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Moving with the information flow

How strategic planning can help pharma navigate a shifting landscape

Moving with the information flow 

Today patients are more demanding than in previous generations, I think we can all accept that. They will actively search and refine their opinions about conditions and potential treatments…how many of you reading this can honestly say you have never asked your doctor for a specific treatment, or at the very least pre-diagnosed yourself before entering the surgery?

The explosion of data sources on the internet and the viral effect of social media have resulted in a change in perception and potentially of power, if information is king. However, as a doctor once said to me, “a little information is more dangerous than none,” which was his pointed way of putting me, as a patient, firmly back in my place.

I suspect healthcare professionals (HCPs) trying to stop this flow of information towards patients will be about as successful as King Canute turning back the tide. But whether the resistance is from a fear of patient safety or simply from a dislike of feeling that their professional status is being undermined is the subject of another debate.  In any case, they need to embrace it and adapt to the new reality…and so does the pharmaceutical industry and its agencies.

Joining the conversation
The easy option in patient communication so far has been to hide behind regulatory and pronounce: “It can't be done”, and then carry on with the comfortable well-worn channels of communication, to the traditional audiences.  

Strategic planning will need to lead the way in this new environment; guiding discussions and direction based on a sound platform of meaningful insights. Customers may need to be convinced on the merits of engaging with patients who are willing and able to select and rate their healthcare experiences via social platforms. The question is, can you afford not to?

Customer rating services have become a standard in our lives. Yelp is a US based website that ranks various services. The University of California, Berkeley has shown how a half star rise in rating can have a dramatic effect on the sales of services. Imagine that applied to your brand…In the US they have already started applying this to healthcare. How long before it is standard across Europe?

Will this brave new world mean a change in regulations? Probably not, certainly not anytime soon. The industry needs to push the boundaries of the accepted status quo to ensure it can adapt and maximise the new patient focused reality. Only then will the regulation change to meet the new reality. 

Pushing the boundaries
No, this is not a call to anarchy and I am certainly not suggesting we should all flout the regulations. Rather it is a call to look beyond the accepted and find new ways that meet the communication needs, while conforming to the regulations in place. It has been done before and can be done again.

It's essential that agencies develop strategic insights and plans, via their planning department to help clients look beyond our own industry. This will be critical if we are to introduce new strategies and techniques to meet this new environment. Even the small switch from prescription to over-the-counter marketing can often be a giant leap in terms of approach. Therefore, the integration of planning within the agency needs to become more widespread and accepted, just as it is in the FMCG sector.

Industry needs to push the boundaries to ensure it can adapt and maximise the new patient focused reality

Strategic planning needs to be in the vanguard of this change ensuring clients are challenged to do something new and different.

This means basing the proposals on sound principles, backed up with data and insights. Why should a brand manager stick his neck out unless he can justify it to his boss?

What will be important is to ensure that the move towards patient centric communication does not translate into a dumbing down of strategy and communication to the lowest common denominator.

So while HCPs need to go with the flow more, industry needs to swim upstream.

Article by
Matt Leeming

is strategy director at Life Healthcare Communications Ltd.
You can email him

24th June 2013

From: Marketing



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