Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

I was in downtown Philadelphia earlier this week for the inaugural ePatient Connection 2009 conference, a first-time event by the relatively new Kru Research (headed up by Kevin Kruse). I’ve known Kevin for years through our mutual work in pharma training/eLearning, but this was his first venture into organizing a conference.

KruseKimballCount me impressed.

Unlike last week’s Digital Pharma conference, which took encouraging steps in the direction of a more “unconference” format (review here), ePatient Connection had a more traditional, structured format. But unlike others – and I’ve been to MANY over the years – it was fresh, interesting, and basically…it rocked. The two days each flew by quickly.

I’m not going to attempt a content overview – that has actually been nicely done by Eric Brody here. And PharmaExec on-line gives a nice quick scan here, including some of the juicier quotes. Suffice it to say that the speakers were diverse, knowledgeable, and well-chosen. I’m saving my two thumbs up for the following:

thumbsupThis event was tight. By that, I mean it was run incredibly efficiently and smoothly. Sessions started on time, ended on time, did not drag, and the speakers were clearly prepped with directions to keep it focused and well-structured. The audio/visual setup was one of the best I’ve seen, even to the point of having a photographer going about the entire time taking a tremendous variety of pictures (immediately uploaded to Flickr). The Wi-Fi was strong. There were outlets/extension cords along one entire side. There was a Twitterscreen. Sessions were captured on video. The attendee goodie bag was one of the best ever, including several books, and even an iPod Touch! There were standard presentations, panels, interviews, open forums, 1-on-1 sessions, and even a Pecha Kucha (20 slides, each for 20 seconds) slot. Vendors had a chance to briefly show their wares up front, which is a great way to give them exposure without turning sessions into sales pitches. All in all, other conference organizers could learn a lot from this freshman endeavor. Kudos to Kru & crew for pulling this off.

thumbsupThis event was well-targeted. It’s way past time to start bringing together people from the pharma/device industry, the ePatient community, and other stakeholders in healthcare. Hearing from bloggers with medical conditions, and getting their perspectives (not only on stage, but actively throughout the conference on Twitter), was both inspiring and enlightening. Folks on the business side and on the consumer/patient/people side need to better understand one another, and this was a very helpful format to move the dialogue forward. The fact that we had a late entrant show up from FDA/DDMAC (Paul Loebach, a really nice guy) was a huge bonus.

I had the privilege of co-facilitating, with Jack Bilson and John Mack, two lunchtime discussions on Developing Guidelines for Social Media. Those sessions could have gone on for hours – very rich interaction and a high level of interest among the participants. But, of course, everything was running on time (I told you it was tight!), so we had to move along by 1:45 pm!

It does seem to me, after the last few weeks, that we really have turned the corner when it comes to use of Twitter in pharma/healthcare industry conferences, as there was an incredibly active and informative Tweetstream (hashtag: #ePatCon). Many, many people were “tuned in” to parts of this conference from around the globe, and participating virtually. And, of course, we enjoyed social occasions and a tweetup, where many of the pharma “early adopters” renewed friendships or met each other for the first time – always very rewarding.

This event was an exhausting and exciting pleasure to be a part of. Looking forward to the sophomore edition!


Pharma Social Media resources: SocialRx

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Some months back, Novartis Oncology released a somewhat innovative social media platform (CML Earth) targeting the global leukemia audience (CML stands for Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia). CML Earth is a way to connect with other patients, healthcare professionals, and groups.


I give it high marks for “coolness” – it’s a Flash-based application (eats lots of bandwidth, so it’ll work best in the more developed countries) with a global map that you can zoom in and out of and view in Satellite, Map, or Hybrid mode (if you’ve played with Google Earth, you’ll “get it” immediately).

The main purpose of the site is to connect people – from the patient perspective, to be able to tell your story, and to find others who are similarly afflicted.


Kudos are also given for both clarity and ease of use. The brief (~1 minute) Take a Tour video took an interesting approach – no narration, just well-crafted screen shots showing the flow of how people can communicate with each other. It left the feeling that the site is simple and approachable – just what an Intro should do. And as you register, the User Guidelines are very simple and streamlined. Not overloaded with legalese. Privacy notice and consent have all the required verbiage that only a lawyer could love, but it’s not utterly overwhelming.

Registration is very simple. You put in the basic demographic and contact information, and then you can choose (if you wish) to “Tell your Story.” This is a freeform text box which allows you to express what you’d like about your experience. Stories are to conform to guidelines and are reviewed/approved before posting. Apparently, in the early months of the app, the Tell your Story section had a bunch of drop-down boxes, with the end result that many of the stories currently on the site feel very stilted and non-engaging (although there was still a place for free-form text as well).

