Health Is Social

Infusing Social Media into Healthcare

It was a simpler but glamorous age: physicians did work they enjoyed in their practices or facilities; pharmaceutical companies produced heroic polymers to combat antagonist pathologies; and gregarious, ambitious and street-smart sales reps helped physicians to help their patients.

The Web, and changing healthcare economics, and physician disappointment with the consequences of poor decisions on the part of governments and pharmaceutical industry leaders irrevocably are putting an end to that age.

We live in a marvelous and dangerous time. Not glamor nor simplicity nor breaking bread over wine dominate our world. Turbulence, uncertainty and rapidity are becoming the currencies of understanding and information and communication.

So what’s the Life Sciences industries to do?

Well, lets start with what’s certain:

^1 Patients need wellness and disease-management and information.
^2 Physicians need resources: financial, informational, diagnostic and treatments.
^3 Pharma produces two things: polymers and information.

This triumvirate of Patient, Physician and Pharma remains a fundamental structure. (If you didn’t catch the one common word, read the list again.)

What’s changed, however, are the following:

^1 Physicians and patients have lost trust in Pharma.
^2 Payment reform continues to evolve.
^3 The days of salesforce visits and services are sunsetting.
^4 The Web disrupts the generation, possession, interpretation, transmission and dispensation of information.
^5 As a consequence of ^4, the relationship between physician and patient morphs.
^6 As a consequence of all the above, Pharma loses its hegemony of channels and networks and messages.
^6 Information approaches infinity every day.

How do we reconcile Status Quo with Expellas Furca?

In a sense, you can’t. But you can re-frame what’s going on within historical context.

What’s This Moveable Type Thingy, Johannas??

Just as the the Church of Rome initially failed to grasp the opportunities and threats of Moveable Type (I guess they didn’t do a SWOT analysis), Pharma must comprehend how technologies are re-forming the informational flows among patients, among physicians, among researchers and – most critically – the inter-relating re-formations and con-formations among all of those parties.

So let’s look quickly at the Church of Rome’s failures (and successes):

^1 Initially it didn’t grasp the concept of Movable Type
^2 Scrolls were holy: the Torah and Gospels were *written* by divinely-guided *hands*
^3 Moveable Type was perceived as un-holy (the only books were…books: *the* Bible)
^4 The masses were illiterate, so why print books? (“Physicians and patients don’t use social networks”)
^5 Meanwhile, the replication of books seeded literacy among the masses
^6 This literacy was mind-expanding: it created a new kind of Sharing and Collaboration
^7 This mind-expansion put ideas in heads. Dangerous ideas. (“Wait: This King is God stuff is bull!”)
^8 These dangerous ideas challenged the Church. (“Yo, Rome: Here are 95 Theses! 95!!!”)
^9 In the awakening of the Church, it finally realized: books could spread the Word (“How do we reach Physicians?”)

What does this have to do with Healthcare, Medicine, Pharma? Everything.

^1 Traditional Marketing was built on hegmonic-enabling technology (“‘Plop-plop, fizz fizz’. I can’t get that out of my head”).
^2 Medical Knowledge (The Gnosis) has been forbidden fruit to patients (note the serpents in the Caduceus). (“Trust us, we’re the experts.”)
^3 The relationship between physicians and Pharma is akin to the Aristocratic abandonment of the Church.
^4 Patients are increasingly demanding medical democracy. (“Hey, we’re on to your selling indulgence pills, Rome!”)

Now that Pharma’s hegemony over communication channels – to the masses and with physicians – is dissolving, the question to be answered is what kind of social infrastructures will evolve?

What’s the future?

What ‘books’ (new media) will physicians use? – Sermo? LinkedIn? Friendster? 😉

What information do patients want and need? Where will they seek it out?

Many answers – and we don’t have them all. Remember: Turbulence – Uncertainty – Rapidity.

Here’s my sense – it’s just one guy’s (considered) opinion (if I were too cocky, I’d call it a hypothesis – but it’s just a guess):

^1 The future of Pharma requires an expansion from polymer production to information service
^2 Making contact with the physicians from outer space will take time (space is lonely)
^3 Public Social Media won’t offer as great a return as Back-channel Social Media
^4 Everything will be an application (An ad will be inter-active and thus information-rich)
^5 Pharma must re-evolve its communications to small-scale community leadership and fellowship
^6 Pharma’s physician education must expand from diseases/products to media/technology (information)
^7 Global regulatory bodies will need persuasion to recognize Pharma is part of Shared Decision Making
^8 Pharma’s greatest asset will be Creativity. Creativity is anathema to Bureaucracy.
^9 Clarifying on ^8: Creativity is more than Creative. It’s in everything.

WOW – this has been a long way to answer a simple question about those alien physicians!

Here’s the thing: whether the answers are simple or complex, this is going to be hard work.

Here’s another thing: the word “reach” will strain your arm. It’s the wrong word.

Today’s media aren’t so much powerful for ‘reach’ as they are for ‘pull’. Reach is still important, but it’s a smaller mechanism in an expanding organic system.

But the point of marketing isn’t to reach. It’s to make contact.

You make contact by creating content (information); reaching out for *information* about physicians; listening for signals in patient communities; and investing in platforms that enable peer-to-peer connectivity – and stepping in with ideas and questions, not product, and then stepping back to observe. Rinse and repeat.

The spacecraft for doing this? The answer is gonna sound so dopey, but it’s true: your blog.

The blog – the one on *your* domain – is the only spaceship you can control. It’s how you can steer and lead conversations, it’s where you can be found among the Electric Sea of Infinity and it’s where you hone your contact skills. The other planets and solar systems aren’t in your control. But they are gravity-slings.

The failure to blog, given Pharma’s decades-long decline in PR esteem, may have cost the industry billions of dollars. (Laugh, I’m used to it – but I’m not wrong.)

So, you wanna know how to make contact with physicians from outer space? It’s a long journey, but build that spaceship and then learn to use the backchannel new media to build your own physician CRM.

They’re out there.

Phil Baumann

484-362-0451



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