Discussion on Social Media in Health Care Europe Summary of Third Tweet Up on Twitter #hcsmeu, August 21st 2009

Origanally posted on “Value innovation in medical and life sciences” ; August 21th, 2009

Already we are at the third meeting of Silja Chouquet’s (#whydotpharma) and Andrew Spong’s (#andrewspong) initiative on #hscmeu.[1]

Now less people participated but, still, as it seems to me with in-depth discussions.[2] Anyway, great to see the embedded insights! All people interested submit themselves to ! That ‘ll give a good overview.

Now, the next three questions from

  1. What role does the pharmaceutical industry have to play in health care social media?
    (submitted by @TiphaineMF);
  2. What can we learn from this campaign #welovetheNHS?
    (forwarded by @whydotpharma);
  3. How will participation in social media impact corporate branding in pharma and vice versa?
    (submitted by @twit_pro_quo)

The role for pharma in health care and social media

To me this is the topic that I liked much. It was discussed straight forward and participants seemed to agree on the conclusion: here lies a big challenge to pharma! And, yes it is one of the take-it-now-or-leave-it-altogether type! Why? Because there is the opportunity and it will be gone quickly if you don’t act!

Foremost, participants did share ideas of what pharma’s role could be in social media: a leading role, or the role Pharma itself chooses to play, or would it be the same role like pharma plays elsewhere, in classical media? Discussions emerged quickly as to the type of role, the content and shaping of it, up to the question whether it would be free to pharma as to choose and do what they would like to, and, in conclusion, whether pharma would make it in trying to?

This is the fundamental discussion about the impact of social media to pharma. Pharma needs to proceed on this quickly if they do not want to miss the opportunities. This is because of the pace of development of health care communities through the use of social media. It will make up new structures in the market. One expects several disease networks fight for attention, like Prahalad and Ramaswamy have predicted this future of competition.[3] Communities do have a pace of their own and it looks that when you do not take part within the communities, it will be hard to gain a trusted position! That will be difficult to pharma, because of their actual perceived level of trust. This leaves the decision: be in now, or look for alternatives! Specifically, when communities have been built and do have success, what would be the reason to have pharma in, when they did not support the build up? When the more demanding patients have found their values in communities without pharma, what then would them lead to relate to pharma? And again, the question of change of business model popped up, as did the question of change and attitude, that we have seen earlier in #HCSMEU here.

If Pharma is to have a leading role, it should move away from a brand pushing attitude and create a leading role in transparency. A leading role now would extend to support and development in communities around diseases. Yet, it is doubted whether a leading role for pharma is possible without branded initiatives. Would pharma still be too controversial? What would be the conditions according to the participants? And what examples did they forward for pharma to do with social media?

As conditions are concerned, foremost attention should be paid to transparency, is said. It so looks that this is the one issue that can build new trust in pharma and its communication. It’ll be in the long run. To be trusted upfront, pharma should pay attention as to how they can manage internal conditions to arrive and guarantee an integer nature. One issue here is to learn how internal medical and regulatory affairs could cope with changes, to develop flexibility and speed of response to external upcoming issues. How could one closely work together at this. And also, to find ways as to prevent the perception that general communication from pharma to the public is mistakenly perceived as marketing or misleading information. That of course has to do with the traditional ways of Direct to Consumer (DTC) marketing. And yes, again, this implies a fundamental discussion on strategic level of what the consequences of this will be and how you as pharma will develop this.

What were the forwarded ideas as to what pharma could do in social media? Summing up: to foster and support development of communities, assist in management of them. Educate and forward mentor ship to the communities, assist in their communication efforts and innovation in technology. It looks that pharma could benefit of their recent opening up about actual sponsorship and cooperation with patient associations. One could further evolve on this basis of transparency. And, further, endeavour in disease awareness campaigns and other social causes like healthcare reform, improving access to medicine, research in rare diseases, research in general, etc. Though, again, these efforts will be under scrutiny by authorities and “pharma watchers”.. So, I would say, it needs a serious design of conditions, management, risk management and coping, before a company is to embark on this challenging effort.

Should that prevent pharma from doing so? No not, I think, was the general attitude. But pharma is to take it up seriously to add their potential value to this new way of information and support to care for health. Participants stressed the fact of the growth of the active, empowered patient that will get rid of “paternalistic medicine”. All parties in health care should learn how to go along with this development. Not an easy one if you monitor this.

So, surely it is not a matter of “just go for it” to pharma. But it can be done, despite obstacles and barriers. Use and experiment with elaborating scenario’s of how your pharma business might evolve when stepping beyond the level of just “sending information through a new channel”, I would suggest. And there are good examples.[4]

#WelovetheNHS – What to learn form this campaign

The “We love the NHS”- campaign emerged upon the reproach of the quality of the NHS in the political debate about Obama’s health care reform.
It appears not a broadly discussed item among participants in #hcsmeu. Some of the people were amazed, about the impact of the NHS brand to the UK public. One did not see equivalents in Germany, France of the Netherlands. So, the more surprise about the response itself, people were even “bewildered,” they said. The more so, while one says to have the general perception of people to be moaning about the NHS. This made clear the distinction between fundamental values about the very existence of the institution and the way it is doing.

It, however does demonstrate the potential of a general public community quickly responding to actual events. The impact and speed of social media does play a relevant role in reaching out, communicating and campaigning to the pubic. It was remarked that the NHS did not  take the opportunity to turn the positive turmoil around into a campaign about their services. It is a new reality to all, and that won’t go away – be it by lack of electricity. A new reality to political and commercial organizations as well.  And, the NHS (@nhsdirect) welcomed the support and the suggestions to improve.

How will participation in social media impact corporate branding in pharma and vice versa?

Although it was the third question and little discussion time was left, relevant statements were still made. A lot of “ah’s and oh’s”, “yes, time is there already” are made at any of the first three tweetups!

The chance to personalize the brand with specific and concrete sympathy, listening, innovation, patient centric new partnerships, was seen as the main  impact of social media to corporate branding. Through use of social media brands can learn on the one hand what consumers specifically experience with it and feed it back to them in clear, consistent and friendly tone of voice. There’s the opportunity to use social media as brand builder. Yes, even social media were seen as pharma’s last hope to redeem itself…

Anyway, social media give the opportunity and perhaps the obligation by its sheer existence, to build genuine and sustainable personality, and it should be done quick. Whether the use of social media is to be managed at strategic or tactic level was left as an unfinished discussion, but surely the #hcsmeu community is full of hope for things to get more human and personal in business. Maybe so, transactions between supplier and consumers get back to the private and particular level of the little shop owner with his personal and well known consumers again: a face-to-face interpersonal and direct exchange!

Rob Halkes

[1]Now @hscmeu has been created for more information and organisation of #hcsmeu

[2] look for specific examples in the raw tweets to be listed at or get them through

[3] The Future of Competition, Co-creating Unique Value with Customers (CCC), C.K  Prahalad and Venkat Ramaswamy, Harvard Business School Press 2004

[4] If I might direct you to the cases on .

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