Mobile medicine for a failing pharma

Pharmaceutical companies need to catch up to the shift from desktops and laptops to mobile. To make information about their medicines more accessible makes good health and business sense.

We’re almost at the point where more people access the internet via their smartphone than they do on a traditional desktop or laptop device. In China and India, this is already a reality. The current speed of mobile adoption is about eight times faster than the internet revolution itself and Forrester Research predicts that there will be one billion smartphone customers globally in just four years’ time.

Retail up and running

Little by little, I am seeing marketers and decision makers starting to understand what this means to their businesses. It’s not a call to apps. It’s a call to reinvent your business. When I looked at the state of Australian retail from a mobile user’s perspective earlier this year, I was dismayed to find too many of our big brand high street icons were not active in the mobile space, and were delivering a mobile experience that was sorely lacking. Happily, I’ve noticed that many of these retailers have started to reinvent their businesses for the digital age and have now picked up their act somewhat and some are even delivering near optimal mobile experiences.

Pharma is a mobile non-starter

But if I thought the state of the Australian retail experience was lacking from a mobile device, I’m staggered to find that Australia's $22 billion pharmaceutical industry is truly woeful. Not one of the 20 major league pharmaceutical companies’ Australian websites that I visited on my iPhone was optimised for a mobile user. Every one of the companies simply delivered a shrunken down version of their main site. Even Bayer in this market doesn’t deliver the mobile experience that it provides in other markets. Hardly the bleeding edge is it?

And this is an industry in which the members of Medicines Australia, the body which represents the innovative medicines industry in this country, spent $29.4 million on "hospitality at educational events” for medical professionals in the year to March 2012. These educational sessions are regarded by many as a "marketing exercise" for drug companies. Yet surely this is just old world marketing and thinking when Australian consumers and indeed Australian physicians have moved on. As far as I can see, the industry is out of touch with the very people it is trying to educate. Mobile is an integral part of all our lives yet I wonder how much these same companies spent on their websites and mobile communications over the same time frame. Considerably less I am sure.

Indeed, Healthcare market research and advisory firm Manhattan Research has explored how physicians use digital media and devices for professional purposes and in their interactions with drug companies. The trends identified in its Taking the Pulse Global series, show that physicians use of mobile devices mirrors that of the public at large in that they are using multiple screens for professional purposes. The research shows that 84 per cent of online physicians in Australia own or use a smartphone for professional purposes while 54 per cent own or use a tablet for professional purposes. Internet use is, not surprisingly, prevalent during the workday with 80 per cent of online physicians in Australia accessing the internet between patient consultations. The top digital resources used between patient consultations are online journals and drug reference databases.

While 18 per cent of online physicians in Australia already participate in online promotional programs from drug companies, 46 per cent are interested in engaging with pharmaceutical companies through live or recorded webcasts, self-guided online promotional programs, or live one-on-one sessions. Just think how the right mobile website and apps could facilitate all this.

Hello mobile

At the same time, patients who are prescribed the medicines could benefit exponentially from mobile access to information and apps to help them understand the importance of staying on their therapy. After all, by 2016, smartphones and tablets will put power in the pockets of a billion global consumers. Mobile is not simply another device for your IT department to support with a website that’s been shrunk to fit. Rather, mobile represents a much broader shift to new ways to engage.

By 2016 mobile search will generate 27.8 billion more queries globally that desktop search as consumers play out the mobile first thinking. If they search for a particular medicine on their smartphones and land on a poorly presented (read shrunk to fit) website then they’ll leave in a hurry, and won’t come back.

But by optimising your mobile presence and offering credible information about a condition, in contrast to leaving patients to find questionable content when they do their own search, drug companies could help patients manage their condition and understand why it’s important to continue with their therapy. Using interactivity via SMS, mobile apps, and a mobile site, drug companies could ensure that patients would need to look no further for their primary information and support. Indeed, the social element of mobile allows companies to open up communities allowing patients to share their experiences with others who are dealing with the same condition and support each other.

Big opportunities

This explosion of mobile usage spells big opportunities for all pharmaceutical companies. However, to appeal to mobile physicians and consumers alike, drug companies will need to provide mobile optimised websites at a bare minimum. Not simply shrunk-down versions of their standard website, but properly optimised, fully functional mobile websites that work on all mobile browsers, no matter what the device.

Simon van Wyk is founder of digital services company HotHouse.

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