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Digital doctors: Talk in 2016

The evolving relationship between patient, physician and pharma

inVentiv Health Digital Doctors

In mid-January the nanny sends me a video clip of my son Gabriel. It’s two weeks before his first birthday and he’s dancing to music on the iPad he’s holding. Lately his eyes light up every time he sees a phone or a tablet, and he cries whenever he’s denied a screen. In the same month, Google announces that nearly one in 20 searches is looking for healthcare information.

It’s early February and I’m making awkward small talk with my GP. She asks me about my work. “I rarely see drug reps anymore”, she tells me. But when she writes down her email address it’s on product-branded paper. She’s impressed when I know the name of the website she suggests to me and she’s surprised when I tell her that it’s funded by industry.

Spring in Amsterdam. I’m running a workshop with a client’s public affairs team. We’re listening to their Latin American team enthusing about the role of Instagram in a successful disease awareness campaign. The team’s questions are detailed, practical and well-informed. No one raises their hand and asks for a social media 101. No one needs it anymore. The group is more clued-up than many healthcare agency teams I’ve worked with in the last twelve months.

It’s raining during our Easter holiday in Puerto Rico, so we’re crowded together on a hotel bed watching American TV. My 14-year old stepson sees his first US television advert for a prescription drug. He can’t quite believe what he’s seeing. “Why’s this on TV? Why would anyone take this? What’s it even for?” I try to change the subject.

Baby Gabriel doesn’t mind that the weather’s keeping us out of the sun. His latest trick with the iPad is to open Amazon Video and watch Peppa Pig whenever he wants. Lately, he wants to watch Peppa all the time. Lately, we all want to watch what we want at any time we want it. Thanks to mobile and multiscreening we can do this. The average person now fits more than 31 hours of activity into a 24-hour day.

Digital isn’t a sideshow. It’s not new, other or different and it’s not just a concern for people with digital in their job titles

The weather’s followed me back to London. Late April rain streams down the window behind the specialist I’ve finally been referred to. He’s got his MacBook propped on a spare chair, his iPhone plugged in to charge on the floor, and an Apple Pencil moving at speed across a shiny new 12.9” iPad Pro.

When we take a break, I tell him what I do for a living. It ends up with me explaining what I mean by ‘multichannel’. He gets it immediately. “They really need it,” he says. “The model’s broken.” He doesn’t see reps, but he can’t remember how he did his job without his iPhone. I can email him, he says as I get up to Ieave, or we can follow each other on Twitter and message each other there. “We know how all of this works,” he tells me.

We’re moving into the second half of 2016. Digital isn’t a sideshow. It’s not ‘new’, ‘other’ or ‘different’. It’s not just a concern for people with ‘digital’ in their job titles. But you know this. And you certainly don’t need me running down a list of personal observations to make my point. But the odds are that you probably still need some help with this.

The teams we tend to work with are smart and they know where they need to go, both now and in the future. They ‘get it’. But what they don’t get is the time and the resources they need to make it all real. They know that they need to be engaging with their audiences in different ways, but they may not have a model for exactly how they’re going to do this. Or they may not be clear on how to measure the success of new activities alongside the traditional. They’re typically having problems trying to bring their wider business along with them.

Digital isn’t the only answer to these questions, but digital presents the opportunity to address them. Delivering on this opportunity is what we do, and if you’re interested we should talk: by phone, by email, or face-to-face. You can even message me on social media. It’s 2016, so I think you know how all of this works as well.

Duncan Arbour works in Digital Strategy at inVentiv Health

27th June 2016



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Syneos Health®

+44 (0) 207 632 1800

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