Apr15

ResearchKit: A Medical Research Revolution?

Research Kit Blog Image SizedIn what boils down to crowd-sourcing medical information, Apple’s ResearchKit promises to turn the iPhone into a powerful tool for medical research. But will it live up to that promise?

Apple is putting the power of clinical trials in our pockets with ResearchKit, the open-source software framework designed for medical and health research. It will help doctors and scientists gather data more frequently and more accurately from clinical research participants using iPhone apps, enabling faster insights at lower cost.

ResearchKit leverages the sensors and other capabilities of the iPhone to track movement, take measurements and record data. When granted permission from the user, ResearchKit can access data from Apple’s HealthKit app such as weight, blood pressure and glucose levels, which are measured by third-party devices and apps. ResearchKit can also request access from the user to access the accelerometer, microphone, gyroscope and GPS sensors to gain insight into a user’s gait, motor impairment, fitness, speech and memory.

Several world-class research institutions have already developed apps with ResearchKit for studies on asthma, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. Using the built-in templates for informed consent, users decide if they want to participate in a study and how their data—and which parts of their data—is shared. Participants can perform activities and generate data wherever they are, providing more objective information than simply filling out forms for their activities.

More data will be generated through these apps for researchers to analyze than ever before. For example, just four days after its release, Stanford University School of Medicine’s MyHeart Counts app was downloaded 52,900 times, with over 22,000 users consenting to the study. But more data isn’t necessarily better data.

On the surface, ResearchKit sounds like the long-awaited answer to ongoing issues in traditional clinical trial processes, including limited participation due to proximity to institutions running trials, frequent data entry and the integrity of that data and limited data collection.

Apple has created three customizable modules to address the most common elements across different types of clinical studies: surveys, informed consent and active tasks. Programmers can use these modules as they are, build upon them or even create new modules of their own.

ResearchKit initially includes five active task modules that invite users to perform activities under semi-controlled conditions, while iPhone sensors actively collect data. The tasks can be a simple ordered sequence of steps or dynamic, with previous results informing what is presented. In this way, researchers and programmers can create custom apps for their relevant disease states. These modules simply record the data and pass it on to the researchers; Apple does not store it or track it in any way.

Since ResearchKit resides on the iPhone, it will be easier to recruit participants for large-scale studies, accessing a broad cross-section of the population. The data that it collects mostly comes from sensors and other apps; there is little chance of error in the measurements as compared to patients recording their data in paper-based diaries. Even the data that patients will enter themselves into ResearchKit apps will be more accurate: programmers can put limits on that data so that it fits within proper parameters.

Although ResearchKit solves many issues with clinical trials, it also creates some of its own.

Patient population

Apple promises access to a diverse, global population through ResearchKit, but that population might not represent the population as a whole.

IPhone users are more wealthy and educated than the general population, and minority groups are underrepresented in its user base. Additionally, ResearchKit is only available on iPhone 5 and newer models and the latest generation of iPod touch, which excludes a large segment of iPhone users.

On top of that, the patient populations for ResearchKit apps will be largely self-selected: those using the apps are already likely to be interested in their own health. So can the results generated from this narrowly defined population be extrapolated to the population as a whole?

Another point to consider with the self-selected patient population is that app desertion rate can be high, so researchers won’t have complete data from those who don’t finish the trial. This will also bias the data toward better outcomes since those who actually finish the trials are more motivated to see a positive outcome.

Data Validation

There is no validation that participants have a specific condition before they can enter a trial. This lack of verification can further skew the results of the trials. Going forward, tighter controls on who can enroll in each trial by verifying their basic information will lead to better qualified participants and more robust trial data.

Secure Communication

Verifying participants’ information might be hampered by the current lack of secure communication mechanisms between ResearchKit apps and their researchers’ servers.

This is up to the app developers to implement, as is HIPAA compliance and compliance with international research regulations. Even if secure communications are implemented properly by app developers, sharing personal medical information is a sensitive subject—especially with current data breaches. There will likely always be privacy concerns, especially in participants who don’t fully understand how their health data will be used.

Big Data

ResearchKit trials could potentially have hundreds of thousands of participants, each one with the potential to have inaccurate data. How will researchers separate the signal from the noise with such large amounts of data?

Cleaning that data will be a huge job, and further making inferences from that data to the general population could be difficult. Building trust in the trial results in light of the challenges listed here could be an uphill battle with the general public. More thought needed here.

