With a significant shift in government
advice to the UK public around
COVID-19, medDigital and medCrowd team have continued working withing our
clients, old and new, to ensure we offer solutions that protect them, their key
stakeholders, our employees and partners.
All the medDigital team
are working from home, checking in with our clients and each other daily and
staying as productive, positive and healthy as possible:
Our medCrowd platform is available 24/7 as a compliant communications option for
healthcare teams and life sciences clients, a vital remote connectivity method as
the importance of social distancing increases (read more about medCrowd here).
Over 80 Digital Advisory Boards
later, we are ready, now more than ever, to help more companies with the
essential digital transformation that the current COVID-19 epidemic has forced
many to adopt.
We have increased our capacity to
work with clients on more Digital and Virtual Advisory Boards, webinars and
digital communications solutions. We wish to continue supporting
and guiding our clients by:
Fully run and
manage or consult on Digital Advisory Boards, talking publications
and live webinars
insights or direct content development to achieve your objectives
scientific advisory review, from scientists with in-depth knowledge of the ABPI
code and experience working across several therapy areas
specialist knowledge and skills, so you can effectively communicate
medical information across a variety of platforms
harnessing medical, commercial and digital capabilities through compliant digital
strategy, process optimisation and project management.
Whilst the priority remains staying safe and healthy,
your business needs don’t have to take a backseat during this challenging time.
We are ready to proactively help your team fully adapt to new practices using digital
scientific communications and can provide total support throughout your transformative
Let us discuss what we can do for you – get in touch with Lisa to make an inquiry about your projects or arrange a call.
We’ve also been working on some great content mythbusting, fact-checking and sharing credible information about COVID-19, which we will be sharing very soon on our social media channels!
We hope you continue to stay safe, look out for each other and
The spread of Wuhan nCoV-2019, officially named severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2, by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses[i]) has dominated news headlines around the world since the beginning of 2020. It was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) by the WHO at the end of January, only 2 months after it was first reported by physicians in Wuhan, China.
Room for speculation
The information about the 2019-nCoV symptoms (usually including a dry cough and fever), related fatal viral diseases (SARS and MERS to name two of the other six human coronaviruses) and treatments in development are released at an extremely fast rate thanks in part to social media and digital communications.
Most readers of this blog will be allied to the life sciences industry or healthcare professions and therefore able to understand the science and health-related information behind these reports and better sift through the conjecture.
Rumours and the unknowns
So much speculation has been shared so widely and so quickly, it is often difficult to attribute any particular piece of news or rumour to one source. Initial reports about the 2019-nCoV disease origin, for example, ranged from zoonic (bats or snakes) to man-made.
There is a lot that
remains unknown about 2019-nCoV, probably more than there is speculation. We
still don’t have any known treatment for any coronavirus; treatment is
symptomatic and supportive.
In early February 2020,
a single case from the United States was documented about an nCoV-2019 patient
whose severe pneumonia improved after receiving treatment with an experimental
drug developed for Ebola.
Soon thereafter, Chinese media reported they were taking the same experimental treatment, remdesivir, into a large phase III randomised control trial with a planned enrolment of 761 subjects, currently ongoing. However, they did not highlight enough the treatment is not yet approved for use in humans.
As news of this experimental treatment’s use is being circulated, two large digital innovation companies have recently released their proposals for treatments based purely on digital development algorithms.
Possible digital solutions
Babylon AI’s report to the Lancet[iii] proposed a treatment based on its own algorithms. Insilico Medicine has also come up with six potential (theoretical) treatments based on its findings[iv].
Both companies have invited researchers and medicinal chemists to provide a practical assessment of their treatments’ feasibilities to treat nCoV-2019.
Although these signal promising digital and in-lab treatment options to explore, mainstream news stories are predominately focussed on the virus’s spread and the number of deaths or new infections.
medDigital will be keeping an eye on developing stories about promising treatments, especially those involving digital innovations
[iii] The Lancet, Correspondence, Volume 395, ISSUE 10223, Pe30-e31, February 15, 2020, Baricitinib as potential treatment for 2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease, Peter Richardson, Ivan Griffin Catherine Tucker, Dan Smith, Olly Oechsle, Anne Phelan, et al.
The ABPI announces new guidance out in Spring 2020!
A DAY WITH THE ABPI
As Affiliate Members of the ABPI, medDigital took part in the ABPI’s Social Media and Digital Day, which was held on 31st January 2020.
