Vol. 1, No. 6 * July 2002
Published by VirSci Corporation * www.virsci.com


Better Customer Service and Support Require Opt-In
John Mack
Pharma Marketing News Editor

Most online “customer support” services provided by pharmaceutical companies is focused on physicians, but what about supporting the consumer who is the end-user of the pharmaceutical Rx product? Some pharmaceutical prescription product web sites now have special sections devoted to consumers/patients already taking the product. They may offer support “tools” such as risk assessors/calculators, diaries, e-mail prescription refill reminders, questions to ask the doctor, progress reports, etc.

Pharma companies do not want to be in the business of providing health care directly to consumers and most types of support should come from the physician or other healthcare provider and not from the pharmaceutical company. And pharmaceutical companies do not want to collect personal health information for use in marketing. That’s why pharma companies frequently sponsor programs provided by healthcare providers, such as letters from pharmacists to patients that offer them the ability to switch to new dosage forms of their products.

While such programs are considered disease management or “care management” and not marketing, they are increasingly coming under attack in the press and in the courts for violating patient privacy. This is not the kind of exposure pharma companies need! The main problem seems to be that such communications – whether considered marketing or disease management – are unsolicited by the consumer. It would be better to allow consumers to opt-in to receive the service and use the product website to support the program.

What about interacting directly with consumers rather than through healthcare intermediaries? This requires that pharmaceutical companies become more comfortable and proficient in handling and securing personal information collected from consumers. Recent faux pas suggest that some companies are not ready for this and need to upgrade privacy policies, security safeguards and employee training. Until that happens, don’t expect pharma companies to engender the type of consumer trust required for truly interactive customer support through the Internet.


Federal Privacy Watch

Federal Privacy Watch (FPW) is a periodic, subscription-based e-Telligence service for corporate privacy and compliance officers, corporate counsels and marketers. FPW includes up-to-date news about privacy laws, regulations, and actions by Congress and federal agencies. FPW focuses exclusively on issues of importance to the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries. FPW reports include:

  • summaries and status of proposed and enacted legislation
  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other federal agency actions
  • healthcare and pharma industry response to legislation, press releases, position statements, etc.
  • privacy advocate organization opinions, press reports and views on legislation
  • European Union (EU) privacy laws affecting US pharma companies, safe harbor news, and effects on US legislation and policy

Read a sample issue and learn about the latest proposed privacy legislation and FTC comments. For subscription information, call John Mack at 215-504-4164 or e-mail johnmack@virsci.com.

Guest Article

On-line advisory boards – the next generation
Janet Kosloff, RN, VP, Sales & Marketing, MedPanel, Inc

Tapping the brainpower of advisory board members has become an important part of the drug development and commercialization process, but engaging these key opinion leaders in a meaningful and productive way can be a frustrating task. The Internet has provided industry with an opportunity to tap into the thought leader brain trust while avoiding many of the problems inherent with live meetings such as scheduling and productivity. While online discussions will never replace live meetings, the ability to delve deeper into issues raised, follow up on open issues, or to simply keep the momentum going between live meetings can make all the difference in maximizing advisor input.

Best Practices, LLC, a benchmarking company specializing in determining best in class processes, wrote in a recent study on best practices for developing an e-Business strategy “The pharmaceutical industry sees thought leaders as an area of high impact and high leverage… The internet is emerging as a critical tool to reduce costs and raise service levels, while involving thought leaders earlier and more effectively.” Pharmaceutical companies are beginning to recognize that using a blended approach of on-line and face-to-face meetings is an effective, and increasingly necessary, strategy.

When the Internet was initially applied to qualitative research the technology of choice was a real-time or chat platform, beginning and ending at a specific time, i.e. Tuesday at 3:00 PM. Unfortunately, this first generation platform did not meet the expectations because of the inherent scheduling challenges, time limitations, and awkward text-exchange mechanism hindering interactivity.

The next generation platform is “asynchronous discussion,” meaning participants log in over the course of days or weeks where and when it is convenient for them, and are able to respond not only to the questions posed by the moderator but also to each another. This format allows participants to interact with each other and the sponsoring client over time, allowing the discussion to evolve into an in depth meaningful conversation. The ability to post data in the form of abstracts, PowerPoint presentations or through the use of multimedia, contributes to the richness of the discussion.

