I doubt that Steve Jobs was thinking about helping the pharma industry when his company created the iPhone, but he is a visionary, so you never know. I’ve found that pharma marketers are always looking for the next big thing that they can be the first to try, that’s “innovative”, and that will put their products out front of everyone else. From time to time, someone actually manages to do this. I have noticed though that it takes pharma quite a while in many cases to catch up. That is, the innovations in pharma marketing this year were the innovations in consumer packaged goods marketing five years ago (sometimes less, but a general number). Rarely is pharma the first to try anything. In many cases, there’s good reason for this. It’s a highly regulated environment, as we all know, but it’s also an environment where marketing risks are generally not rewarded within the corporate structure. What I mean is that pharma companies have been very successful in the past doing things the way they’ve always done them, so big risks aren’t encouraged. Stick with what you know. However, it’s a whole new world now and pharma needs to do something different. Their traditional marketing model is breaking down, so now’s the time.
So here is a chance for pharma to really take the lead. It’s something that isn’t highly risky and that’s a perfect fit for an important focus of pharma marketing: the education of physicians and patients. I’m talking about the iPhone.
First, some stats…I have tried and tried to dig up the percentage or number of doctors that use an iPhone, but I haven’t been successful. If you’ve got the data, please leave it in a comment. However, I’ve got a bunch of other data that should give you a pretty good picture how successful the iPhone is and how quickly it has been adopted.
- The iPhone as a 1.1% share of all mobile phones. Sounds small, but consider that Blackberry has a 1.9% share and the iPhone has only been around for less than two years. Oh, yes, one other thing, there are about 4 billion overall mobile phone users in the world. 1% of that is quite a lot of iPhones.
- 54% of physicians own a smartphone of some kind. Younger physicians are far more likely than their older colleagues to use one.
- The iPhone accounts for 66% of all mobile traffic, nine times more than the next closest competitor. Translation: people use the iPhone to go online…a lot.
- More than 800 million applications have been downloaded from the iPhone app store.
Okay, so you get the point. iPhone usage is growing really quickly. In addition, there are now 291 medical applications available in the store (of 29,330 total). That’s not a lot especially when you consider there are 5,906 games available. So, there’s a big opportunity to grow this category.
Enough background…on with the show. Pharma should begin to leverage the iPhone to educate and form closer relationships with physicians and patients.
Physicians first…here are a few ideas.
Every time I talk with someone about an edetailing program, they always want to know the incentive you’re going to provide the physicians to participate. In the past, you could give away any medically-related item, but the new PhRMA code for interacting with healthcare professionals says this is a no-no. Any items now have to be of nominal value and “designed primarily for the education of patients or healthcare professionals.” No more tschoskies, no more stethoscopes. Of course, my view has been that if you do a quality edetail, you don’t need an incentive, but that’s a story for another day. Assuming you want to provide an incentive, how about a download of a medical iPhone application? One of the most downloaded, paid applications is Instant ECG, which is an educational piece to help physicians brush up on their ECG reading skills. If you’ve got a cardiovascular drug, it’s an even better fit. Cost: $4.99. Isn’t this better than what you’re giving away now?
How about creating your own application related to your drug’s treatment area? If you’re in Oncology (as I used to be), it’s wide open. A search for “oncology” in the app store returned three applications (none of which were really related to oncology). Same thing when you search for “Cancer” though there are a few more results because of all the stellar horoscope apps. Once you create your application, you can sell it in the store, give it away on your site, allow sales reps to distribute to doctors (sending it directly from their iPhones…if they had one), use it as a convention booth draw, or, oh yes, use it to promote your product. If you’re not really familiar with apps and how they work, you might be short of ideas. Feel free to contact me for a few free ones.
What about an edetailing “portal”? You already saw that iPhones are where most of the mobile Internet traffic is coming from, so people are using them essentially as a laptop. A well-designed app or a properly optimized edetail would be perfect for the iPhone by allowing physicians to participate in edetails when it’s truly convenient. Did I mention the iPhone is actually a phone as well? Forgot about that. How about ending your edetail with a button that immediately connects the doctor to the local rep or MSL (medical science liaison)?
And now Patients…a few more ideas…
Pharma companies need to be creating apps for patients to help manage their disease…NOW. The tools that are available currently are not good enough. There is only one asthma-related disease management app available. It’s called Asthma-Charter. The current version has an average rating of 1.5 stars out of 5. You don’t need to be an app store expert to know this isn’t great.
Mainly, the issues people have with the application is that it is very unstable. If you’re going to make an application, you’ve got to make it right otherwise the reviewers in the app store are ruthless. In this case, they should be. This application costs $4.99. That might not seem like a lot, but it is when you consider that less than 10% of all the apps cost this much or more and about 60% of all apps are free or $0.99. Two things…no one should be paying for this. A pharma company should be giving this away to all new patients (but a better version). A download certificate packaged with each bottle of pills (or inhaler in this case) would work perfectly. Second, there’s no reason this shouldn’t function perfectly. I can say a lot about pharma technology, but when they do it, it usually works. Someone needs to take ownership and start fixing this situation.
Pharma also needs to think about how to make their information more mobile. There are very few pharma .mobi sites or even a quality mobile version of the main site. With more and more people getting healthcare information from their phones, you need to have a presence here as well. Your mobile site needs to work as well as your regular site or you’ll lose customers. Guaranteed.
The next natural question is :have any pharma or healthcare companies jumped into this space yet? I’ve found a couple. Johnson & Johnson created the Care Connector app for patient caregivers to keep track of appointments, prescriptions, and to connect with other caregivers. It’s free and has a respectable three and a half star rating.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that this comes from J&J, as they seem to be blazing the digital trails with the first meaningful company blog in healthcare and one of the first (the first?) Facebook pages for a brand. The other one I found was a bit more surprising. It comes from Zicam (zinc products for shortening the duration of your cold). They created The Cold & Flu Companion. While most of the app involved product offerings and sales messages, there’s a decent tool that shows cold and flu activity for any ZIP code.
While it has a two star rating at this point, looking at the reviews this is mainly because people were bothered that most of the app was “advertising.” A word to the wise when creating these, balance product messages with the value of the tool.
That’s all you need to get started with the iPhone pharma folks. As I mentioned in a past post about how pharma firewalls were making it hard for their marketers to learn about the latest digital technologies, the same problem exists here. You’ve got to have an iPhone (or iPod Touch) and use some applications in order to understand the power of this tool and how it REALLY works. As always, you can only learn so much from reading about something versus actually experiencing it. The iPhone’s no different. So, pharma marketers, go tell your bosses you need an iPhone. You can tell them it was my idea.