It has become widely accepted that countries like Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa hold great potential for further growth of pharmaceutical companies. The Indian pharmaceutical sector has evolved to become a trusted partner for multi-national pharmaceutical companies to conduct their research & development and clinical trials. Although pharmaceutical companies have initiated newer marketing techniques in India using the digital medium, the progress in this regard has been quite slow. The success of any digital campaign depends entirely on how well it is received by the target group. Hence a deep insight to the Indian scenario is essential for any pharmaceutical company to make progress in this highly potential market.

India, with a population of over a billion, has an internet penetration of only 10%. This is despite the fact that India constitutes the world’s third largest number of internet users. Hence stakeholders in the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors constitute only a fraction of this small number. The reasons for this low penetration could be attributed to many, like Illiteracy (according to a recent report of UNESCO, India houses the largest number of illiterate adults in the world); the fact that more than 70% of the population live in rural areas; and poor broadband infrastructure. These factors become the major reasons for not having a strong online patient/physician community in India.

Digital Innovations in Indian healthcare

Despite the above cited issues, healthcare in India has shown signs of adapting to the changing environment. Some Indian companies have initiated the use of digital media for the promotion of their products and services, as well as creation of social awareness on various health matters.

Online Medical Consultation

MediAngels, the world’s first e-hospital launched in 2011 by two Indian doctors, is a global platform for second opinion and consulting by specialist doctors. Through this portal, the patient can get access to specialists of his or her choice as it has a team of over 300 doctors in over 85 specialities from around 25 countries in the world. The response time to the patient’s query as promised by the portal is 72 hours. This portal has also registered with 21,000 laboratories across India that will visit patients at their homes for diagnostic services. The initial target audience of MediAngels was the population in urban India who are more internet savvy. However, surprisingly 40% of the site-hits came from rural patients whose queries are either sent directly or by doctors on behalf of patients. Steps are being taken to provide this facility in rural areas through telephone.

Although on the one hand, India sees a low internet penetration, mobile penetration has been the second largest in the world with 894 million users as of December 2011. Of the total internet population in India, 59% of them access the Web through their mobile devices.

Companies like mDhil have identified the potential of mobile technology in India to contribute to providing basic health information via text messaging, mobile web browser and interactive digital content. Another example of mobile in a health campaign was initiated by The BBC World Service Trust for their HIV/AIDS campaign. The campaign’s objective was to create awareness among the people of India regarding the use of condoms as such matters are still considered a taboo to be discussed openly. For this they came up with a ‘Condom a Capella’ mobile ringtone that had the word ‘Condom’ sung throughout jingle. According to the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), the campaign increased the sale of the contraceptive by 85 million in six months.

Conclusion

Internet and mobile phones, which were once alien terms, have become parts of our everyday lives. While India may see mobile as the first major steps in e-health, this may not be the case with other nations. Tapping the potential market by the pharmaceutical and healthcare sector involves the identification of the challenges these markets face currently and overcoming these with the optimal technology prominent in each region.

Suchitra Menon is a member of Creation Healthcare’s international consultant team and is based in Bangalore, India. Creation Healthcare’s perspectives from its team on the ground worldwide enable us to plan strategies that embrace changing global trends and local insights, and to put the right channels in place for effective healthcare engagement.

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