It was the introduction of this asynchronous discussion platform that has allowed pharmaceutical companies to start taking seriously online advisory board meetings. Getting advisory board members engaged early and often has become the new mantra, whether eliciting feedback on product profiles, clinical trial design, branding and pricing or used as an effective medical education and communication tool during the pre and post launch phases. Conducting advisory board meetings online is becoming a successful part of the mix of approaches to achieve this objective.

Running successful online advisory board discussions rely on several key ingredients:

  • Asynchronous platform: Allows panelists to contribute as their schedule permits, from home or office, across time zones and locations. Physicians not open to participating in a live meeting, or those in hard to reach locations are more likely to participate online.
  • Corporate participation: Company representatives should be able to monitor and participate in discussions from their office at their convenience as well as adding follow up questions or posting additional information as required.
  • Blinded, interactive discussion: The platform should allow panelists to interact with their peers as well as with the moderator. Blinding them avoids hierarchical issues and encourages candid and unbiased input.
  • Value added services: The client will benefit greatly from partnering with an expert in conducting online meetings. That expertise should include a strong scientific and medical team so that they can provide appropriate online discussion guide, moderation of discussion and overview and analysis once complete.

The benefits of conducting online advisory boards are many:

  • Convenience: Panelists don’t need to schedule their participation and appreciate the “anywhere, anytime” format.
  • Productivity: An asynchronous discussion allows for quick ramp up (a few days) but a long gestation period (a couple of weeks) to allow for greater detail, thought, and research by the panelists during the discussion.
  • Flexibility: Companies have time to ask multiple follow-up questions, redirect the discussion, and even extend the discussion to cover more issues.
  • Cost controls: Eliminating travel and lodging expenses as well as opportunity costs for both the physician and product management adds up to large savings when bringing advisory board meetings online.

While the relationship building from live meetings can never be replaced, a strong argument is developing for the superior productivity of online discussions relative to live meetings. A study conducted by Novartis and IPSOS reported that word count, and more importantly, “idea content” of online discussion groups was equal to or greater than that of live meetings. With increased pressure to get more productivity from their advisory board members, the pharmaceutical industry is beginning to see the logic of using web-based approaches to augment their live meetings.

For more information on advisory/advocacy forums contact erin.sheehan@medpanel.com or visit their website at www.medpanel.com.


Preparing Your Pharmaceutical Company for HIPAA: Compliance and Beyond

John Mack, President, VirSci Corporation
Lois C. Ambash, Principal, e-Health Partners
Jon Bogen, CEO, HealthCIO

8:30 AM * August 5, 2002 * HIPAA for Pharmaceuticals * Hilton Washington & Towers * Washington, DC

This workshop is designed to provide practical guidance for Pharmaceutical, Biotech and Medical Device Companies who are in the planning or very early stages of HIPAA compliance. It’s premise is that the process of HIPAA compliance can be leveraged to help solve larger organizational and business challenges.

See a more detailed agenda at www.virsci.com/beyond-HIPAA/

For more information about the conference (including registration), call 888-670-8200 or visit www.iirusa.com/hipaapharma

ABOUT Pharma Marketing News

Pharma Marketing News is a monthly publication sponsored by VirSci Corporation (www.virsci.com) and distributed FREE to subscribers of the PHARMA-MKTING e-mail discussion group. PHARMA-MKTING is an exclusive email network for pharmaceutical marketing professionals interested in the latest interactive technologies available for marketing. The network facilitates communication between members and recognized experts and leaders in interactive pharmaceutical marketing. See www.pharma-mkting.com for more information about becoming a member of the group.

ABOUT VirSci Corporation

VirSci (pronounced VER – sigh) is dedicated to developing and applying best practices in privacy, usability, and quality to online pharmaceutical and health marketing. It’s our passion to help our clients do business via the Internet more effectively, with greater return on investment, and with enhanced consumer trust. VirSci provides global pharmaceutical and healthcare industry clients with competitive market intelligence, interactive marketing services, and HIPAA/privacy/security consulting and educational services