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Health 2.0 and what it means

Casting a light on the latest digital marketing trends

Another buzzword to add to our growing list, Health 2.0 has been defined by some as advancing the benefits of combining elements of healthcare, eHealth and Web 2.0. In this article we will explain what this means and how it is relevant for the healthcare industry.

Understanding Health 2.0

The latest internet technologies allow participants to interact and actively engage online; this immersive experience has been dubbed Web 2.0, and when applied specifically to healthcare, would allow patients, physicians and others to engage in online conversations regarding medical conditions and treatments across both online networks and mobile enabled services.

These rapidly increasing online conversations related to health, disease and wellbeing have many consumers and some healthcare professionals using the internet as a primary source of knowledge, with over 80 per cent of internet users, or 59 per cent of US adults, looking online for health information. A confluence of factors has facilitated this shift, particularly the increased expectations led by the growth of social media networks and online communities for immediate access to knowledge and desire for active participation with peers and physicians.

In our industry, as the chart below describes, we are seeing an evolution in digital communications with the progression from a purely informational model in which companies provided product, disease and other online assets, to a collaborative model.

Healthcare 2.0 image 2

Digital evolution

This new model has been labelled by many commentators as Health 2.0 and is a real step change in how our industry engages with healthcare professionals and, in some cases, consumers.

Case Study – Online bingo

Many industries have moved their digital activities into a Web 2.0 model with varying degrees of success. The online gaming industry is widely recognised for its innovation and adoption of new online technologies and techniques, with many of the Web 2.0 benefits leveraged for example in the different online bingo product offerings. Taking research initiated by the traditional bingo operators, customers enjoyed the combination of game playing with the social aspects of each visit and many online providers have looked to replicate this model online. The more successful online operators now offer customers an engaging interactive social experience allowing them to create their own communities; chat openly or in private conversations, read and comment on celebrity news and gossip features, etc. Those online bingo providers offering the full benefits of Web 2.0 have seen increased customer engagement with associated uplifts in gaming revenue, player retention and even increases in the number of new players as existing members invite friends to join them online creating a virtuous cycle of benefits.

Figure 3
Online bingo platform

What does Health 2.0 mean for consumers and healthcare professionals?

Today, we are seeing innovation that is consumer and healthcare professional led with online opinion leadership being an interesting trend. These digital commentators are using media such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and personal blogs to set the agenda and communicate their own view of a particular condition, treatment option and other health issues.

Patient Opinion Leaders

These are usually described as influential online patients who write about their condition and its impact on their lives, families and work. Some of these blogs including for example six until me, brass and ivory and even physician blogs like better health attract many thousands of monthly visitors.

The opportunity exists for the pharmaceutical industry to engage with these opinion leaders, possibly following the model of traditional key opinion leader management programmes. This process has already started with Roche organising diabetes blogger summits to actively listen and understand the concerns of this important group.

Another source of Health 2.0 innovation is the growing number of healthcare start-ups offering Web 2.0 functionality in a healthcare context. Among the many examples are HealthTap, whose services are described in more detail below, Massive Health and others who have developed apps, interactive blogs and other digital assets that allow consumers and healthcare professionals to actively manage their health with the support of their online social network.

HealthTap is currently available in the US and allows physicians to offer information to patients and potential patients.

This online consultation seems ideally suited to the digital age, allowing patients to seek immediate and reputable answers to ailments from physicians without having to follow the traditional process of making an appointment and a physical consultation with their local primary care physician. Today they have over 10,000 participating physicians and 500 participating healthcare institutions posting information free. Why are physicians supporting HealthTap? Opinion is that many wish to demonstrate their expertise, attract new patients, and possibly cut the time spent in their own clinics answering minor questions. Additionally, HealthTap has included metrics in its online product which shows how many consumers each physician has helped online, peer endorsement of their consultations and even an award wall for each physician recognising the feedback from consumers.

The team at HealthTap acknowledges that they are not replacing face-to-face physician consultations; they simply wish to provide online health information and support of the highest quality and allow physicians to engage with consumers online using the very latest digital tools and techniques.

We are also seeing the Health 2.0 type benefits coming from the existing dedicated physician-only networks, such as, and others. These include news, education and community features and as they look to grow in membership are hoping to become the de-facto online destinations for physicians looking for peer engagement and community benefits. These networks offer third parties, including pharmaceutical companies, the opportunity to reach their members with promotional and non-promotional messages.

What Heath 2.0 means for the pharmaceutical industry

In the pharmaceutical industry, Health 2.0 presents challenges as well as opportunities, with concerns on privacy, security and perceived responsibility for uncontrolled user generated content as the most commonly reported worries. Despite these challenges, the pharmaceutical industry has recognised the growing online expectations of healthcare professionals and consumers, and the opportunity to adopt some of the benefits of Health 2.0 from marketing and branding, in capturing new market insights and healthcare professional opinions, and improve patient support and treatment outcomes. As these online expectations have increased, the pharmaceutical environment today has been hit with what many commentators have likened to a perfect storm. A collision of factors from limited access to physicians, perceived lack of innovation in new product development and increasing numbers of branded blockbuster products becoming generic has led to significant changes in our industry.