Going forward, simple improvements such as data validation will go a long way toward more qualified patient populations and more robust trial outcomes. But how can ResearchKit be made available to a more representative patient population?

The answer could lie in the open source framework of ResearchKit. Researchers will have the ability to contribute to specific activity modules in the framework, like memory or gait testing, and share them with the global research community to further advance what we know about disease. And since it’s open source, there is the opportunity to expand into the Android realm as well.

On a global scale, Android is the far more popular operating system, and its user base is more representative of the population as a whole. It would benefit these clinical studies if users across platforms could use these apps.

That said, Android has a fragmented operating system with disparate hardware platforms that have differences in their sensors (accelerometers, GPS, gyroscopes), and even in chipsets from device to device. Researchers would have to account for all of these differences and build and test apps across platforms, which is nearly impossible on their limited budgets.

While ResearchKit is not the perfect solution for clinical trials research, it is a good first step, especially when it comes to to clinical trial recruitment, which has been the bane of the healthcare industry for far too long. Results of the pioneering ResearchKit apps—for asthma, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease—will reveal the true utility of such a mobile, global medical research solution.

This article was originally published in Medical Marketing & Media.

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Mar11

Are You Harnessing the Power of Video in Healthcare Yet?

Young woman with gold fish tankDid you realise that the average attention span of a person has dropped to only 8 seconds? That’s one second less than a goldfish!

Video can combat this. It is a fantastic way to hook people in and capture their attention. Online video is growing so quickly that this is an opportunity that’s impossible to ignore:

  • Views on mobile devices have increased 400% in the past 2 years
  • YouTube is now the second most popular search engine behind Google, with 40% of its traffic coming from mobile
  • 80% of online visitors will watch a video all the way through, compared with 20% who will read a webpage

Patients are being diagnosed via video, surgeons are swapping clips on operation techniques, and, as everyone is rapidly becoming more and more mobile-connected, healthcare knowledge sharing will soon have no boundaries.

It’s likely that for whatever purpose, be it for a symposium or for patient education, your video will end up online, where it will receive the majority of its views. But it’s a noisy world out there, and one rule is key: keep it short, smart, and snappy.

What kind of video content should you choose?

The great news is that there are all kinds of exciting options that won’t break the budget. Think about who the audience is and how they’ll be watching. Are they using a small screen? With or without sound? On social media? Or at a live presentation…could Dr Smith at the back please put his mobile down and watch? (Hopefully if he enjoys it he’ll search for it later online, “like” it and share with his colleagues.)

Explore the different ways to cThe Other Sideonnect with your audience. Enriched video content is great for increasing user engagement, and interactive user-defined storytelling can be a totally immersive experience. It lets you get the right messages to each individual user by letting them click on objects in the video to influence what they see. “Choose a Different Ending” is a beautiful example of a great campaign tackling knife crime that drew immediate response. And another of the best ones I’ve seen recently is The Other Side of Honda.”

Or, if you need to get more complex data across in a way that quickly informs and engages, use an animated infographic to make data come alive. These motion graphics pack a huge visual punch, are bursting with information, and are rapidly becoming key tools to promote branded messages. For a truly multi-layered, fast and constantly moving example with beautiful visual transitions, you can’t beat “STUXNET: The Virus That Almost Started WW3.”

Whatever you want to achieve, remember you’re not alone. We recommend that you use a Creative and Motion team to help you get all those questions answered on the way to making great videos.

Video is a super strategy to stand out from the competition and it’s definitely a healthcare trend that’s already here and set to keep on growing.

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Feb26

Twitter and Google Forge Deal That Reintroduces Tweets to Google Search Results

Social Search Blog Image_This article was co-authored by Buddy Scalera from Ogilvy CommonHealth – Parsippany, NJ.

Twitter announced recently that it will be providing Google with access to its microblogging service for search indexing. Although Twitter activity appears in Google’s search results now, the staggering volume, more than 6,000 tweets per minute, makes crawling and organizing the data impractical.

The new partnership between Twitter and Google will grant the market-leading search engine access to Twitter’s “firehose” of data. This data is generated from the stream of 140-character tweets produced by Twitter’s 287 million users. Google’s unique access will enable it to parse, arrange, and develop rank and relevance for the social content in real-time.

