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Dispatches from eyeforpharma: Digitizing patient and professional engagement

One week prior to eyeforpharma, the city saw one of the most stunning modern football* feats when Barcelona defeated Paris St.-Germain 6-1. eyeforpharma was a sideshow in Barcelona, but the center stage for an industry reinventing its sales and marketing model.

I had the pleasure of chairing two tracks: Digital Transformation and Customer Engagement. Speakers shared “how-to” guides for effecting change with an emphasis on practical advice with case studies.

Where is pharma when you need them?

Google’s director of healthcare, Ryan Olahan, challenged the industry to move faster, think bigger, win the micro moments, help first (sell drugs later) and embrace an openness to rapid testing/learning. He emphasized that pharma companies are not necessarily present where and when consumers need support. Mobile searches for health information spike after doctor’s visits, and YouTube hosts volumes of user-generated video content that meets patients’ needs. Yet pharma is often invisible at these micro moments.

High-level learnings from top pharma thought leaders

Speakers from UCB, S3 ConnectedHealth, Janssen, Novartis and QuintilesIMS addressed digital transformation in pharma, with some high-level learnings:

  • Digital strategies need to be optimized for a mobile environment.
  • The industry can’t (and perhaps doesn’t) understand customers and patients enough. Customer journeys are cornerstones, but beware of treating customers or patients as an average. Respect individual and sub-segment differences.
  • How are the industry’s digital efforts directly impacting patients? There should be a pay-off for patients if digital transformation is to be deemed successful.
  • Manage micro and macro patient experiences so that the industry’s touchpoints with external stakeholders are connected.
  • Barriers to digital transformation are organizational and human, rarely technical.

The speakers presented case studies showcasing specifics for implementing digital customer engagement strategies. But fresh frameworks for measuring these new customer engagement paradigms were not in evidence. For example, behavior is the best indicator of healthcare professionals (HCP) channel preference, yet we are still relying on outmoded satisfaction metrics to measure channel impact. Speakers referenced customer journeys but there was little mention of digital monitoring that can decode the digital blind spot in so many journeys.

Lessons in boosting customer engagement

Yet, the customer engagement track with Teva, Amgen, Ashfield, Ipsos and GSK set out some strong examples of powering up customer engagement with digital and non-digital components:

  • Apps are not an excuse for a digital strategy – they are tools, not an end in and of themselves. And they will not magically address issues of non-adherence.
  • Patient support programs offer a golden opportunity to enrich the patient experience. Co-creation with patients works well in the development of PSPs, but only if it starts early in the formative process.
  • Design with patients in mind – think user experience, not just company goals.
  • Arm HCPs with the right techniques/tools to effect behavioral change in patients, such as motivational interviewing by nurses.
  • Consider systems 1 versus 2 thinking when designing programs that aim to shift behaviors.
  • People and partners will either hinder or help your customer engagement strategies. The wrong choices can cost an organization significant delays in implementing new digital and customer engagement systems.
  • Content has to be relevant and informed by context and channel; pharma companies can no longer push content irrespective of these considerations.

Speakers cited inspiration from outside the Rx industry, such as Lego (for co-creation), and P&G’s Dover campaign.

It’s all about the patient

These themes repeated throughout the conference, with keynote speakers and others claiming that patient-centricity is a pre-condition for pharma to be part of an integrated health ecosystem that serves empowered, compliant and engaged patients. Evidence and outcomes will win out over payer discounts and rebates in OECD countries. But patient access to innovative – and even basic – medicine remains a challenge in developed as well as developing countries. Technology is expected to play a role in reducing the cost of care and increasing access which will further solidify the primacy of the patient’s role. Verily and Nestlé Nutrition brought home the point that patients have healthcare options beyond pharma.

Overall, eyeforpharma was a balance of inspiration and how-to examples for getting it done. We witnessed so many organizations moving beyond the drawing board to tangible actions.

Considerations for multichannel engagement

Multichannel marketing and customer engagement are not fads. Professional customers and consumers now decide where, when and how they engage with marketers, not the other way around. Speakers at eyeforpharma described how organizations are now engaging via more relevant experiences and channels, yet the measurement frameworks for multichannel marketing are behind the curve.

Learn how to implement the right measurement framework for your multichannel engagement strategies.

Download our whitepaper on multichannel marketing

Justin Edge is GfK’s Global Head of Health. You can connect with Justin on LinkedIn or send him a note at

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