I first met Emma on a cold November day in 2009 at a rather rubbish pub in Waterloo train station. She was interviewing me about my role as Head of Professional Relations for Sanofi Diabetes UK and Ireland.
The interview soon turned into an interrogation about my use (or lack at that time) of social media tools – especially HCP communities – as a standard part of my engagement with KOLs. Laughing, I told her that I didn’t even have an up-to-date mobile phone. It is fair to say that we both left the meeting knowing a friend had been made and that at some not-too-distant point in the future the ‘discussion’ would likely have a very different depth of content.
Three years on and let’s look at the state-of-play insofar as how I personally use social media tools in a professional context to extend my engagement with HCPs and also, how there has been such a cultural shift and warming within Sanofi towards the everyday utility of social media.
In truth, the actual cultural shift is not about social media per se but about how best we reach and relate to our customers. In their preferred channel; in their preferred style.
In diabetes, for example, we see that patients use social media most frequently for support and engagement within diabetes on line communities once a diagnosis is made. Many patients research, read literature on line and are very well informed about the condition. They will often use the social communities to cross-check this information and discuss the questions they will ask their HCP at their next appointment. Basically they seek peer-to-peer moral support from each other. They also discuss their HCPs quite readily – praise and criticism abound. To that extent, the fact that patients are well informed and willing to take greater responsibility for their own health is extremely useful. By hearing these opinions and understanding the subject matter of importance to patients, we then have an opportunity to innovate the provision of healthcare with services and products that patients truly need beyond the pill. Social networks are a really powerful communication tool for people with diabetes (PWD) who want to use channels such as twitter, Facebook and blogging to communicate with others. The patient organisations such as Diabetes UK and JDRF use all channels very effectively to communicate with PWD and other stakeholders.
Within Sanofi, therefore, we made the decision the actively listen and be part of the social media revolution. Personally for me, such activity now takes up a large part of everyday -- trawling through twitter/facebook/communities. I am more than happy to give this the time it deserves and in doing so I add to my wealth of knowledge about the condition, how HCPs manage it and what patients need. This means that ultimately I can do my job better and well because I experience what the diabetes HCPs face when fronted by highly-informed, consumer-mindset patients. So part of my job is to help HCPs filter through the social media noise to hear the actual signal.
To that point, we then come to the preferred education and info channels of doctors. The graduating class of 2012 physicians have come through all their secondary and medical education as digital/social media natives but without any formal teaching on how to use the new media channels professionally and appropriately? That is a big knowledge gap and one that pharma must take care to help plug with partners -- with caution if we truly consider ourselves healthcare solution providers in this era of participatory medicine. In diabetes, graduating medics are fortunate to be supported by the Young Diabetologists Forum (YDF) who have a website, twitter feed and generally are very savvy. YDF supports all trainees in diabetes. This is a commendable and much-needed project that Sanofi are keen to support for it brokers transparency through all our engagements and behaviours.
Finally, the story of what Sanofi are actually doing with and in social media and why.
1. Community creation and participation:
Sanofi diabetes in the US exemplify how to use social media to create communities for people with diabetes and how to connect with them. The DX is the Sanofi US Diabetes hub for online diabetes conversation and encompasses a Diabetes Blog, Facebook site, twitter feed and Diabetapedia to allow people with diabetes to define all the common words and terms associated with diabetes rather than allowing diabetes to define them!
Sanofi UK still has some way to go but we are making small steps and this is being led primarily by the PWD and patient organisations with pharma watching! Sanofi Diabetes have aspirations to be the Diabetes Care Company in the UK and offer world class solutions for people living with diabetes. We like to listen to people and try and support what they need to support them to define their diabetes rather than diabetes defining them. If Social networks are what PWD need, we need to support that.
Sanofi Inspires is a website/twitter feed and facebook page to inspire people to get fit and active and be healthy by joining up for the Sanofi challenge to raise £100,000 to support the Teenage Cancer Trust in the UK.
Mostly we are observing and watching ... listening and learning from the wealth of discussion about what really matters to PWD, no surprises but it’s often not which insulin they are on! The peer support I am seeing every minute of every day that goes on between PWD is far more powerful and effective than their appointment with their diabetes specialist. This is in real time, often 24 hours a day, is constant and not judgmental. PWD need the tools and support to manage their own condition as they are living with it every day – social networks give them the emotional support and encouragement.
2. Supporting patients using social media
Ninjabetic @ninjabetic1 is one of the young pioneers leading the way with 1,177 followers on twitter she is a youth ambassador at Diabetes UK, a “Ninja” with T1 Diabetes who wants to support and connect with others with diabetes. Her aim is simple to support others not to make the same mistakes with their diabetes that she has. She writes a regular blog to share her experiences of living with Type 1 diabetes. We make it a priority that visibility is given to that blog using our growing social media reach.
@theGBDOC is a twitter, website and Facebook account for the GB Diabetes On Line Community with 625 twitter followers. Every Wednesday at 9.00pm there is a regular diabetes tweet chat where Paul Buchanan (The GBDOC) poses a number of questions for participants to answer such as how to disclose a chronic condition, do they ever feel judged based on what they eat, can we do more to support ourselves? The tweet chat culminates in a game of BG bingo where all participants measure their blood glucose and send in a picture of their result and whoever is closest to the randomly chosen number wins. Sanofi have supported the game with a free blood glucose meter for the last few winners. This is such a powerful game as its supports PWD to test and empowers PWD to want to manage their glycaemic control tighter. The group often discuss their results and why they are as they are and what they need to do differently. I observe so much support and encouragement between the participants.
Zoe Scott who founded Hedgie Pricks Diabetes has a regular blog, website, twitter @HedgiePDiabetes and Face Book site is campaigning to get PWD the emotional support they need. Zoe was recently awarded the People’s award for her inspirational commitment to diabetes at the recent Diabetes Quality in Care Awards which is an annual event to recognise, reward and share best practice in diabetes care in the UK. Supported by Sanofi Diabetes, NHS Diabetes and DUK. QIC connect is an online hub that anyone working in the field of diabetes can find tried and tested practical ideas and advice on improving patient care in the UK.
3. Helping HCPs navigate unchartered social media waters
Many Diabetes HCPs are using social media to share ideas, communicate with PWD and generally get important messages out. Dr Partha Kar from Portsmouth is a great example – he has a regular blog, 435 twitter followers @parthaskar and wants to make a difference to T1diabetes care in the UK. Another is Anne Cooper who is the National Clinical Lead for Nursing in DH Informatics Directorate who has 1.627 twitter followers @anniecoops and writes a regular blog about how she lives and copes with her T1 diabetes. We are proud of our affiliation and support for these HCP bloggers.
Sanofi Diabetes have introduced the first blood glucose meter (iBGstar) that connects to an iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad which is supported by a Diabetes Manager App that can be downloaded free from itunes which supports PWD being able to manage their diabetes on the go.
So yes, we’ve some pretty far in 3 years. Its is still a cold November day as I post this blog. No doubt Emma will still interrogate me and lobby about social media ... yes, we still have far to go. But at least I have a smart phone now and a decent GPS in the form of patient forums and trackers to clearly lay out the journey ahead!
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