It is not clear how Google will present Twitter’s data in search engine results, but the real-time and topical nature of the social network will make it especially relevant for breaking news, cultural subject matter, and rising trends. It will also likely be aligned to searches for individuals and personalities. It seems natural to index a person’s Twitter account, recent posts, and other activity in Google’s Knowledge Graph. It is also likely that user activity provided by Twitter will help determine if Twitter data is shown at all and with what prominence.

Of course, Google and Twitter have both been smart about how to monetize their offerings. We expect them to maximize their shared advantage for advertisers on both platforms.

What does this mean for healthcare brands?

For brands that are participating on Twitter, this continues to extend the reach of those messages into keyword-oriented searches. It also gives added pause to those concerned about the impact of influencers and popular Twitter users who mention brand names and conditions. Although it is not likely that a rogue Twitter handle will appear in a product search return in the first few pages, it will be extremely relevant to the nature of searches surrounding patients, their discussion of their disease, and treatment options.

For brands not active on Twitter, there is still the need to monitor activity on social networks, especially those that are publically searchable. Users who share brand information may be competing with your brand for users’ attention. Those users may also be candidates for influencer engagement, or an opportunity to correct brand misinformation.

The new inclusion of timely social posting would work to tremendous advantage for those brands that seize conventions and meetings for social sharing and engagement. The timely nature of event hashtags and the limited shelf-life for this type of communication create an ideal pairing for topical search and brand engagement.

Brands that have not engaged in social media marketing or listening programs are likely to be surprised by the changes in search results for their brand names, disease state terms, and other organic search results. Brands will now be competing with many more voices and another variable of timeliness. As with many of the changes Google has introduced for marketers in recent years, the changes will come quickly and with little time to react for a process-oriented industry like healthcare.

Many brands participate in social listening to understand the way patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals are discussing the health category and their brand. These brand teams are likely to be better prepared for the deluge of information to come from this announcement, and how to process it.

Both Twitter and Google are companies that are comfortable experimenting in real-time. So while these changes will probably start with search engine results pages, we expect to see a ripple effect across other properties. Google+ and YouTube channels may be the first places where we see different types of experimentation and integration. After all, these properties are all part of Google’s ecosystem of data and advertising.

Although the announcement has been made, both parties have noted that it will be several months before tweets begin appearing in users’ searches in real-time. This announcement should have tremendous impact on the Draft FDA Social Media Guidelines presented to the industry last year.

To learn more about how this announcement and other market changes may affect your brand, please contact our team here at Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide.

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Feb12

So What’s Your EHR Strategy?

EMR Blog Image2As pharmaceutical marketers, we no longer live in a world of traditional marketing where we can cast a wide net and hope we’re engaging with the right customers. We need to move communications to where our physicians are. Additionally, pharmaceutical companies have shifted away from traditional face-to-face tactics to more digital interactions, spending 25% of their marketing budgets on websites and online media.

“Unlike traditional forms of advertising, digital technologies enable tailoring of advertisements to individual physicians on the basis of data from clinical encounters,” according to Christopher Manz, MD, and David Grande, MD, MPA, from Penn Medicine, who recently gave a point of view on electronic health records (EHRs) in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Digital marketing provides us with tools to communicate more effectively with our customer through more individualized and personalized engagements, ensuring that the correct message is being delivered at the appropriate time. With new tools coming out weekly, it is easy to get caught up in the hype. Choosing a tactic simply because it’s the “newest” or “coolest” option will not guarantee success. Without the right strategy, we are just wasting time and resources. A strong digital marketing strategy is essential for communicating with our customers and staying ahead of our competition. The key is understanding our customers as well as a brand’s overall strategic and marketing objectives and then selecting the appropriate digital channel(s) that will help reach our target audience and goals.

As brands fight for share of voice in an overcrowded digital space, it’s time for companies to stop looking at the traditional online engagements as the cornerstone of HCP engagement and focus more on targeted engagements within electronic medical records (EMRs). According to market leaders, EMRs will become the dominant communications stream for physicians, and pharma has been slow to engage in the EMR format.

There has been tremendous growth of the EMR marketplace over the last few years. According to the latest government statistics, 72% of office-based physicians are using an EMR or EHR system, up from 48% in 2009, driven by meaningful use, which provided incentive payments for physicians and hospitals to implement them. EMR is now the center of physician workflow, and its data offers valuable insights into practice management and the physician-patient dynamic. This data can be leveraged to better serve patients and physicians by providing the tools that they need, such as patient education or reimbursement support. To that end, aligning with the right EMR solution should increase HCP engagement. What is encouraging, according to Manhattan Research’s latest Taking the Pulse survey, is that 71% of physicians are interested in interacting with pharmaceutical companies in this way, so we as pharmaceutical marketers need to capitalize on this channel in a strategic way that brings value to both providers and patients.