The day was a huge success – it offered ABPI members an opportunity to network, share best practice about using social media and explore its influence and effect on the work of pharmaceutical companies, through talks by representatives from the PMCPA, ABPI Code working group, pharmaceutical companies and specialist digital and social media agencies.
UPCOMING ABPI GUIDANCE ON DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS
The ABPI announced that new Guidance on Digital Communications will be available in electronic form on the PMCPA website in Spring 2020.
The digital guidance is in the late stages of development, with significant input from our founder Dr Felix Jackson, who is working with the ABPI Code working group and members of the PMCPA to finalise for release.
Dr Felix Jackson was publicly thanked by the PMCPA Director Heather Simmonds on the day for his contributions thus far – reception to the news that this digital communications guidance was to be released was unanimously positive, especially from company representatives.
The ABPI receives numerous queries from pharmaceutical companies and PMCPA cases involving social media and digital communications and the challenges involved in navigating their use around the prohibition from promoting prescription-only medicines to the public.
COMPLIANCE IS KEY
A lot of great work is done within the life sciences industry for patients and the advancement of healthcare. Due to restrictions on advertising prescription-only medicines to the public, it can be difficult to tell the public about it using digital communications and social media. This is also the case when navigating the ABPI Code of Practice’s non-digital-specific guidance on how to use these channels to share good quality information.
On the day, the speakers shared some brilliant examples of the use of social media to share information with the public in a compliant and effective way. One such example was the Twitter campaign for #valuingmedicines run by the ABPI, which provided a very successful framework later shared by Pfizer and MSD for recruitment purposes.
“Pharmaceutical companies want, and indeed should be able to use digital media, and need to identify ways of utilising digital communications whilst complying with compliance restrictions.”
PMCPA Digital Communications Guidance, coming Spring 2020
OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE INDUSTRY
Social media platforms provide companies with the opportunity to share what they are doing for patients on a broader stage, rebut misinformation and respond to crises and criticism. Creating content for social media platforms has helped keep news stories down, also known as “rebuttal in action”, by allowing companies to frame their own strategic narratives to a captive audience.
Social media platforms are not just a commercial marketing tool for pharmaceutical companies – they can also be used very successfully for non-promotional activities (more on that later).
A number of key takeaway points for running successful social media campaigns came up numerous times as common themes for the most effective campaigns that engage audiences on life sciences industry social media platforms.
STEPS FOR SUCCESSFUL ENGAGEMENT
Tell stories people care about
People care about people. It can be presumed that at least some of the audiences on social media platforms owned by pharmaceutical companies are sceptical about the intentions of any content shared. One way to mitigate this is to use the voices of patients to tell their stories directly to the audience. Social listening has gathered that these are the stories people care most about.
Target the right audience
Different social media platforms will reach different audiences. LinkedIn content is likely to reach professionals and businesses with an interest in specific fields, whilst Instagram content is likely to reach young teens and under 30s. With that in mind, the social space is constantly changing, and there are up-to-date statistics available for each platform that can help with the decision about how to tailor content for each one.
It can also be advantageous to keep content regional where possible, relating it to people in that geographical region specifically.
Most people access social media platforms through mobile phones. Considering how the content will look, feel and work on a mobile device is key, often more important than how it would look on any other electronic device such as a tablet or laptop. This is true regardless of the platform used, with significant improvement in engagement by keeping content square-shaped (square videos, square photos) and adding subtitles for videos.
Redefine who your influencers are
It is difficult to discuss social media without mentioning influencers, but this term can take on a completely different meaning from the usual (think: Kardashians) in the life sciences industry.
SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCERS
Engaging influencers for pharmaceutical companies are often the patients whose lives have been changed by the innovative research they do. Aside from being influencers, this also benefits patients by giving them a voice on social media platforms.
Another effective influencer for a pharmaceutical company can be an internal advocate such as an employee; this approach is most successful when the advocate is used long term. Although Novartis’s CEO Vas Narasimhan (one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices: Global Influencers 2019) is a great example of this, it is not necessary to use a senior figure within the company to engage an audience.
Pfizer’s non-promotional social media campaign for meningococcal meningitis was a hugely successful example of maintaining the balance of authenticity and being compliant by using social media influencers. Regardless of the exhuasting amount of medical review required (60+ pieces at last count!), the engagement and rewards were worth it for the company and reaped dividends strategically in a successful collaboration between medical and marketing.
