Milos Graonic, senior vice president at Nielsen, discusses the impact of “activist patients” on pharma
While pharma knows patients have migrated online, the industry’s understanding of where those patients spend their time and how they leverage the e-health platform remains murky. What percentage of all Internet users are e-patients? Are those e-patients more likely to use Facebook or Wikipedia, apps or websites like askthedoctor.com, mobile or laptops?
This understanding is critical if pharma companies want to manage social media and the online space. At eyeforpharma’s Pharma Forecasting Excellence conference in Berlin, Milos Graonic, a senior vice president at Nielsen, discussed the emergence of what he calls “activist patients” and crunched the numbers on their burgeoning e-health movement.
In 2011, Internet usage has penetrated every continent. Seventy-eight percent of North Americans use the Web, 58 percent of Europeans, 24 percent of Asians, and 11.4 percent of Africans, according to Internetworldstat 2011. Despite its relatively low penetration rate, Asia accounts for the largest number of Internet users, representing 44 percent of those who use the Web. Europe represents 23 percent and North America just 13 percent, despite its high penetration rate.
No matter the continent, accessing e-health information has become one of the main reasons people go online. Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project Surveys, 2008-2010, reported that 80 percent of all adults (18 and up) access healthcare information online, making it the third most popular online pursuit after email and search engines, Graonic said. Seventeen percent of these e-patients have looked for e-health info 10 or more times in the past month; 86 percent report being “very satisfied” with the information they found and believe it to be credible, according to the Harris Poll, 2010.
“People are learning that physicians make their assessments and make mistakes and they [want] to be on the safe side of the equation,” said Graonic. As a result, “they’re actively looking up information and trying to secure what their future will bring.”
People aren’t simply perusing the Web; statistics show they’re actively engaging with it through social media. The social media landscape encompasses social networks like Facebook and Twitter, blogs, media sharing sites like YouTube and Flickr, social gaming platforms like Second Life, and discussion forums. Neilsen conducted a study in 2010 that found that if all US Internet time were condensed into one hour, social networking and blogging would consume by far the most minutes—roughly 13.5. The next closest time-consumer is games at six minutes and e-mail at five minutes.
“Essentially, we are mostly out there talking to each other, being informed,” Graonic said.Interestingly, e-patients have proven to be one of the most engaged segments of Internet users.For example, 53 percent of e-patients consult Wikipedia, whereas only 17 percent of non e-patients (people who don’t use online resources for health information or discussion) consult Wikipedia.
That means e-patients are three times more likely to consult Wikipedia, and that level of engagement remains constant across the board. E-patients are three times more likely than non e-patients to use social networks, read blogs, create a blog, and use Twitter or other status update services, according to Pew Internet and American Life Project, The Social Life of Health Information.
These days, Internet use is no longer tethered to a desktop. People can access the Web anywhere, anytime, and often from the phones in their purses or pockets. A recent study from NM Incite, a joint venture between Neilson and McKenzie, found that, as of 2011, humans spend more time in front of their phones browsing the Internet than they do on computers. Statistics show that the mobilization of Internet use has fostered the e-patient movement.
Seventy percent of smartphone owners have already used their phones for health and medical information. Nine percent have downloaded an app that helps track or manage their health and 14 percent have downloaded one of these apps in last 30 days. “The computer is pretty much an email tool and everything else” is done via mobile, Graonic said.
Impact on pharma
The rise of e-patients has impacted, first and foremost, the doctor-patient relationship. Fifteen percent of doctor visits now include specific requests for drugs, a sharp increase according to Nielsen research. “That means patients have formed an opinion of what’s the best treatment for themselves” before they arrive at the doctor’s office, Graonic said.
When confronted by specific requests for drugs, physicians report 41 percent of those requests are granted. As a result, forecasting a drug’s success purely on physician preference is no longer a viable metric.
The emergence of e-patients also amplifies the impact of news, whether it is good or bad. NM Incite found that 20,000 buzz mentions of a drug lead to 10 million unique viewers, an amplification of 500. “Nobody talks about what happens when 500 people in one second learn that your medication has [an unreported] side effect or that there is a better medication than your medication [that] just launched,” Graonic said.
When the Swine Flu panic swept the globe in 2009, the CDC honed its Twitter feed to provide reliable information, news, links, and personal safety guidelines to the general public. The feed’s followers grew by 175 percent in a single week in May 2009. Several years later, the CDC’s Twitter feed has more than 1.2 million followers, making it the sixth most followed feed out there, behind the likes of Ashton Kutcher and Lance Armstrong.
The frequency and speed with which people can learn and communicate about a piece of news or a brand or an outbreak is unparalleled in human history. As a result, companies must manage the way their news is disseminated and engage e-patients in a conversation to protect and grow their brands. “If you don’t brand your products, somebody else is going to brand it” for you” Graonic said.
For more on e-patients, see Seven life or death lessons from e-patient Dave, What Google+ means for pharma, Patients' Week 2011: Make the waiting room a digital classroom, and E-patients: Educated, engaged, and empowered.
For more on patient adherence, join the sector’s other key players at Patient Adherence Europe on May 29-30 in London.
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