I was recently reminded about the power of the Internet and the irrational voices in my head. On my journey to work, whilst flicking through my social media channels, I came across the latest bite-sized video from Jamie Oliver talking about the importance of carbohydrates. His latest book focuses on all things super food, and his message was simple ‘carbohydrates are good for you’. Now before this blog starts to sound like an advert for Jamie’s book, I want to dive a little deeper into the ongoing impact the Internet has on our health choices and the battles these types of voices can cause in a patients mind.
Now, lets be clear, this video didn’t actually tell me anything I didn’t already know. And yet I watched it, taking in every moment, feeling reassured by its message. Jamie is right, we need carbohydrates; the more complex, the better. We need them for fuel. Yes they turn to sugars, which turn to fat. But we need that too.
However, as I reached the end, I realised I had a number of little voices vying for my attention. Each presented evidence, urging me to ignore the sense being presented. What about the books and diets built on not eating carbohydrates? What about the low carb diets they recommend for people with insulin issues? Aren’t white refined flours evil? As I set about quieting the voices, reassuring myself that Jamie’s message was correct, I took a moment to appraise the conflicting health awareness messages and information that patients deal with everyday.
Patients and the Internet
With over two thirds of adults turning to the Internet for health information, it is of paramount importance that there is good and reliable information out there. According to Manhattan Research, in 2010, almost half of US adults, around 112 million, were ‘ePharma consumers,’ or 'individuals online for pharma information'. This was up from 55 million in 2005.
Although biopharma are aware of the regulatory challenges when it comes to engaging with patients online, including through apps and social media; there are ways to interact and provide information 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And biopharma must embrace these ways as patients want to take an active role in their healthcare decisions, armed with the support and encouragement of online communities.
And if your credible resource is not available, you can be certain that there will be bogus information that patients will be accessing.
So what can you do about it?
I believe that every brand manager has a responsibility to the patient journey it. And as part of that, you need to reduce the worry of patients coming across poor health information online. You can start generating insights by working with patient groups and developing unbranded information that supports patients with the inevitable need for support. Below are four ways to generate the insights you need to provide this support to patients:
- Review what’s out there: The first step has got to be reviewing what is already out there. What is being said about your disease area? Are there ‘myths’ being discussed that you need to tackle? Is information evidence-based? Are there patient stories out there that other patients can access? Talk with patients and physicians about the information that is missing.
- Joint working: Patient groups and online patient forums play an enormous role in supporting the availability of good quality patient information. More than half of patients living with a chronic disease consume user-generated health information, and over a third reading someone else’s commentary or experience about health or medical issues on an online news group, website, or blog. These all reinforce that working with these groups is only a force for good.
- Developing relevant information: Building on the research and the feedback from patient groups, the best way to support patients is to develop up-to-date relevant information. Our understanding of health and disease is changing on a regular basis. That’s why it is key that your information remains fresh and is on the right channels.
- Listen: Finally, there is a need to set up opportunities to continually listen to what is being said, whether this is though regular discussions with patient groups or social media listening.
The Internet can provide us with a collaborative approach to health care in society, allowing biopharma to provide the right patient support. Technology now provides us with the opportunity to do something far greater and that is improving patient lives. With the right insight we can create tools, services or communications that better serve the needs of patients and meet business objectives.