When you’ve registered, you can go to the global view, which is populated with a bunch of dots representing others who have registered. Hovering over a dot, you get a basic glance, and then can click on to see more of the profile and read that person’s story. You can also give a virtual Hug, Smile, or High-five to that individual. If enabled in the settings, individuals may also receive e-mail messages.

The section on Patient Groups is pretty bare bones – simple links to a small number of groups (by country) with basic contact info.

The platform does support multiple global languages.

I have mixed feelings about CML Earth. Putting on my Social Media Cheerleader hat, I applaud Novartis Oncology for the innovative and imaginative approach here. CML Earth is a mold-breaker, and it’s a neat use of technology, with very nice interface elements and an easy initial user experience. Every small step any pharma company takes to venture into the world of social networking is, on one level, a genuine victory. On the other hand, this site seems to me to lack depth or stickiness. There’s just not that much to do or find here, and I can’t imagine that it would create high levels of ongoing engagement. Like many of current generation of pharma social media efforts, it’s “a start.”

Fabio Gratton over at IgniteBlog also has a helpful review (sourced from Kru Research) of CML Earth, written a couple months back (also see this review, just published by Bunny Ellerin).

Let’s hope that we see more efforts like this, and perhaps en even richer CML Earth in the days to come. If you haven’t visited, it’s well worth taking a look.


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In the relentless pursuit of fun with technology business efficiency, I’ve recently put in place three new toys tools. Here are my off-the-cuff initial impressions:

1. Apple iPhone:

iphone-sm.jpgTired of a cell phone that wasn’t a great performer, and wanting to consolidate a number of functions (contacts, calendar, e-mail, music, etc.) into one device, I decided to shed the old technology garments and jump into a stylish new Apple iPhone.

I figured it was going to take a number of days to “figure it out” and bring the system up. Nope. In very little time, I had it activated, sync’ed up my iTunes music, connected to my Yahoo mail account, and easily explored many of the other functions of this very cool device.

First impression – where has the rest of the software design world been all this time? What a fabulous interface! As I have mentioned often to my clients, I am not at all easy to impress when it comes to interfaces – I’ve seen far too much user-hostile and non-intuitive design. The iPhone, however, is a delight to use – I was texting my 17-year old son in no time (and was he shocked when he found out I’d gotten an iPhone!) and my one concern – the flat-screen “virtual” keyboard – quickly became a non-issue when I began to use it. Sweet. Since I’m on the road a fair bit, this will make it easier to remain productive and in touch. Which leads me to…

grandcentral.jpg2. GrandCentral:

I now have a new “universal” phone number (973-947-7429) that reaches me wherever I am, courtesy of Google’s free GrandCentral service. My office line and mobile number still work, but this new number forwards calls to wherever I am – I just go on the website and tell it where to forward calls. There is also web-based voice mail and a bunch of other services. And, when/if I transition to different phone numbers or cell service (as I am doing with the iPhone), it won’t matter, because the one number can just be re-directed to the new phone. How cool is that?

3. And, speaking of new ways to do phone communications, welcome to ooVoo. I know, another silly-looking Web 2.0 name, but this is pretty slick – download the free ooVoo software, hook up a webcam, and you are making FREE video calls – no charge for phone or chat time. You can even set up multiple-person sessions.

I just began experimenting with ooVoo this morning, so I don’t have a full grasp of the potential business uses. But, like many of these new on-line collaborative tools, it’s very easy, very inexpensive, and powerful.
It doesn’t hurt that they’re fun as well!

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Perusing through the home page design of major pharma companies, today I arrived at Merck.com. First impression – visual overload! Lots of links and sections, not much white space, and the overall sense that it was going to be serious “work” to find what I needed here – or even to know what it is I need.


Of course, that’s a common problem with these big corporate sites, but the compulsion to toss everything into an up-front visual salad is, in my opinion, a fundamental mistake in interface design. Initial impression matters, and in the first few seconds, I, as a visitor, should somehow gain a connection to the company. Here, I just feel overwhelmed.

Merck does open up with a theme “Where patients come first”, which is actually better than some of the taglines that I’ve seen on other sites. However, there is a visual discrepancy that is just wrong – the most prominent graphic panel, top/center, has the headline “How patients come first at Merck” – but then the accompanying graphic is of healthcare professionals! If you’re going to talk about patients, reinforce that message with a visual focused on patients! (note: when you first come on the site, the panel is a little slide show making a few different points – reasonably effective, but the graphic above is where it “lands”)

As with the AstraZeneca site reviewed last time, this site is artificially constrained to accommodate least-common-denominator small-resolution screens. Sigh. The inevitable crowding effect, and the smallish font size, make the experience less pleasing.

Once you get past the home page and start navigating through the site, it’s pretty much big-pharma-info-overload-as-usual – tons of links, sections, and details, with navigation elements at the top, bottom, left, and right. That’s a lot of choices to make!

