medical_monday_sxsw_Marcus Quigmire_800

Medical Monday: South By Southwest – A Few Health Takeaways


Photo by Marcus Quigmire via flickr

As mentioned in last week’s column, this past weekend hosted the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive conference in Austin, Texas. Over just a few short days, members of the interactive community came together to discuss new technologies and trends, and this year we saw the introduction of health focused sessions in the world of social media.

On the whole, I found the sessions to be filled with great content from people across different areas of the industry who are innovating in their areas across the healthcare spectrum.  While many of the sessions ran concurrently and I couldn’t attend them all, below are a few key takeaways I left with:

  • For healthcare, the Internet is about access to information – something that was reinforced to me over and over again is that we turn online for health information. What the information we’re looking for is varies by audience – whether it be new clinical data for physicians, to let a patient know “what can I expect next in my journey”, to find support from others in similar situations, or to find out “what treatments are available for mom who has just been diagnosed with X disease,” it’s about information. Marketers looking to get involved in social need to keep this in mind if they want to provide their audiences with something of substance that they will find of use.
  • There is a role for Pharma in social media – in sessions with patient focused groups such as Patients Like Me and Chronic Babe, something that was reassuring to hear was, “yes, there IS a role for Pharma in social media.” While their sites (which are both doing amazing things) are patient focused, both reinforced that they welcome and encourage participation by Pharma, noting thet they and Pharma have the same goals in the end. They also echoed our own belief that for Pharma to get involved in social media, companies need to be transparent in their role and provide opportunities for communities to self regulate.
  • Pharma needs to get past the “adverse event” red herring – one of the major hurdles that keeps healthcare companies from entering the social media space is concern over online reporting of adverse events. As we’ve seen over and over again, patients are not turning to social to report AEs, yet it remains one of the top barriers to getting involved. In discussing this point with a member of a marketing team from a top 10 pharmaceutical company that is very active in social media, and has been for years, he told me they have never had a single AE reported in any of their social media channels. Unlike many of their peers, the company has always allowed commenting in their social properties. This drove home to me what I had long seen myself: patients aren’t looking to social media to discuss AEs. And if a patient does need to report an AE, companies already have existing channels by which to report them.
  • Everything is going mobile… and health is no exception – from sessions throughout SXSW one message was very clear: everything is going mobile. As smart phones increase penetration in the market (in the US and abroad) consumers and looking for access and user experiences on their mobile devices that are comparable or exceed what they can do from their desktops. In many cases, such as health, we heard examples of how mobile technology is actually advancing the healthcare industry , such as in Africa, where images of blood samples can be captured from cell phone cameras in high resolution and sent instantly to a specialist hundreds of miles away for analysis. For marketers such as myself, it’s important to keep the role of mobile in mind when developing new platforms and campaigns if we want them to last.

Overall there was a lot of great information presented, and like my colleagues, I’m teaming with ideas about how we can use these learnings, and emerging platforms to help communicate with our client’s stakeholders.

I’m curious to hear what others through of the health track this year. What were your impressions?

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