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Social media data has become an increasingly important resource in our patient-focused healthcare economies. These unstructured data streams can provide keen insights into the patient journey, identify unmet medical needs, and address misinformation about treatment options.

Does social media matter to pharma?

It’s also a great place to engage with an increasingly social customer base. Almost 80% percent of Americans currently use Facebook, while roughly one-third are on Instagram and one-fourth use Twitter. In many cases, they are using social media to ask questions about healthcare, discuss their own health experiences, and share health updates about family and friends. In a 2013 report from the Pew Research Center, 72% of adult internet users researched health issues online in the previous 12 months, including information about specific diseases and treatments. Another 26% say they had read or followed someone else’s health experiences; and 16% went online to find others who shared the same health concerns. Caregivers and those living with chronic conditions, were more likely to use social media to find or share health information.

These trends demonstrate the value that social media platforms can bring to biopharma companies. A robust and compliant social media program can help them more rapidly identify leading indicators for consumer behavior, support data-driven decision making, and  design more patient-relevant initiatives, collateral and engagement opportunities. Yet despite these clear benefits, biopharma companies have been slow to take advantage of social media data in their drug development and market strategies.

QuintilesIMS research suggests only 50% of pharma are doing ‘social listening’, which involves  monitoring digital conversations to understand what customers are saying about a product or brand; and less than 10% of pharmaceutical brands worldwide have programs in place or under consideration for active engagement with patients through social media. This means that a large swatch of the biopharma industry is ignoring a huge opportunity to engage with and better understand their target customers.

Truth or fiction

Part of the problem is validation. Early social listening efforts existed in a bubble, making it difficult for companies to determine whether a conversation about a treatment option or unmet medical need was statistically relevant or just an anomaly. Without that context, they were understandably hesitant to use the information to support decision-making. Other companies recognized the intrinsic value of these data, but were uncertain how to responsibly engage with this audience. 

At QuintilesIMS we have overcome these challenges by building a four-step structured methodology and technology platform for social listening that corroborates social data and identifies appropriate responses.

  • Listen. Via our social listening platform we can track potential signals or conversations on multiple social media platforms relating to a brand/molecule, disease, treatment, product category, or other healthcare related issues.
  • Validate. Once we identify a trend, we conduct a statistically relevant survey of social media users to determine whether they agree with the trend.
  • Correlate.  If the survey suggests the theme is relevant, we correlate those results with IMS data to provide perspective, and determine whether the information warrants action.
  • Act. Using these validated results, we help our customers craft a response strategy that is appropriate to the population and social conversation.

By creating a platform and process for validating social media information, we have taken much of the risk and uncertainty out of using social media data, and to create value at every stage of the drug development lifecycle.

In the clinical research phase, our social listening platform can be used to track unmet medical needs, identify patient important outcomes, and find patients who fit recruiting criteria, all of which can lead to better, faster and more targeted trials.

It can be used to create commercial value by helping companies identify challenges patients are having with access or reimbursement for a specific treatment, so they can rapidly respond with programs to help patients overcome hurdles before they impact adherence. The platform can also be used to identify key opinion leaders for a disease or geography so the biopharma company can proactively engagement with then and educate them about their treatment and it value proposition.

Once the product is established, this platform can be used to gather real world insights into how a treatment is used and what customers think of it, so they can craft appropriate communication strategies to highlight the benefits of their treatment; and it can identify future opportunities to fill additional unmet needs based on reports of off-label uses.

Social media has become a vital destination for healthcare conversations. As more correspondence and media shifts to digital, it will become increasing important for biopharma companies to overcome the risk associated with social media and start realizing the benefits associated with this audience of patients willing to engage. The future of pharma will be built on our ability to harness technology, analytics and data to cut costs, speed drugs to market and more efficiently meet the needs of patients around the world. Being able to capture and validate data via social media is an important step forward on this journey.

Topics in this blog post: Patient and Provider Engagement