The life sciences industry finds itself at a critical juncture where rising demand for healthcare is offset by certain challenges. While the increase in aging populations, increased prevalence of chronic lifestyle-driven diseases, and improved access to quality healthcare are collectively driving demand for healthcare services, global economic downturn, pricing pressures, and patent expirations pose significant challenges. This interplay of drivers is leading to a shift in focus from volume to value (delivering improved outcomes at the same or lower costs) in the global healthcare landscape.
To provide the kind of value that is increasingly required by governments, payers, and patients, life sciences companies need to position themselves as partners in patient outcomes rather than as mere drug suppliers. A step in this direction entails a better understanding of patients’ wants, needs, and experiences. Internet-based content from channels such as social media (online discussion groups, message boards, forums, and others) can provide insights to identify opportunity areas to play, while addressing the changing stakeholder expectations. The same channels can also be leveraged for providing medical education for serious illnesses that could dramatically improve the quality of life.
The prominence of social media in daily life and underutilization of social media by life science companies can be aptly highlighted by 2 surveys: “One in four interactions among doctors, healthcare providers and patients in the United States is internet-based” by Accenture and “Only 10 of the 25 ‘socially active’ global drugs manufacturers use Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube” by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.
Most life science companies currently use social media with the limited objective of driving brand visibility. Social media can be utilized much more effectively to:
- Identify unmet needs in various therapeutic areas
- Raise awareness and monitor competition during pre-launch
- Devise marketing initiatives and promotional messaging during launch
- Promote drug advocacy groups and brand reputation post-launch
- Keep a tab on patient-reported adverse events
- Use it as a platform to engage with patients and physicians
Inputs from social media can be leveraged for KOL engagement activities, clinical trial recruitment, drug safety monitoring, and so forth. A structured analysis of social media listening can generate real-time consumer insights from common to highly segmented audience.
Regulatory agencies are also actively utilizing social media to connect to a wider healthcare audience. Agencies such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European Medicines Agency (EMA) have a strong presence across social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. FDA plans to have an in-house capability for social media monitoring and surveillance through social media listening for early detection of adverse events and food-borne illness. The flip side is that this “Big Data” from social media presents many problems relating to relevancy and authenticity. Since social media sites honor privacy and user confidentiality, discerning authentic statements from those tied to personal agendas is difficult. Also, since there are no rules governing the use of vocabulary, users incorporate their own vocabulary, slang, abbreviations, and so forth, which makes identification and analysis of data to uncover trends and actionable intelligence a time-consuming and resource-heavy process.
However, the benefits of using social media as a source from which key insights and intelligence can be extracted far outweigh the risks. Connecting with patients and physicians over social media offers life science companies the opportunity to understand and identify “areas of contention” regarding pricing, adverse events, unmet needs, competition, and even their own reputation. This will enable corporate-level executives make informed decisions pertaining to future strategies.
Social media has now become an integral part of our ecosystem. Like it or hate it, life sciences companies certainly cannot ignore it.