A huge online health opportunity

KEY POINTS: The social media shutdown of far-right hate groups and speech is once again spotlighting freedom of speech issues. Whose responsibility is it to ensure that health information, for example, online is accurate and doesn’t lead to bad patient decisions? Pharma has an opportunity to help clarify misinformation via a content and personalization strategy.

Eventually, casebook law is going to be written concerning false and misleading information posted online. The key question that must be answered is “what is protected under the first amendment, and what is not protected?”. I agree that posts on social media calling for violence should be prohibited, but what about all the false and misleading health information online that could lead to people delaying or ignoring health issues that lead to further problems or deaths?

Social media is full of bad health information, and more studies are needed to determine its impact on online health seekers. Are Internet users responsible for determining which new stories are credible, or should it be the sponsoring platform’s job?

Facebook, for the most part, has taken a hands-off approach, although they do remove some information. The problem is that Facebook is so big and has so many users and advertisers begging them to take their money that they really have no incentive to apply major resources to combat false information.

Pharma’s has huge opportunity online but…

Pharma websites are pretty stagnant like online brochures. Big pharma views websites as just a selling opportunity, but I would argue that argument is myopic.

The possibilities of digital marketing are endless but first management needs to understand what can be done to help online health seekers navigate our dysfunctional healthcare system.

Here’s an example..

In research a year ago, we presented various online health seekers (MS) the option to customize information via a sign-up form. We would only ask for a user name and password and age and whether they were a current MS patient or caregiver.

Based on that, the product website would serve customized content by users. We found that MS online health seekers would use this feature IF the value proposition was there. In this case, the value proposition would be updated health information around treating and living with MS, including content from third parties like though leaders or credible health institutions like Harvard Medical School.

We also found that online health seekers would return to the site IF it was updated regularly.

The downside to this approach is that it takes money and a team of digital marketers to execute. The biggest obstacle continues to be convincing management of the ROI. It’s hard to monetize people who return to your website and view your brand as a “trusted source of health information online.”

Most would say, “why?” and my response would be, “why not?”. Go online and try and experience the crazy world of online health information beyond WebMD and the Mayo Clinic.

It’s time to think like a patient instead of a marketer. It’s time to help online health seekers instead of trying to sell them,