Branded websites: Sharing information and creating trust

Emma DArcy, founder of Medpharmaconnect and eyeforpharmas resident patient site reviewer, on why the industry needs to engage with patients online

The easiest way for a pharma company to create a patient website is to take a product brochure and upload it to the Web, then add a feedback form at the bottom and a link to other branded websites at the top.

Ten years ago, that would have sufficed. No more.

You can easily go out and get product information, so if something is masquerading as a community and actually is just a product online, its offensive, says Emma DArcy, founder of Medpharmaconnect.

The current selection of pharma patient websites, of course, runs the gamut, with some excellent examples of companies harnessing social media to open a dialogue with patients.

But the majority, says DArcy, are either in the halfway housepresenting basic social media tools without fully committing to the endeavoror adopting a hands-off stance.

Those in the latter category often use regulations, or the lack thereof when it comes to social media, as a justification to stay on the sidelines.

DArcy says its a convenient excuse.

If you engage with people and answer their questions using social media tools, it doesnt mean youre compromising intellectual property, nor does it mean youre going to run foul of regulatory, she says.

We need to appreciate that its the direction of information that matters. Patients and physicians are actively seeking information. Dont be afraid to answer their questions.

Creating trust

In the Web 2.0 world, anyone can engage with any cause, no matter his or her geographic location or experience level with the issue at hand.

With health, the democratizing power of social media tools has given patients a louder voice about their healthcare needs.

Patients have taken greater control and responsibility for their own health and, accordingly, want a conversation with drug researchers and manufacturers.

We live in an entitled generation where people expect to be able to have a dialogue with the producers of all products, says DArcy.

Whether thats a car or your cancer meds, we want to be able to go to the person whos created that and say, Heres what I think about this or Heres what I need to know about that.

Pharma-hosted patients sites, therefore, can help create trust between pharma and the users of its products.

Patient websites can and should distribute important information about products and facilitate dialogue.

The sites can also contribute to enhanced scientific understanding by sharing research results, thus asserting pharma as a collaborator in the effort to find solutions.

Pharma has an opportunity to use social media to humanize itself, says DArcy.

Theres such a negative association with anything to do with the pharmaceutical industry. That has to change. We need to have trust in the pharma industry because they produce the products that help us live longer, healthier lives.

Feel-good moments

Some pharma companies are ahead of the game.

Pfizer, for instance, has created websites to tackle healthcare issues, such as the fact that men consult physicians less frequently than women, especially when it comes to sexual health.

Pfizer created the free online ManMOT clinic to help.

The company has also confronted pharma-specific issues, like the challenge of confronting counterfeit prescription medicines.

It has also launched campaigns to open a dialogue around specific Pfizer products, like CHAMPIX to help smokers kick the habit.

They havent done the perfunctory Put a Facebook page up or a blog up and put our name to it, says DArcy.

Instead, theyve taken a very unselfish and all-encompassing approach.

AstraZenecas Celebration Chain for women fighting breast cancer is another example of best in class.

The chain is sponsored by AZ but has nothing to do with the companys ARIMIDEX brand.

Instead it allows friends and family members to create personalized dolls that represent a woman who has faced or is facing breast cancer.

That doll then gets circulated via email in an animated cartoon celebration.

Theres no product information, theres very little disease information, its just a feel-good moment theyve created in the midst of what can be a very demoralizing diagnosis, says DArcy.

We dont always have to provide high science and intense answers. These websites can be about providing a nice moment in a dark day.

Eyeforpharmas branded site reviews

So whats the best way to elevate the standard of all pharma patient sites?

DArcy believes criticism is a crucial ingredient.

To that end, eyeforpharma is launching a monthly pharma-branded patient site review, with DArcy as our resident reviewer.

Pharma companies can put any website forward for review.

DArcy will assess that site in terms of content, collaboration, community, character, and commitment, and give it a star rating (0 to 5).

The goal: to provide a benchmark for the industry and a reference point for best practice when putting together patient forums.

Eyeforpharma has a distinct voice for industry, and that voice is heard and valued by industry, DArcy says.

As such, constructive praise and criticism is possible and pharma can continue to strive for an excellent dialogue with patients, which will ensure their needs are heard and addressed.

Read Emma DArcys premiere review, of GSKs site about its pharmacy-only weight loss aid, alli.

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