CRISIS MITIGATION RULES
It would be remiss to omit the obvious need for crisis mitigation for when the use of digital communications goes wrong in the highly regulated pharmaceutical industry. Brand Anarchy and #Brand Vandals author Steve Earl gave the following simple advice on crisis fundamentals:
Establish if it is a crisis or not
Act and respond quickly, with agile approval
Pause scheduled posts
Take it offline where you can
Keep everyone (internally) informed
With most large pharmaceutical companies employing an average of 1.8 full-time employees in a dedicated social media team, most crises can be mitigated.
The ABPI conducted a member survey on companies’ social media activities ahead of the Social Media and Digital Day. This revealed that as of 2020, 61% of respondents include social media as part of their crisis communications planning. It also revealed that 1 in 10 companies are spending over £500,000 per on social media activities, compared to none in 2018 – across the board, companies are spending more now than they were in 2018.
The opportunities afforded by digital communications are evidently very investible for the industry and are being taken advantage of. With the PMCPA guidance out soon, sharing information using digital communications will be done even more compliantly and effectively than before – we’ll keep you updated on the release.
If you asked healthcare professionals, industry experts and patients what they thought the definition of “digital healthcare” was, you would likely get a myriad of varied answers. Anything ranging from patient-generated data in wearable technology to companion diagnostics in genomic medicine is likely to get a mention or be covered by any one definition. Thus, the potential for confusion around the term and its true definition – if there is one.
Pharma meets big tech
In the pharmaceutical industry, the trend for partnership with big tech firms, whilst not new, has taken place at a faster rate in recent years (Novartis with Microsoft, Roche with Spark Therapeutics, Pfizer with IBM to name a few). So, where does the integration of pharma and healthcare organisations with big tech end? And where does digital healthcare on its own merit begin? Is there even a difference?
“its primary function should be delivering software-generated therapeutic interventions directly to patients to prevent, manage or treat a medical disorder or disease”.
This could more or less read: “all the above” as
a correct definition from the industry’s biggest consortium of commercial
leaders. At the JP
Morgan Healthcare Conference that took place on the 13th-16th January 2020,
the themes of this breadth of inclusion in the term’s definition, the potential
confusion it causes and how it might be hurting the sector were big topics.
Because of the diverse approaches to the definition,
there are big differences in quality and strategy from many new companies
dabbling in digital healthcare. We are yet to see how many of these can be
It has also been questioned whether an
industry that still uses fax machines in daily communications is ready for the
digital innovation available. One counter argument is that fax machines and
other ubiquitous “dinosaur/retro” technologies still used in healthcare today are
reliable, easy to operate and fix – if it works for healthcare professionals
and patients, does it need to be replaced by something new at all? (medDigital
have written an article
about the “dark side” of using fax machines on the medCrowd blog).
At the JP Morgan conference, American Medical
Association CEO James Madara said that better curation is needed in order to
help healthcare professionals make informed decisions about recommending new
technologies under the label of “digital healthcare” to patients.
There has been no consensus as to whether this
broad scope has a potential to harm the sector. The question remains: how would
defining “digital health” in a more nuanced way add value to the healthcare
sector? Could it be defined and differentiated from other healthcare as succinctly
as say, champagne is distinguished from all other drinks on the market?
What the future holds
The truth is probably that time will tell. Digital
healthcare has arguably been integrating itself into everyday clinical practice
and healthcare research for many decades now. So, its increased umbrella use by
emerging partnerships and innovations may help distinguish its application eventually.
As time goes on, this could transform it from an aspiration today into a well-defined
entity in the future.
What do you think the definition of digital
communications to education and access to information, social media are serving
many needs of modern life, in a fast and efficient manner. Not only the public,
but also healthcare professionals (HCPs) are
joining online communities where they can read articles about new research for
their medical development, share practice issues and cases, consult colleagues
and network with their peers.
As a result, there is a vast amount of information flowing
through the web sphere that the pharma industry can turn into meaningful insights
performing what is called “social listening”: the process of monitoring
digital conversations to understand what people are saying about a company,
their products and a therapy area online.
What are the benefits?