Integrating With the HCP Workflow

So how can we leverage the use of EMRs to benefit healthcare providers, patients and payers? With the demands placed on them today, physicians have less time for each patient, pharmaceutical reps, and for searching for information between appointments. Marketing to HCPs through EMRs will better integrate with a physician’s daily workflow and shift the mindset from disruptive marketing to a partnership. Physicians use EMRs for their tools, and the more information physicians are getting through these systems, the more opportunity for marketers to provide value. Leveraging EMRs to deliver meaningful assets to physicians when they are with patients represents a prime opportunity to change the behavior of our physicians.

There are several ways to reach physicians through EMRs. One obvious component is providing information about a brand at the point-of-prescribing that is of high clinical value to physicians. Additionally, according to Taking the Pulse, at least 40% of HCPs say patient education, samples, vouchers, patient financial support and product information are features they are most interested in seeing in EMRs. Other examples include formulary data and safety updates. EMRs can also be used for direct marketing to physicians through banner ads, industry-sponsored clinical resources and emerging solutions.

Marketing to HCPs through EMRs is not without its obstacles. There are approximately 600 EMR system vendors with only a handful offering partnerships with pharma companies. Therefore using EMRs is not a one-size-fits-all approach to marketing, and it might be required to customize materials for each platform. There are also concerns about privacy, interruption of the HCP process by forcing information during a clinical decision, and the intricacies of integration with EMRs. These all need to be considered when determining if and how an EMR plan and roll-out is right for your brand.

Looking to the Future

EMRs represent an opportunity for marketers to communicate to physician throughout a product life cycle—from clinical trial recruitment to workflow “interventions.” The opportunity for marketers in EMRs is here, and physicians want pharma involvement. But it’s imperative that a brand has a clear EMR strategy to capitalize on this channel opportunity and ensure we are providing a fully integrated communications plan.

 

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Jan7

Computational Lexical Analyses and the Modern Era of Wordsmithing

Writing Blog ImageIn a world fast becoming more interested in, impressed by, and capable of producing brilliant digital imagery, I’m the unfortunate one who gets to sit here and try to remind everyone that words still matter. Excited yet? Give me four minutes of your time, this is a brief post.

We work in what is first and foremost an advertising agency. There may be individual groups whose work is not entirely captured by that description (mine is one of them), but it’s the most condensed way of summarizing Ogilvy CommonHealth. Visually and creatively, the work that comes from many of our groups is stunning. It’s often best-in-class, and I’m not here to deter anyone from thinking so.

But this brings me back to what this post is about. Words, or language. Awe-inspiring as the visual work may be, our clients still often struggle with questions like, “What do we actually call this drug? How do we define and describe its therapeutic effect? How do we communicate that to clinicians? To patients?” Basic as these questions may seem, they are fundamental to the immediate and sustained success of the product. A drug needs a consistent, precise, ownable and differentiating lexicon in addition to a strong marketing campaign.

Easier said than done. Language is organic, a living, breathing document that evolves over time. Let’s look at the word good as an example. Once universally and unambiguously having meant desirable or of high quality, a recent article titled “The Art of the Amateur Online Review” in the New York Times describes why that’s no longer the case (the article is a good, quick read for anyone in advertising). Analyses of users’ product reviews show that good is starting to mean ambivalent. Reviewers say things like “it’s good, but….” In other words, good no longer means desirable, but simply good enough.

The same issues present themselves in a medical and scientific context. Clients wonder if they should say their drug is targeted or selective or honing. Perhaps others have created a drug with a new mechanism of action and they want to describe it in not just a differentiating way but also in a meaningful and exciting one. In medical language, the same words can have unique meanings across different categories.

Tools are available to help guide these decisions. In a computational lexical analysis, we can generate a database of language relevant to whatever subject area it is that we’re interested in. That can help us to know how the words in the category are used, and to see what opportunities there may be to create new language. It’s grounded in data, but this is a strategic exercise that seeks to provide guidance around what language is most appropriate for a given molecule/condition/category. Have a client with problems like this? Send them our way, we may be able to help.

