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Archive for the ‘epharma’ Category

If you’ve followed my writing and speaking over the years, you know I’ve been a big proponent of social media as a vehicle for communications, network-building, and new business approaches. And I absolutely believe – more than ever – in the power and utility of digital networked communications

I was among the first in the pharma universe to begin blogging and tweeting pharma/healthcare topics. The first time I used Twitter at an industry conference, I wondered if I might be discovered and tossed out!

In fact, I even put together the first published list of pharma folks and companies active in social media – which, at the time, was a pretty small group! That number has since grown considerably, which is a very good thing.

As the industry has evolved, however, I can’t help but ask the question – is it time to give up on the idea of commercial prescription pharma interactively participating in the open, public social media space using current platforms? (please note the careful choice of words before having a knee-jerk reaction).

I’m not giving an answer – I’m asking a question. Here are the streams of thought feeding into this inquiry:

1. The FDA has shown zero readiness to give guidance about the use of on-line media in pharma communications. They are ready, however, to send warning letters about perceived violations in an ad-hoc fashion. This seriously inhibits pharma companies from getting involved. Regulatory fear does not go along well with open, public discussion.

2. The nature of current social media approaches and tools demands real-time interactive response and dialogue, out in the wilds of digital space. Pharma does not and cannot communicate that way.

  • Facebook demands interactivity and informal 2-way communication. Pharma companies are forced to come up with all kinds of work-arounds to make Facebook something other than it is, in order to participate. It’s like trying to enter a canoe into a speedboat race.
  • Twitter demands short bursts of communication. Pharma communications (prescription brands) demand fair balance, context, long explanation, disclaimers, and all kinds of monitoring/reporting. Would a congressman reading a speech from a teleprompter fit nicely at a cocktail party?
  • LinkedIn is all about the individual professional. Nice platform for recruiting, even in pharma. But my experience with pharma folks (I have years of it) on LinkedIn is that interactivity is almost nil. Pharma professionals live and work in an atmosphere of non-openness. You can sow seed on a gravel driveway, but don’t expect much of a harvest.
  • YouTube is one place where pharma companies can participate on a social platform, as long as you strip it down to, essentially, one-way broadcast and storytelling. It’s not social, but it is media.

3. Pharma companies tend to rotate commercial professionals (sales, training, marketing, etc.) through their job roles every 1-3 years. This means a constant default to short-term thinking. However, successful involvement in public social platforms demands long-term commitment and readiness to innovate. As soon as a little bit of expertise begins to accumulate, it’s time to move on to the next rung up the ladder (personally, I think that this, and the bondage of short-term quarterly profit reporting, are the two biggest hidden killers of pharma companies making true inroads in social networking).

4. Social media is moving rapidly to point-to-point on-demand mobile communications (including real-time UGC of all sorts, location data, commerce, and fragmented data streams). Pharma is all about centralized, one-way, controlled communications. Black, meet white.

We could go on, but the point is this: Public, interactive, real-time social media platforms and commercial pharma communications simply don’t mesh well. At all. And I don’t see that changing any time soon. Stuff you can easily say about other industries really isn’t going to translate well to pharma (as much as I like Chris Brogan, he’s out of his league on this post).

Is that a death knell for social media usage across all areas of pharma? Not at all. Non-branded communications can occur on existing public platforms, albeit often with a good dose of restrictions and care. Non-public networks (private communities) are a fruitful area of valuable involvement. Private, internal social networks (Yammer and the like) are potentially hugely useful apps for digital networked communications. One-way storytelling, while not fully social, can still add value, even in the public sphere (if done very carefully). Mobile apps that provide information or services are great – though again, they are using social-ish platforms in a less-than-fully-social fashion.

Also, the maturation of a platform like Google Plus could lead to more controlled communications to distinct, defined groups – and that is where the future could well be brighter.

Commercial, prescription pharma communications happen within thickly-walled gardens. The open, public social web is anything but that – and it’s not going to change for the pharma industry. Current platforms make it very difficult to marry the two. The future may well lie in walled social gardens, but existing approaches are still maturing through the wild west stage. Maybe we should expend less concern about “getting on Facebook” or Twitter, and architecting a social strategy that fits the industry – rather than trying to fit this square industry peg into a round, shape-shifting hole.