Prepare ahead of scientific congresses and analyse post-congresses
of the conversations among clinicians and researchers prior to the congress
enables pharma teams to understand the key scientific trends, medical needs and
challenges their customers have, and shape their activity at the meeting. Furthermore,
continuing analysis of social activity post-meeting can provide information
about exceptional engagement, negative or positive feedback and healthcare
teams worth engaging with. This analysis could also serve as a benchmark
to check against the industry’s strategies and offer key learnings for the
future. Furthermore, post-meeting discussions could be initiated with the aim
to collect specific insights, through the use of platforms that facilitate
communication in a compliant manner, such as medCrowd.
Identify key opinion leaders
users’ activity, conversations and engagement contributes to the identification
of Key Engagement Experts (KEEs). In fact, the term KEE has lately been
replaced by the term Connected
Engagements Expert (CEE), as the type of thought leader with
influencing power among the social networks. CEEs are established in their
field, own a large following and drive conversations using their expertise and
Plan release of medical publications and follow reactions
listening also means being able to analyse the seasonality of
conversations, discussions around journals and current research trends, and
identify the most suitable timing for a publication. Moreover, it enables outcome
forecasting of new data, and how they will be accepted by the scientific
community. This is largely based on analysing the public’s perception of competitors’
products. The online “voice” post-publication can also reflect how well a new
study was perceived by the community.
Market research and competitive analysis
listening can provide insights related to the performance of competitors’
activities, for example a conference campaign or the publication of the data
from a new trial. Therefore, pharma companies can understand the competitive
landscape and re-evaluate their own strategy. Understanding the landscape may
also reveal niches of innovation that pharma companies can consider expanding
into, for instance a new unmet medical need or a new collaboration opportunity.
How can I achieve insightful
Monitoring of discussions, engagement
and impressions can offer insights that would have been hard to extract with
the limited resources just a decade ago. Specialised social listening programs have
been developed, including Brandwatch
and Crimson Hexagon, Digimind, Linkfluence and NetBase. Remarkably, Symplur is a healthcare-focused social
listening tool that gathers data from Twitter to find out what people are
talking about in any given therapy area, what are the key trends and who are
the main influencers.
In this digital era, it is
important that pharma companies leverage the potential of social media
efficiently and securely, in order to effectively reach a broader audience,
gather insights and achieve their goals.
Developing engaging, factual and high-quality content can be challenging, particularly in the heavily regulated pharmaceutical industry. As healthcare professionals and patients adapt to the internet of things (IoT) era, their expectations around access to information are continuously evolving. At least 8 out of 10 people turn to search engines as their first source for health information1, so how do we develop medical content that meets your customers’ needs and stands out from the crowd?
Develop a clear content strategy
Whilst marketers spend months each year brand planning, it
can be easy for medical teams to skip the content planning phase. However, developing
a clear strategy to identify the objectives of the content you are looking to
create is key to success. You can start by answering the following questions:
Who is your intended audience?
What topics do you want to share as a thought
leader in your field?
Which platforms are you going to use to share
What story are you trying to tell?
How will you make sure this content stands-out?
Which initiatives are you looking to support
with this content?
What are your key performance indicators?
Seek advice and collaborate
In order to ensure your content is of the highest quality
you need to make sure it resonates with your intended audience. The best way to do this is to engage with
customers to get their feedback on your ideas and throughout the content
development lifecycle. This ensures that the content you are producing not only
meets your objectives but theirs too. You could do this by setting up a
steering committee online using platforms like our very own conversation
Plan for approvals
One potential barrier
to creating engaging content is the approval process, which can be challenging
and lengthy. Streamline the process by engaging reviewers early in your plans
and getting their buy in to your approach. Ensure content is code-compliant and
referenced properly before it goes into the approval system.
Do your research and make sure it’s authentic
It is often perceived that most medical content is produced by marketers. While it is true that we need to learn from our marketing colleagues and make sure that content is easy to understand and digest, we also need to make sure it doesn’t come across as too promotional. Medical content should be well researched and referenced as well as being factual. The real benefit comes from translating these facts into something meaningful for the audience with insights about how it will change their lives, practice or understanding.
Make sure it’s accessible
an engaging piece of content is only half the job. It’s only valuable if
customers can access it. It’s key to make sure you have a dissemination plan to
communicate your asset both internally and externally.
Measure performance and adapt
After your asset has been available for a while, it’s
important to reflect on the performance against your key performance indicators.
Use these insights to adapt your content strategy accordingly and keep creating