Pharma insight on digital marketing, social media, mobile apps, online video, websites and interactive healthcare tools
by Dominic Tyer
From smartphones to tablets, mobile was certainly an area where pharma companies and healthcare providers alike were kept busy trying to respond to shifting market dynamics.
Research during 2012 found that while nearly 20 per cent of European doctors use an iPad or other tablet computer in their daily professional life, in some countries the figure was even higher. In Turkey, for example, where nearly two-thirds of doctors own or use a smartphone for professional purposes, Manhattan Research found that just over one third use a tablet at work.
Meanwhile, a US study found that patients and the public are increasingly turning to their mobile phones to find health information. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project's Mobile Health 2012 report, nearly a third of mobile phone owners (31 per cent) have used their phone to look for health information, up from 17 per cent in 2010.
Looking at the tools and services developed during 2012 there is a sense that they are gradually catching up with what the technology can do. Some initiatives only focused on transferring an off-line approach to a mobile setting, but many more embraced the potential that the devices offer.
In March, the UK's National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) made its entire range of recommendations and advice - more than 760 pieces of guidance - available to mobile users through a new smartphone app.
In June, it followed this by giving health and social care professionals in England mobile access to the British National Formulary (BNF) - the most widely -used medicines information resource in the NHS.
Over in the US in August, Happtique started testing a new online system that allows healthcare professionals to prescribe mobile health apps to their patients.
One mobile app that proved how popular the right healthcare mobile application could be was the NHS Direct app, developed in the UK for the public and patients.
Released in May, the free health advice app was subsequently used by more than one million people in its first six months and even topped the iTunes chart of free apps in its first week.
In addition to health information, health persuasion was something else going mobile in 2012. In September, the European Commission stepped up its ongoing anti-smoking efforts, launching iOS and Android apps for its Ex-smokers are Unstoppable campaign that were based on its iCoach digital health coaching platform, which uses behavioural change theory to help individuals stop smoking.
Medication adherence, a perennial problem for pharma, was explored during the year and in July, Janssen unveiled a new mobile-enabled reminder service to help US patients take their medication as prescribed. The Care4Today programme aims to improve non-adherence rates that currently cost the US healthcare system an estimated $290bn each year.
Adherence was also the focus of the new mobile website Eisai launched in May to encourage Japanese patients suffering from reflux oesophagitis to continue taking their medication.
While the site stands out among pharma's digital marketing efforts just for having a mobile website (still a rare occurrence within the industry) Gyakushoku Navi is in fact only available for mobile users. The campaign does have a desktop version of the site, but its only use is to provide a QR code for visitors to scan on their phones in order to be directed to the mobile site.
There was certainly no shortage of apps launched during the year, so the following will serve to provide a flavour of where pharma was aiming with the technology during 2012.
• In January, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) launched what it said was the UK's first personalised health app for asthma. MyAsthma aims to help patients take greater control of their condition, with features that include a daily personalised plan and the 30-second Asthma Control Test
• Also in January, Galderma UK produced a Blackberry app to help patients manage their day-to-day skin care and acne treatment. The free Spotcheck acne diary app allows patients to take pictures of their acne-affected areas each day and includes reminder functions to renew prescriptions, attend appointments and maintain therapy
• In May, Pfizer hoped a mobile app would be the missing ingredient in its bid to slow the rate at which its blockbuster cholesterol drug Lipitor haemorrhages sales. The drug went off-patent in the US in November and revenues subsequently, though as expected, declined sharply. The Lipitor-branded Recipes 2 Go app offered a series of healthy recipes, a shopping list feature and tips on portion sizes and exercise
• In August, AstraZeneca (AZ) launched a smartphone and iPad app to help UK men suffering from prostate cancer manage their condition. The free Prostate Assistant app provideed cancer information and management tools and an easy way for users to contact their GP and hospital.
But apps were just one side of the mobile picture for pharma. During 2012, Sanofi launched its iPhone-compatible blood glucose monitoring device in both the UK and US. The iBGStar is the first blood glucose monitor to sync with the iPhone and iPod touch, and the first that allows users to input their own data and notes via a specially designed app.
Another project looking to mobile technology, but beyond apps, was GSK's partnership with telecoms giant Vodafone. In December the companies joined forces to use mobile technology to help increase childhood vaccination rates in Mozambique.
GSK and Vodafone will provide healthcare workers with smartphones to improve record keeping and enable better management of vaccine stock, while mothers will be encouraged via SMS to take up vaccination services.
In January, an Italian hospital began offering chronic disease patients access to a mobile phone-powered remote monitoring system. The Moinette Hospital in Turin will make Telecom Italia's Nuvola It Home Doctor system available first to patients in its geriatric and home hospital units, before rolling it out in cardiology, pneumology, neurology, haematology and some areas of internal medicine.
Meanwhile, a new wireless drug delivery device showed promise in its first clinical trial in February. This involved the microchip-based implant delivering daily doses of Lilly's Forteo (teriparatide) to eight women with osteoporosis and researchers reported no toxic or adverse events due to the device or drug, while patients said the implant did not impact their quality of life.
In November, a French eHealth project aiming to improve homecare management began using near-field communication technology to provide real time management of assistance. The Confiance project sees a French public authority consortium equip caregivers with NFC-enabled smartphones to improve their home care visits.
Breaking down barriers to digital healthcare
Perhaps fittingly the year ended with the European Commission outlining its eHealth Action Plan for the next eight years and calling for the potential of eHealth to be turned into benefits for patients.
The plans also took aim at mHelath, or mobile health. Having already signalled at the end of the summer that it would begin consulting on a roadmap for wider use of mHealth technology, plans for which will be discussed in early 2013, the eHealth Action Plan promised a Green Paper on mHealth and health and wellbeing applications would arrive by 2014.