What do you think? Agree or disagree? Add your comment!

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I really probably shouldn’t write, or publish, this post.

You’re not supposed to write stuff up when you’re really infuriated.

I’m going to publish it anyway.

Today, at the ePharma Summit conference, we had the much-anticipated talk by Thomas Abrams, Director of DDMAC/FDA. Tom seems like a nice enough guy and this rant isn’t about him personally. We’d probably enjoy a nice talk over a Samuel Adams Winter Ale. It’s about the monstrosity we were subjected to – an overview of the no-decision-making process of this watchdog of American health, the FDA.

If you’re trying to keep up with social media, it’s like racing with speed skaters. What we were subjected to, for 45 minutes, was a description of a Zamboni. Now with bigger brakes!

DDMAC has ostensibly been on the verge, after many months of deep ponderings, of giving some BASIC guidance to the pharma industry about the use of social media in public communications. Turns out nothing of the sort is imminent. In fact, after today’s overview, I’ve sketched out what I believe must be the (simplified) version of the FDA no-decision-making process:

I am now convinced that the industry cannot count on helpful, pro-active, useful, timely guidance from DDMAC. If I’m not mistaken, FDA never even came out with guidance about the web 1.0 Internet. And now our digitally-networked world is evolving even faster (ironically, FDA is making pretty good use of social media tools – for themselves). Social media does not move at a glacial pace – it’s a sprint. Whatever comes out of this mill in 10 years or so will be about as helpful as guidance about the proper use of a FAX machine.

I’m sure there are some very fine people in the FDA, and when abstracted from the bureaucratic tangle that now engulfs what they do in relation to pharma, there are some noble goals about protecting patient health, etc., etc. But when the only deliverable is a process of considering a process to arrive at a decision-making process about reviewing possible preliminary guidance that may or may not be relevant by the time it sees the light of day, well, I’m sorry, but that has nothing to do with human health. It does, however, have everything to do with opportunity cost – the years and man-hours wasted only hold back the ability of industry and patients to get at useful ways to communicate. That’s what makes me so frustrated. The very folks charged with making sure that the right folks get the right message about the right medicines are prescribing beta-blockers when we need eyeglasses.

More research is not a result. It’s an excuse.

Now, let me temper my rant with this fact: short-sighted dolts in the pharma industry who continue to violate pretty straightforward practices about on-label and accurate marketing are bringing all this on themselves. When will we get more courageous leadership in the pharma industry that sees beyond next quarter’s numbers; that values ethics and integrity above maximized profit? When will we see the Golden Rule instead of the Gold-in Rule? I’m all for fair competition, sales, and profit – this is a business marketplace. And a good number of the folks within pharma are seeking to do things right (I know and work with many of them). But the regulatory tangle we are subjected to today is, at least in part, because of jerks who incentivize jerks to cheat the system.

People inside pharma companies cannot speak this bluntly in a public setting, but I’m an outside voice. I have a mind and a conscience and (hopefully) a few remaining shreds of common sense, and it’s time to just tell it like it is. This industry is in serious need of culture change. And so, evidently, is its watchdog. But maybe that’s a premature conclusion. It needs further study. I’d better hold a public hearing and bring in some experts for more advice…and please, just FAX in your comments.

I’ll post them on my Zamboni for public comment.

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UPDATE: forgot about this year-end spoof I did – now it looks downright prophetic!

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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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This week, I am attending the 2nd Annual ePatient Connections conference in Philadelphia. Last year’s inaugural event was a milestone for me – it brought me into contact with patients in a new way, people who live with medical conditions and who are the ultimate “customers” for the medicines produced by pharma companies.

I have to admit that we who work in and around the industry have stayed far too long in our little bubble. It’s very easy to think far too much of efficacy stats, market share, regulatory concerns, marketing messages….and utterly forget about the people who are on the receiving end. Some of whom remain alive today because of these meds.

In recent days, I’ve heard some skepticism about the rise of the ePatient, and I understand it. Have things REALLY changed THAT much in the average patient-doctor interaction? Probably not – but it’s not averages we should be thinking about. It’s the broader trends that make this ePatient revolution a reality.