What distinguishes Merck? From this site, I simply don’t know. Yes, a website exists partially as in information repository. But, at the very top-level, it should immediately tell me about the company – make me feel something important. There should be a single, distinguishing message. I don’t see it here.

Prior website reviews:










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This week, it’s time to review AstraZeneca‘s home page, in my occasional forays into critiquing the websites of pharmaceutical companies. I don’t do exhaustive site reviews here; just high-level impressions of the home page and the overall navigation design.

When you type http://www.astrazeneca.com into your browser, you arrive at the home page of the AZ International site. Because they are a global company, this is a reasonable choice on the part of the company. It takes a sharp eye (far upper right corner) to find the spot where you’d navigate to the country-specific sites (they did place a fairly prominent link further down for US visitors).


The site design is decent – the use of colors and graphics is better than a lot of the pharma sites I’ve reviewed so far. The width of the site is artificially constrained for older computers, a choice that I hope fewer companies will make in the future. Consequently, the site feels crowded, with a lot of very small text. As with many “Big Pharma” sites, the page is very busy – there are so many categories of information that it can feel overwhelming. However, at least there is an eye-catching graphic front-and-center, with a brief tagline and a reasonably well-crafted corporate summary.

Moving over the U.S. home page, I immediately noticed that the “pedigree” of the site was clearly a derivative of the global site – again, a smart move. However, in this case, because (I assume) the United States user base has a larger percentage of modern computers, the width of the page is increased somewhat, making it feel less compressed than the International site. This site has more variety in the use of graphics, but shares the solid use of color schemes (blue in this case; purple for International).


Going into the sub-menus on the left, the information presented in the middle and on the right changes intelligently, and the overall pleasant graphical design themes continue. There’s a lot of “heavy” information that healthcare/pharma companies have to present, and AZ uses the best method (IMHO) – a prominent graphic with summary statement, followed by a minimum of overview text, followed by links to various other pieces of more detailed information. I never felt “lost” on this site.

In short, this is pretty good execution. Some of the best look/feel and use of color that I’ve seen so far, and a better-than-merely-functional navigation scheme. All of these huge companies must make trade-offs and compromises due to their diverse audiences (patients, healthcare practitioners, shareholders, regulators, lawyers, employees, multiple countries, etc.) and AZ has done a better job than most making a good impression.

Prior website reviews:









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You pretty much have to enjoy science and medicine to remain engaged in work in pharma world, and I do. So when I saw this title reviewed somewhere, I reserved it at the local library.

germs.jpgThe subtitle of Good Germs, Bad Germs is Health and Survival in a Bacterial World. And it’s a good read, if you enjoy biology and medical stuff. There are fascinating accounts of how the “war on germs” is waged – topics addressed include such themes as antibiotic overuse, resistance, native microflora (good bacteria in your body), historical treatment efforts, oversanitation, probiotics, etc. But beyond the mere topics, the value of the book is that it brings you on a journey into an invisible but pervasive part of your world that has continual impact – more, perhaps, than you’d imagined.

You’re not likely to pull this book out for a quick mind-distracting poolside read, but if you are fascinated by how these little microbes interact with your body every day, you might enjoy this volume. Some great learning here.

(just for fun, here’s an amusing little YouTube clip on germs…looks like it’s from the 60’s!)

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I will begin this book review with a confession – I have been negligent.

One of the co-authors of this book kindly forwarded me a copy months ago, and it sat on my “To Read” pile for far too long. A couple weeks back, I determined to read it. And a quick read it was.

This book follows along in the trail of such management/self-improvement/leadership books as “The One Minute Manager,” in that it uses an extended parable – a fictitious case study – to make its main points.

As is usually the case with such books, there is nothing new under the sun – only packaging of timeless truths. However, that is not to undermine the value of being reminded of these principles, because the fact is, we often know a lot more than we practice.

This little volume encourages the reader to win over and motivate co-workers through caring behaviors (which often precede caring feelings). The three step process is Win them Over, Blow them Away, and Keep them Revved. Some will look down their noses at these simple teachings, dismissing them as empty platitudes, but perhaps a reading of this recent Forbes article (on showing appreciation) will help reinforce the point. In my experience, the positive power of caring and appreciating colleagues and subordinates in the workplace is a make-or-break issue.

If you, as a manager, are experiencing a work environment that is dysfunctional, and you suspect that just maybe you may be part of the problem, this book can help point one way forward.


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Peter Rost sent me a copy of his new book, a novel, called Killer Drug. Dr. Rost had previously released a book called The Whistleblower (reviewed on this blog last year) about his experience blowing the whistle on questionable marketing practices during his tenure with Pharmacia and Pfizer.

Since the book just came out, I thought I’d read it quickly so it could receive an “accelerated review.”