 

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Dec18

The Value of a PURL

Value of a PURL blogIMAGENo two pearls are alike—and neither are two PURLs. You may have heard this homophone for the popular gemstone in reference to digital marketing campaigns. The acronym refers to “personalized URLs,” or unique web addresses. The concept is relatively simple (at least in comparison to its execution): each target has an exclusive code attached to a link in an email they receive (or the banner they view, etc.). The degree to which this personalization is carried through to the website varies—from entirely unique landing pages, to custom-populated portions of the website (such as displaying the target’s name on the page), to all targets viewing the same exact page, and the codes being used only for backend tracking purposes.

The value of a pearl is determined by several factors: type, rarity, size, shape, color, etc. The value of a PURL is also multifaceted. The first, and perhaps most obvious value (at least to someone in marketing analytics), is that PURLs enable detailed tracking of an individual. Websites, with the help of reporting suites such as Omniture, record activity against each unique code. This tracking then enables a view of each target’s path and interactions on-site. Additional value is obtained when this information is collected on a personal level, and then used to customize further engagement. For example, if a target explores a certain area of a website, the next email to that target can reference this action and/or include further information on this topic. This engagement customization then translates into a third added value: the use of PURLs typically increases response rates. Not surprisingly, targets are more likely to click on a link when it is personally relevant.

The history of pearls in society as a valued possession is long and storied. In ancient times, pearls were rare and highly valued (as the legend of Cleopatra and her pearls implies). In more recent history, the value of pearls has diminished greatly due to the availability of cultured pearls. However, the value of PURLs is only increasing in marketing, and is becoming the cost of entry for a truly effective campaign.

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Dec11

Now That’s a Vision

visionary_governanceIn our business, we often help our clients to develop and navigate their corporate vision. If done well, the vision of the company is aspirational, achievable, and distinctively ownable. Far too often when reading a company’s vision statement, you feel that you could simply replace Pharma Company A with Pharma Company B, and might at times even question their ability to achieve that vision. So it is with fascination and awe this holiday season that I reflect on one corporate leader’s amazing vision for his company and his unwavering commitment to delivering on that vision. In 1994, when Jeff Bezos founded Amazon, he articulated:

“Our vision is to be the earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

He has clearly redefined online retailing, and Amazon is the world’s top Internet retailing company.  While there are arguably many out there who may not agree with me, I applaud the customer experience that Amazon has created, and I have often tested the theory of whether they truly have “anything” I might want to buy online and my “cart” has yet to be disappointed, even for the most obscure or uncommon searches. So this month as I cross off items on my holiday shopping list and avoid carrying a heavy coat and shopping bags around a crowded shopping mall with annoying people, I thank you, Jeff Bezos and Amazon, for having an aspirational, achievable and distinctively ownable vision.

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Dec3

Stories to Tell: Facebook for Health Care Brands

Stories to Tell Facebook for Health Care Brands BLOG Image2We all know Facebook is a powerful storytelling platform for brands. But in health care, FDA regulation and privacy rules often leave us watching our counterparts in consumer marketing with jealousy. A recent example of our work with Hackensack University Medical Center demonstrates not only that health care brands can carry out effective content strategies on social media platforms, it can even be simple to accomplish.

HackensackUMC is consistently rated as the top hospital in New Jersey by US News & World Reports. One particular area of excellence is its nursing program. The hospital is one of just two in the nation to earn the prestigious Magnet nursing designation five consecutive times, representing 20 years of distinction.

Last May, during National Nurses Week, we proposed creating a series of Facebook posts where each day would feature a short story and photo of a HackensackUMC nurse.

The work was minimal: we conducted a 20 minute phone interview with each nurse and asked him or her to provide us with a photo. The response was tremendous: The stories we posted about each nurse quickly became the most engaging content the hospital has ever posted on its Facebook page.

Of particular note, on Wednesday of National Nurses Week, the story of about Dennis Leenig Jr., a pediatric oncology nurse, received over 450 likes, 50 comments and 25 shares. Here’s the post:

It’s not unusual to find Dennis Leenig, Jr. sitting and talking with a patient a half hour after his shift has finished for the day. “Working with leukemia patients, I like that I get to see people through all stages of their care. You get to establish a rapport,” he says. It’s a relationship that continues even after a patient has gone home. Dennis always conducts follow up calls to patients after they’re discharged to see how they’re feeling and to make sure they’re not having trouble getting any medications. “Patients have told me I’m like a son to them and that means the world to me.” Dennis remembers when his own father was a cancer patient at HackensackUMC. A nursing student at the time, it was while visiting his father that he realized his calling was in oncology.

