Trust Me, I'm a Pharmaceutical Company

Award-winning YouTube channel offering impartial health information is truly patient-centric

“Patients are looking for reliable and objective disease information,” says Doron Obazanek, Public Affairs Manager at AbbVie. “The challenge for us is that any information coming from a pharma company is perceived as biased. But when you see a real unmet need among patients, you have to do something about it.”

Providing impartial information to patients might sound simple, but it comes with a wide range of challenges and potential pitfalls, as Obazanek and colleagues discovered. Yet, four years and a lot of hard work later – working closely with many different partners – they have created a ground-breaking, patient-centric initiative, the Doctor’s YouTube Channel.

The channel, which features videos of doctor’s discussing specific health conditions, involved more than 300 people working together. “Nobody believed we could get physicians to volunteer their services to make the videos, and, at first, they were right,” says Obazanek. “However, we approached all the major medical centres in Israel to explain the initiative and invite physicians to apply to make the videos.

“After more than 500 meeting with physicians, hospital management, legal teams, etc. we’ve found that doctors are happy to volunteer their time – after they had a chance to ask their questions and understood our motives. We hoped to recruit 20 experts to make videos but now we’ve made nearly 130,” says Obazanek.

The channel, which was recently recognized in the Most Valuable Patient Initiative at the eyeforpharma awards 2017, not only partners with every single major medical center but has become the first social media initiative to be endorsed by the Ministry of Health.

What do patients want to know?

AbbVie had a “very important partner” in this initiative – the Israeli Patient Organization. “They surveyed patient groups to find out what health information people wanted to know more about. The most interesting thing we discovered is that the basic questions people ask in every disease area are the same – at least in the early stages.”

AbbVie is also assisted by  Google to find out which disease areas people are searching for. “We aspire to cover as many disease areas as possible. We already have 114 disease areas and we’re now getting into new areas that come high in google searches. What we’re really seeing is that people simply don’t know where to get objective information, so we will be covering areas like addiction, for example, and disease areas that are rarely talked about by pharma companies.”

Given that the channel is backed by a pharmaceutical company, how did the team approach information about treatment? “One of the basic terms of the project is that we do not discuss specific treatments. The physicians that make the videos decide what they say, we do not put words into anyone’s mouth. There are clear guidelines that say they can talk about treatment groups only, and that is how we maintain objectivity,” says Obazanek.

With so many partners involved and a real focus on objectivity, the approval process for the videos is extremely robust – and complex. “Every video goes through eleven layers of external approval, which, to be honest, was an approval nightmare at first, but we have developed a special process with our partners so that it’s much easier. Now, it’s a well-oiled machine. In truth, many people thought the project would fail simply due to the approval process but collaboration is difficult, it is complex, but it is also extremely worthwhile.”

As serious, educational videos, the number of viewers was expected to be small – just those people with a genuine interest in the condition. “We’ve now had more than 500,000 views – because the channel is objective and free of bias, it is perceived as offering very high value to patients. When you search for a symptom, a disease or its treatment in Hebrew, we appear on the first page, plus patients are taking action; we have seen unprecedented numbers of patients visiting NGO websites for more information, calling patients hotlines and joining support groups.”

What’s more, the benefits for AbbVie are already being realized. “The channel is a major boost for the company. In Israel, AbbVie is ranked in the top three companies in terms of awareness, and the increased trust has paved the way for other initiatives and collaborations.”

The suspicion the project encountered at the start can serve as a lesson, says Obazanek. “No one believed a pharma company could follow an objective approach – as an industry, this experience should be a mirror for us to look at ourselves and ask why we are perceived as so biased. It is essential to understand that when we come to do something that’s really patient-centric. At the beginning, no one wanted to do something for free for a pharma company. They said, why should we work for free when you’ve got money? But when they realized it was the only way to create objective and reliable information for patients, they embraced it.”

Abbvie's Doctor's Channel YouTube won the most valuable pharma collaboration category at this years eyeforpharma awards. It was also awarded highly commended in the most valuable patient initiative. See the rest of the 2017 winners here.

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