Pearls in a Minefield

A couple of months ago, I posted on The Health Care Blog, suggesting that not all conversations merit participation from biopharma, but more should be heard.

Since then, GAO’s Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) has announced its first post-pilot research funding to “support comparative clinical effectiveness research that will give patients and those who care for them the ability to make better-informed health care decisions.” PCORI will spend about $90 million this year on its National Priorities for Research and Research Agenda.

So what does this have to do with pharma and social media? Well, when people use social media in health care, they are typically seeking to:

  • Improve their own or someone else’s health status via decision support. This entails gathering answers to questions ranging from “Should I see a doctor?” to “Which walker should I buy for my mom?”
  • Receive emotional support as a patient and/or caregiver

In addition, here at ORC International we recently released new data that shows how consumers use social to obtain information about medications.

As PCORI has recognized, many health decisions are poorly informed and thus have suboptimal outcomes. Though on-point information often exists somewhere, finding the pearl(s) applicable to you isn’t easy, and most people lack the time and training to do so.

Moreover, the large emotional and opportunity costs of health information-seeking lead to overload, denial and withdrawal. Ultimately, a decision can be made too quickly, too slowly or under the wrong assumptions.

So as biopharma and health care players continue to lurk around, navigate and cautiously engage in social conversations, their most appropriate role may be informing decisions in a helpful way. Monitoring conversations systematically enables you to better understand:

  • Vocabularies used to describe symptoms and options, to help craft a message that can be heard. For example, generic drug class or procedure names tend to become “branded” on line.
  • How decisions/questions are framed, enabling you to address an actual need, as opposed to sounding “sales-y” and out of place
  • Answers that original posters (OPs) and subsequent commenters find helpful, vs. responses that are judged inadequate or inapplicable

Health care is a prime example of why social analytics, not just listening, is important. Simple sentiment analysis (positive vs. negative mentions) doesn’t capture the duality and constraints of health care. A patient can love the care but hate the disease or a surgical outcome, or hate everything. She can hate the idea of taking drugs every day but accept the notion in order to feel better – or maybe some days, she can’t, especially when a tablet would leave her too sleepy to function, and she skips a dose. Or she can’t refill till her paycheck drops at the first of the month. Breakfast cereal doesn’t have those limitations.

By listening to social conversations in context, particularly those threading their way through the critical minefield of health care decisions, you’re closer to adding value –offering pearls– and supporting your brand.

Tags: , , , , ,

Categories: Healthcare & Pharmaceuticals

Author:Laurie Gelb

Laurie is a Vice President in ORC International's Public Sector Practice, serving government, health care, transportation and utility clients. Projects focus on performance measurement, service development, infrastructure enhancement and constituent communication.


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