Even more powerful than what we wrote about Dennis, were the testimonials that former patients posted in the comments section. Some excerpts:

Hey Dennis, I remember you well. I felt like I was in expert hands and it was clear to me that your concern for my wellbeing was sincere and genuine. Thank you for making a stressful event a little less so.

We love Dennis and know him well after having many visits to 8PW over the past 4 years with our son. His love and dedication to all patients goes above and beyond. Thank you, Dennis, for all that you do. You have become like family to us.

Dennis, when my uncle was in your care I felt reassured knowing that he had an all-around great guy to help him. He really liked you and spoke highly of you. He fought a good fight but the cancer was too aggressive. I have the utmost respect for what you do on a daily basis and I wanted to thank you again (and the rest of the doctors, nurses, and staff) for everything you did to make his life more comfortable when he was in your care.

The marketing and PR value of these posts is obvious. Who wouldn’t want to go to a place with such compassionate, attentive care? And Dennis was just one of seven nurses we featured that week.

But another benefit of sharing these stories on Facebook is easy to overlook: Facebook as an internal communications tool. The nurses were honored that we thought to interview them for the Facebook page and proud to receive public recognition for their work. And their colleagues enjoyed reading the stories and having a public place to record their praise. It was a morale boost all around.

We are constantly uncovering great stories like Dennis’s. But in this regard, HackensackUMC is not unique. All of our clients’ organizations are brimming with stories.

Maybe it’s easier to find them in a hospital, where nurses are touching lives every hour of every day. But great stories are everywhere–even in corporate settings. What motivated a pharmaceutical company executive to enter the health care industry? Why did a research scientist decide to focus on this particular disease state?

The answers to these questions are personal stories. Telling them brings out the human side of a corporation and pulls employees closer together. New media tools like Facebook make it easy to bring them to the public. And the public is hungry hear these stories from your brand. Especially in health care.

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Nov12

Ebola Goes Viral

Ebola Blog Image2“It’s like the film with Dustin Hoffman and the monkeys,” said the woman next to me on the tube the other day. “No, it’s more like that other film with the monkeys,” said her companion. “The one where animal rights protestors release them and unleash a zombie virus on the UK.”

The truth, thankfully, is that the most recent Ebola outbreak is nothing like either of these movies. The Ebola virus has yet to mutate into a new strain that spreads like flu as it does so rapidly in Outbreak, and it seems somewhat unlikely that it is going to turn us all into flesh-eating un-dead as happens in 28 Days Later. But what exactly is it like, how much of a threat does it pose, and how are we supposed to communicate the bare facts of virus and disease in an atmosphere of panic and misinformation?

The other day, news outlets were tracing the steps of one of Ebola’s recent victims. New Yorker Dr. Craig Spencer had been all around town since returning from aid work in Guinea. He had taken the subway, visited a meatball stand and hung out at a bowling alley in Brooklyn. Normal things that a person might like to do after returning to their hometown after an intense trip abroad. But Dr. Spencer started running a high fever and was soon diagnosed with an Ebola virus infection.

Despite most reports suggesting that he had interacted with only a handful of people since becoming symptomatic, The Gutter, the bowling alley visited by Dr. Spencer, was forced to close down for two days and underwent a mass disinfection. The Meatball Shop remained open but was host to a PR stunt in which the city’s mayor visited for a meal in front of a host of cameras to prove to the general public it was safe. Which of course both of these places should be. There is nothing about the pathogenesis of Ebola that suggests we can catch it from a bowling ball or a restaurant table. Indeed the virus can barely survive for long outside the body, especially on hard, dry surfaces.

Hysterical news reporting of disease is nothing new. This time, like many other times before, it has been served up with a dollop of xenophobia. The problem, almost ignored when it is abroad and confined to countries that barely register on the Western consciousness, is treated like an unmitigated disaster when it hits home shores. Like the wave of homophobia that emerged in the wake of the HIV/AIDS crisis of the early ’80s, the tabloid media emphasis is on minimizing personal risk rather than pressuring organizations such as the UN and the WHO to act on the virus itself. We are encouraged to shut our borders, be suspicious, be vigilant, and most importantly, be afraid.

If there is something that feels different this time around, it’s the social media factor. In 2009 when swine flu panic was at its peak, we were all on Facebook, but fewer of us were active on Twitter. The surges of popularity in micro-media over the past few years have completely changed the way we consume and digest news, but also the speed at which stories spread.