I won’t give the plot away, but in brief, there are shenanigans going in the top echelons of a drug company, and the novel’s protagonist, Alex McGraw, ends up finding out the shady stuff and blows the whistle. People start disappearing. Human chess pieces move and counter-move, and some end up out of play. Oh, and one lady gets painted blue.

In many ways, it was a pretty decent read – some good thriller action, a few gory sequences, ruthless characters getting payback in kind, etc. For a first novel, not bad.killer-drug.jpg

I read a fair number of thrillers, and enjoy the craft of great writing, so there are clearly aspects of Killer Drug that reveal it as a rookie effort. Many of the characters are 2-dimensional; the good and bad folks are pretty much black and white with little nuance. Character development isn’t full-flowered; plot elements are a bit thin, and often far-fetched. Even a really bad pharma company wouldn’t be pulling the stunts attempted by those at Xenal Pharmaceuticals in this tale. Stylistically, I found myself sensing that the author was trying hard to craft his words – at times, the writing just felt a bit forced.

Beside seeing the good guys victorious in the end, and some bad dudes go down hard, you do get a bit of an education on some of the legal aspects of whistleblowing. The main protagonist and his lawyer/fiancee do get into discussions that spotlight how that area of the law works. Just in case you need it in the future…

There were also too many punctuation, spelling, and layout/formatting errors, which bothers me greatly – those in charge of book production should never allow that level of imperfection in a final product.

All in all – a nice summer time-killer. You won’t get college credit for this, but one thing you’ll take away is this – if someone offers you anything with “Convulsor” as an ingredient, probably you should opt to take a pass!

Available on Amazon here.

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I had mixed feelings when I first looked at the Wyeth home page. On the one hand, it’s a well-ordered design. The information and navigation design is clean, straightforward, and reasonably attractive. The branding is consistent. The use of a tabbed interface is well-implemented – each content category was well thought-out and appropriate. The higher level (grey) tabs (Home and Worldwide) are a particularly nice feature – subtle, but simple and user-friendly.


The architecture is sound, the interface compact, the color mix good, the typeface pleasant. The more I explored the site, the better I liked it. Why the initial mixed feelings?

I think it’s because there is too much on the landing page, without one dominant and appealing theme to draw me in. The various categories of content left, right, and center are very diverse, and they are all so “equal” in appearance, that if I’m a new/naive browser just coming to the site, I feel stymied as to what matters here. There’s a sense that this home page is seeking to be “all things to all people” – an issue every major diversified company in pharma has to contend with – but in so doing, it’s a bit imposing at first, even if the overall information design is excellent. There are up to 20 category/navigation /featured link choices (not counting individual news items) immediately presented on the home page – that’s a lot to process!

Some expert insight from a techie friend indicates that this site was made with an SAP toolset – if so, that’s pretty impressive. If you’re not a programmer/business analyst/geek, just ignore this comment…

The site is clean and functional. If I were to make one key improvement, it would be to take that major front-and-center graphic area on the home page, and instead of just having a Wyeth summary/mission statement, use it to tell a story – a story of a patient, or an employee, or something that would engage me. Something that would give me a positive feeling for the company called Wyeth. The best web design is not just information architecture. It’s a way to “attach” a user to the company. This site is not far from being a favorite – my logical mind gives it an “A”, but a better first impression at the visceral level would really clinch it.

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A visit to Novartis.com is relatively pleasant, visually, from an initial impression point of view. Decent use of white space. Nice color palette (although I am not sure how the mocha color fits in with standard Novartis branding). Information and graphics presented in a way that is not overwhelming. This site, at least, does not chase the visitor away with visual overload.

novartis_home2.jpgThe first element that stands out is an animated rectangle which presents, via words and pictures, stories about people and/or treatments with a Novartis focus. One of these talks about their drug, and treatment program, for Malaria. Another is about LaDonna, a cancer survivor. These tangible stories about the true “deliverable” of a pharma company – changed lives through medication – are the best way to introduce the company to the public. Well done.

There is the pretty standard navigation bar (Products \ Disease & Conditions \ R&D \ About Novartis \ Investors \ Newsroom \ Career) along the top, then on the right side, some graphically pleasant boxes with key highlights (Careers, Corporate Citizenship, etc.) – a nice way to make important “destinations” easily accessible.

Beneath the animated panel, there are only four main sections – for Investors (with updated stock chart); Novartis feature (currently, an account about treating dengue fever); a place for selecting various worldwide site (drop-down navigation); and finally, Latest News, with a few hotlinks. For a major global company (which includes pharma, vaccines, consumer products, generics, and more), I’d say this is just about right – the information design shows admirable restraint in not jamming a thousand things onto the home page, but it brings forward enough up-to-date and useful information to draw the visitor in.

A click onto the U.S. site shows good consistency with the web branding and navigation scheme.

Of the pharma websites I’ve reviewed thus far (Pfizer, GSK, J&J), the Novartis home page is clearly the best designed of the bunch.

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