Health 2.0 supporting marketing and branding

One consequence of these developments has been the streamlining of sales and marketing operations especially in primary care, leaving many existing brands with limited physical promotional support. In these circumstances, many pharmaceutical marketers wishing to maintain and possibly increase their share of voice are looking at digital marketing and in particular Health 2.0 techniques to engage and interact with their healthcare professionals. Much of that attention is now focusing on non-personal promotion (NPP), which uses a broad range of digital channels with supporting activities to continue promotion and brand marketing. In addition to the existing 'tell and sell' approach on product features and benefits, we are also seeing adoption of some Web 2.0 techniques and technologies to offer a truly engaging experience. These have included the development of a number of specialist physician digital destinations in oncology, rheumatology and HIV, offering content, tools and opportunity to have an interactive dialogue via case studies, 'Ask the expert' and other community functions.

The most effective forms of NPP are included into the overall sales and marketing mix to provide a truly integrated experience for the healthcare professional with offline and online activities co-ordinated to ensure smooth, seamless and tailored messaging to the healthcare professional. In this ideal scenario, sometimes called closed loop marketing (CLM) the healthcare professional and their preferences are at the heart of each activity and channel preference.

Today, our primary care physician has multiple online touchpoints during the course of a single day; the benefits of CLM allow all our interactions with physicians to be co-ordinated and harmonised to offer a consistent message and avoid repetition. Complementary technologies like CRM (customer relationship management) systems with segmentation support this effective targeting of messages and follow-up activities. At a more practical level, this would require utilising existing internal and possibly external customer databases with healthcare professionals, segmented via a number of pre-defined criteria and engagement experiences developed based on perceived preferences and profiles. For example, we could provide those physicians more interested in the latest medical research with communications and assets on this subject, and using this route, to develop relationships with this healthcare professional segment.

Figure 4

Typical physician day with digital touchpoints

ERL Medicom is engaged with a number of pharmaceutical clients on non-personal promotional activities, working with cross-functional teams using the latest market research, in-market and other insights to support the segmentation and tailored messaging to these healthcare professional groups. Our methodology includes moving beyond the standard segmentation and using a number of new techniques like predictive modelling, taken from our experience in consumer digital marketing at online innovators such as Sky TV, developing models to anticipate our healthcare professionals' online behaviour and offering bespoke healthcare professional journey maps to match their profile.

Health 2.0 improving product adoption curve

Another area where pharmaceutical companies can increase their Health 2.0 activities is the support of new product launches, especially in specialist and orphan conditions. The adoption of Health 2.0 best practices could potentially improve the product adoption curve for new and some existing pharmaceutical brands, allowing for earlier use of new treatments, greater physician engagement and advocacy, and increased patient compliance resulting in longer adoption and slower decline phases. In particular, orphan conditions with smaller dedicated professional and patient communities would benefit from greater support and the active involvement of pharmaceutical companies. We see this in Gaucher's disease, a rare genetic condition with less than 1 in 1,000 having the condition where pharmaceutical companies have actively supported patients and physicians alike with a range of online services, tools and apps.

Healthcare 2.0 image 5 

Health 2.0 supporting product adherence

Finally, the opportunity to utilise Health 2.0 techniques to support patient adherence and compliance can deliver real benefits for everyone and improve patient well-being. A number of independent reports have shown that even among those patients with chronic conditions, including those patients taking immunosuppressants following organ transplants, at least a third fail to take their medication on a regular basis. In those therapy areas with an active patient community, we see improvements in treatment adherence as patients are educated by their peers in the benefits of taking regular medication. Notable mentions include the award-winning website from Watson Pharmaceuticals, which supports patient compliance by donating to one of several women's charities whenever a patient fills or refills her prescription, thus earning virtual coins she can use to donate to a charity for women in need. This integrated campaign across website, social media and mobile also includes online quizzes and games, providing more opportunities for patients to support their chosen charities by earning more virtual coins. Finally, they have created a real sense of community as patients can see how the donated money has been spent by the various charities.

Case Study - UCB and PatientsLikeMe

In the pharmaceutical industry, examples of success include the collaboration between UCB and PatientsLikeMe in the support of the epilepsy community that has many of the features of Health 2.0 with patients actively engaging with one another and providing a vibrant exchange of experiences. UCB and PatientsLikeMe with the consent of the community's members are conducting an anonymous online clinical survey to understand patients' quality of life, including cognitive, social and physical functions. Initial results from this survey show that patients are most concerned about the cognitive impact of epilepsy, such as memory loss, fatigue or lack of concentration. The online community is also taking a lead in monitoring the safety of UCB epilepsy therapies with an integrated drug safety programme designed to capture and report adverse events to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

Health 2.0 provides opportunities for the pharmaceutical industry and with careful planning and analysis can deliver value across a number of business objectives.

Our challenge for the pharmaceutical brand manager is to spend 30 minutes online looking at the latest digital conversations, opinion makers and activities with respect to your brand, category and audience. Like other forms of market research, this work can help identify opportunities to promote, differentiate and further your brand by applying some of the latest digital technologies and trends shared in this article.

In conclusion, Health 2.0 provides a real platform to get closer to the healthcare professional and maybe even the consumer.

The author:

Kaush Gandhi is Digital Director at Euro RSCG Life Medicom and can be contacted on

25th June 2012

From: Marketing



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