best part is that these efforts will only increase in number and creativity.

4. Including speakers who are not embedded in the industry is very smart. We enjoyed hearing from Doc Searls (one of the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto), Bob Garfield (Advertising Age columnist), and futurist Ian Morrison. Getting high-level perspectives about cultural and technological trends definitely stirs up more creative thinking and discussion. As we all know, pharma can be very insular, and we need fresh infusions from the outside to keep us from being boxed in by our own self-made ruts.

5. There is no substitute for face-to-face networking. Attaching names to faces to feelings to ideas to potential collaboration…you cannot replace human networking with technology. This came up several times in talks as well, about the potential for pharma to be overly enamored with e-solutions such that human contact with physicians gets lost. And for me, it was a welcome chance to rub shoulders with old and new friends like Shwen Gwee (credit for photo above), John Mack, Eileen O’Brien, Gilles Frydman, Phil Baumann, Daphne Swancutt, Bruce Grant, Faruk Capan, Jess Seilheimer, Mike Myers, Ellen Hoenig, Jeff Greene, Len Starnes, Christiane Truelove, Cheryl Ann Borne, Hannah McDonald, Allison Blass, Mark Senak, Gigi Peterkin, DJ Edgerton, Cynthia North, Zoe Dunn, Kelly Dane, Chris Campbell, Quang Pham, Lance Hill, Carly Kuper, Alex Butler (who, for being an industry pioneer, won the Hawaiian shirt off of John Mack’s back!) and many others – these are the people that are shaping the future of pharma digital. And many have become good friends, both on- and off-line!

6. Having tracks and unconference sessions is a really good idea. The problem, of course, with tracks is that you want to be in more than one session at a time – but I think it’s great for drawing a more diverse set of attendees, and open discussions during unconference sessions can be very lively and invigorating (note: successful unconference sessions rely on a skillful moderator who knows how to draw others out, and at least a few people who don’t mind sharing opinions and being a bit provocative!)

Three years ago, live-tweeting a pharma conference was brand new territory. Now it’s becoming common practice. If you want dig deeper into the content, quotes, impressions, and resources shared, do a Twitter search under the hashtag #digpharm. This is also a great way to discover some of the most active folks involved in pharma social networking.

There is much more that could be said, but I can’t close without thanking the many sponsors who helped make the event possible, especially PixelsandPills, HealthCentral, and HealthEd, who sponsored social events in the evening.

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