In short:

– since doctors have less and less time to get real in-depth with each individual, patients and their caregivers MUST do more legwork on their own;

– an amazing wealth of medical information (some good, some bad) is now available to anyone with a computer and internet access;

– patient communities are springing up all over via social networks, where peer-to-peer care and information-sharing is occurring outside of any “official” medical boundaries;

– the older population, which is the biggest demographic for using prescription drugs, is also a very rapidly-growing demographic in the adoption of social networking.

This blog post (including brief video and SlideShare), called The New Normal, explains more about these trends shaping the industry. Suffice it to say that I don’t think anyone in our industry should have their head in the sand about empowered patients. It’s not a fad. It’s an inevitability.

If you wish to follow the Twitter stream from the conference (there will be many reporting “live” via social media Tues and Wed), you can use this link: ePatCon TweetChat.

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TODAY: A Rant

Instead of the usual digest of news items, today, a long-overdue rant, triggered by this blog post by Rich Meyer. The phrase I’m going to key in on:
    You can’t rotate people into an eMarketing role and expect them to develop cutting edge digital strategies because by the time they learn it’s already changing.

For years, I’ve seen how pharma companies “rotate” people through both marketing and training, and the deleterious effects this has on both disciplines.

Sure, I understand the rationale from the talent development side. But Training and Marketing are disciplines. They require long-term thinking, long-term commitment, and acquisition of skills both broad and deep.

Having worked extensively on both the eLearning and eMarketing side of the equation over many years,  one of the most difficult barriers I’ve faced to adoption of new technologies is this “18-months-and-I’m-on-to-my-next-job” mentality. How can anyone put in place a long-term plan that will do the company and its audiences the most good, when the premium is placed on short-term performance?

As I have labored, with others, to try to inject a long-term perspective into the thinking of pharma about social media, this is one of the biggest roadblocks. Effective use of social networking should be viewed with a 3-5 year horizon. You can build a sand castle in a day. But what we need is long-term architects.

And don’t get me started on the pervasive ill-effects of reporting quarterly (short-term) numbers to Wall Street.

Short-term thinking is one of the banes of business these days. It gives us companies like Enron. What we need is some courageous leadership that wants to do what’s right, not just what’s expedient or expected.

Rant over.

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JUST FOR FUN

How to Demolish a Boeing plane. Fun time-lapse video of plane getting…well, demolished!

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TODAY’S NEWS

AstraZeneca still waiting for the upside of MedImmune acquisition.

Pfizer: More Lipitor, fewer heart complications – A reanalysis of research data found a high dose of popular cholesterol pill Lipitor lowers risk of heart attack and stroke in some patients with both heart disease and kidney disease, the drug’s maker said Mondaymore

Fred Hassan heads to Bausch & Lomb.

Novartis‘ Tekturna post-heart attack: Not a good idea. “Given these results, we are not currently recommending the use of this agent in addition to other inhibitors of the renin-angiotensin system in this specific patient population.”

Access to docs flat, but appointments on the rise.

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JUST FOR FUN

Human, squirrel, or anvil? A great Dilbert cartoon today!

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From Sally ChurchOnline video viewing accelerates – where is Pharma? Useful stats and a good question. And from the recent ePharma Summit – who is doing it best so far? (from Kevin Nalty and Clare O’Brien). PLUS – a free e-book, just made available by Kru Research Using YouTube for e-Patient Communications.

What is South by Social Health (SWSH)? A one-day event this spring – Fabio Gratton explains.

Wendy Blackburn thinks that Pharma eMarketing is (finally) Coming of Age.

How to Take Advantage of Social Media in Highly Regulated Environments.

Jon Richman asks on his Dose of Digital Blog – should you be involved in on-line monitoring?

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Now, I have a question. Many pharma companies shy away from eMarketing/Social Media involvement and investments because of perceived risks. But now think about the drug development pipeline process – especially an example like this one. Can anyone REALLY argue that pharma doesn’t make long-term, chancy investments in hope of a possible but uncertain payoff in the future? And I must say – getting involved in on-line networking is a whole lot less risky, less costly, with much higher potential payoff, than many of these speculative pipeline ventures…

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