E-patients: The changing face of healthcare

In honor of its 100th Anniversary, Swedish Medical Center of Seattle ran a two-day symposium on health care in the age of reform. I really wish I had been able to attend this in person (if only it didn’t take 6 hours and more than $500 to get from Philadelphia to Seattle, not even including hotel), but technology and my work schedule fortunately allowed me to watch parts of it online. I especially enjoyed one of the preliminary events covered health care in the age of social media – a topic very dear to my heart (as you can probably tell from this blog!).

There were two featured speakers at this preliminary event – Seattle Pediatrician Wendy Sue Swanson (author of the Seattle Mama Doc blog) and Dave deBronkart (better known in the twitter-verse as “epatientdave“). Dr. Swanson’s keynote speech was certainly outstanding in its own right. But deBronkart’s speech was particularly noteworthy because he discussed a concept for which he is one of the leading champions – the “e-patient.” And that concept is becoming an increasing factor in healthcare, one which patients, providers, pharmaceutical companies and insurers alike would be well-advised to heed.

In January 2007, deBronkart was faced with Stage IV cancer. He was given about 24 weeks to live. But he beat the odds, and defeated the disease by that September. Since then, he has advocated for patients to have more access to health information, and for patients to use this information.

The graphic in this post (credit Kru Research) gives a very specific definition of an e-patient, but the bottom line is that e-patients are smarter health care consumers who are able and willing to participate more in their health care. Both through reading on their own and conversing with others through social media tools, patients are entering the doctor’s office armed with more knowledge about their condition(s) than ever before.

The resulting practice, commonly called “participatory medicine,” is having a major impact on health care. Patients who know more about health issues and treatment options are able to ask better questions in the doctor’s office. Rather than blindly follow “doctor’s orders,” patients are increasingly managing their health in partnership with their doctors. This trend is also apparent with pharmaceutical manufacturers and even with insurers.

deBronkart’s story is a very moving and inspirational one, and can be read in more detail in his book Laugh, Sing and Eat Like a Pig – How an Empowered Patient Beat Stage IV Cancer (and what healthcare can learn from it).  Click here to order it through Amazon.com.

Marketers shouldn’t forget “Mommy Bloggers”

Two decades ago, if you were a pharmaceutical company looking to market a new pharmaceutical drug, your marketing communications plan consisted mostly of three tactics:

1. Sales representatives meeting with physicians

2. Placing articles on your clinical studies in medical journals

3. Paid advertising

Pharmaceutical marketing has changed dramatically since then. But while much of the talk has centered on Facebook, Twitter and the company’s own social media tools, there is another social media platform out there that marketers would be well-advised to pay attention to: MOMMY BLOGGERS.

They’re mothers who share their experiences raising kids and families online. Some are stay at home moms. Some work part-time. Some have great and very lucrative full-time careers. But they share their thoughts on everything from their experiences toilet training to how to prepare kids for long trips. And many of their posts contain recommendations on which products to buy, including medicines.

Granted, if a child has cancer (heaven forbid!!!), they’re likely simply going to follow the recommendations laid out by a medical professional. But what about conditions like head lice or the common cold that, while a nuisance, are by no means life threatening? Moms (and Dads too) are increasingly internet-savvy, and will likely take to the internet to find out about treatment options. If another Mom has blogged about how they treated their kid’s head lice infestation or whether the cold treatment they used last week worked or not, it could come up in search engine results.

Pediatricians, like other primary care physicians, often do not get to spend much time with each patient. If the parent already understand available treatment options and proposes one to the prescriber, and the prescriber finds no medical reason not to prescribe it, he or she may just write a script right away.

Mommy Bloggers can be potent messengers on any other topic related to raising children. If they hated a particular type of stroller they bought a couple of weeks ago, they may write about it. If they think Teletubbies is a great show to have young children watch, they may write as much. If they think the cashiers at the local Kids R Us are rude, they may vent about it in the blogosphere. These messages can go viral quickly and either greatly benefit or greatly damage a product’s brand.

Should a company focus all of its marketing efforts on mommy bloggers, or even mothers in general? Of course not. And there are way too many out there to target each one individually anyway. But marketing professionals definitely should pay attention to what these bloggers are writing. Because when your target audience is caregivers of children, who has more credibility than other caregivers who have used those products already?

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