December 1-2 2011 marks the 2nd Annual Mobile Strategies for Pharma conference in London. To mark the event and recognise the changing role of mobile strategy in pharmaceutical companies, Creation Healthcare has teamed up with eyeforpharma to research attitudes towards mobile amongst industry professionals.
As our findings confirm, we are in an era when the pharmaceutical industry has an optimistic view of the potential value of mobile, but has yet to step out boldly into this medium. Our research, carried out among professionals in pharmaceutical companies and related industry organizations, suggests that many in the industry believe mobile channels have potential for pharmaceutical companies and their stakeholders, yet most are taking cautious steps in this medium.
For example, whilst the majority (over 70%) of respondents believe that the mobile Internet offers great potential opportunities for pharmaceutical companies, and a further 24% believe it has some potential, only 50% of respondents are already using the mobile Internet in a health or healthcare environment.
Mobile’s direct engagement potential is untapped by pharma
When asked about the features of mobile that respondents are currently using, relatively few indicated that they are actively using mobile-specific features such as location-based services (16% are using this feature but 37% say they are not currently planning to do so at all). It is worthwhile noting that despite the number of respondents who say they have no plans to use them, location-based services still look set to be among the greatest growth areas in the coming year, with 47% of respondents saying they are planning to use the feature within the next twelve months or less. Also a high growth feature is ‘listening to audio or watching video’, with 46% indicating their intent to use this during the year ahead.
Other features unique to mobile, such as taking and sharing photos, are also only used by a minority of respondents (17% are using this, but 53% have no plans to do so). Perhaps this is because features like these are amongst the most potentially invasive and direct digital communication channels.
Yet mobile’s potential to provide more personalised, direct communication may arguably be the most effective way of carrying out regulatory-compliant engagement around pharmaceutical products. In the UK, for example, the PMCPA’s guidance on Digital Communications published in April 2011 provides some guidance on direct engagement with individuals and suggests that a greater level of engagement is allowable away from the public eye often associated with social media. Direct, non-promotional responses to enquiries from healthcare professionals would be considered exempt from the requirements for promotional activities, according to the PMCPA.
Application of mobile
The most prevalent applications of mobile currently in use amongst respondents are those targeted at healthcare professionals including e-detail aids, currently used by 40% of respondents and with a further 39% planning to do so within the next twelve months; and medical education tools, used by 32% of respondents and planned over the next twelve months by 49%, making this the highest growth application over the next year.
There are also signs of a move towards a greater level of patient engagement via mobile in the coming year. Whilst only 21% of respondents indicated that they are currently using mobile in disease awareness programmes, a further 48% are planning to do so within the next year. And similar plans exist for patient support programmes, with 24% already running such programmes via mobile devices but a further 46% planning to do so.
Healthcare professionals and patients will benefit equally from mobile
Respondents felt strongly that mobile channels will benefit both the healthcare professional and the patient, with 95% of respondents indicating that both these stakeholder groups would benefit either ‘greatly’ or ‘somewhat’ from mobile. Carers will benefit to a lesser extent, according to respondents, whilst 58% of respondents felt there would be little or no benefit to policymakers.
The greatest benefit to pharma from mobile, however, according to respondents, is in better engagement with healthcare professionals. The three areas defined as having the greatest potential benefit to pharma from mobile are in improved support for healthcare professionals; improved access to healthcare professionals; and a more efficient medical information service. The top area of potential benefit to pharma relating to patients was identified as in supporting patients during their treatment, with 98% of respondents indicating that this area will have some benefit to pharma.
Regulatory and legal are the greatest challenges
The challenges faced by pharma professionals seeking to develop mobile strategies are diverse, including technology, return on investment, patient privacy, legal and regulatory issues. In fact, over 90% of respondents expressed at least some level of challenge in every one of these areas. The most widely recognised area of challenge however was in regulatory compliance, with 98% of respondents identifying this as challenging and 59% expressing it as a significant challenge.
In respondents’ own words, the future of mobile in health is bright, very bright, vibrant, promising, and outstanding, but the road ahead is potentially challenging and uncertain.
The changing mobile environment presents a dilemma for many in pharmaceutical companies. On the one hand, opportunities for engagement and personalisation never seen before; yet on the other, a potentially perilous landscape in an unknown environment. It is certainly not for the faint-hearted, yet those who succeed in this era will be those who can successfully collaborate with cross-departmental, even cross-territory colleagues, working together in new ways to solve the challenges and achieve tangible business and health outcomes.