Take the case of this video, which was recorded in a Chilean hospital a few weeks ago. The announcement you hear roughly translates as: “Can I have your attention, please. We have a patient who is suspected to have Ebola. Please leave the room and go to another hospital.” After the patient who took this video posted it on YouTube, it received almost 140,000 views. Soon the story migrated to Twitter, where the hashtag #EbolaChile was used over 200,000 times. All this happened incredibly fast and internationally, even though it was later revealed that the suspected Ebola was actually a case of malaria. Indeed, it has not gone unnoticed that the Ebola news is spreading faster than the virus itself.

But when things are over-egged on Twitter it only ever results in topic fatigue and silliness. Recently, actress Anne Hathaway was accused of refusing to shake an Argentinian journalist’s hand due to fear of contracting the virus. Others are making mockery of the intense US media coverage, with some users suggesting that “EBoLa could be the name of an obnoxious Manhattan neighborhood” or that “the only part of the Ebola guy that upsets me is how rich his social life seems in comparison.”

With the fast pace of social media reporting, topics that have had everyone enraged on one day can be forgotten the next. But whilst it’s easy to laugh at the jokes made at the expense of the media hysteria in the US, for the people of the West African countries most affected it is a genuine threat, and it’s not going away.

Organizations like the CDC are doing a good job of keeping up sensible dialogue about Ebola by producing factsheets on the disease and its transmission. These are clearly designed to alleviate fears about how the virus has been spread without shying away from the facts of how it is affecting the West African countries hit by the epidemic. The UN has been providing updates on the current situation, and what they are doing to combat the spread of the disease whilst the WHO have tweeted audio files from their recent press conference. The challenge for these organizations is that there is a lot of repetition in the messages that they have to send out. The advice about the virus is quite basic and in order for them to communicate this effectively they have to find new and interesting ways to dress up the facts, so as not to appear repetitive.

When developing our own disease awareness initiatives we can learn from the social media reaction to Ebola. Twitter can be a maelstrom of misinformation and flippancy, and it is important to provide clear, concise and meaningful content such as infographics and video. Although rather than share PDFs, like the organizations mentioned above, we should think about content that is easily viewable and sharable within a Twitter client. Most importantly we should remember that it’s easy for a story to get lost in a medium that moves as fast as social. Bitesize content should be deployed regularly to keep up the momentum, and we need to find creative ways of saying the same messages in different ways so we make our point without switching off our audience.

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Oct9

Fire All Your Reps

Fire All Your Reps Image BlogOkay, that may be a bit extreme. But marketing drugs to HCPs is no longer a guarantee of sales.

As the US healthcare system has shifted its focus from “fee-for-service” to the dual goals of increasing quality while decreasing cost, the power of the individual HCP has been on the decline. Centralized systems of care (ACOs, IDNs, large hospital systems or physician group practices) function to meet these goals by implementing standard methods of delivering care, that the individual provider executes—including the menu of drugs he or she has to choose from, and when.

Consider the September 24 Wall Street Journal article detailing the refined sales strategy that pharma companies are taking. Focusing on the sales call of a “key account manager” to a large system administrator (rather than the 2,600 doctors within the system), the article details much of the impact that pharma is seeing from the changes to our healthcare system. As insurers and the federal government increasingly implement payments based on the effectiveness of care, large systems take control of how care is delivered to manage the costs. A handful of decision-makers at these organizations control how care is delivered—eradicating the influence of the rep on the prescribing doctor.

Pharma has already shifted away from the sales rep who makes the pitch to the doctor. Consider the information from ZS Associates, a consulting firm: 50% of the doctors in the US are considered “access restricted” in some way, and in 2005 pharma companies employed over 100,000 sales reps—which is down to 63,000 in 2014.

While the role of the individual provider has become less influential, the sales rep still has a role to play. Pharma’s marketing and sales approach needs to mimic what its customers are doing—coordinating efforts across all levels and locations of care, and providing targeted support at the pivotal interaction points. Pharma companies have piloted and implemented these integrated sales teams at key locations, and their prominence will only increase as HCP access continues to decline. As emerging delivery models become more sophisticated, the traditional “clinical data” approach will become only a small piece of the drug value story, while economics, efficiency, care coordination, adherence and wrap-around support share the spotlight.

So fire all the reps? No. But we need to redefine their role to better support the new world we live in.

 

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