Patients Are Playing Doctor on the Web. It is a Whole New Game for Pharma.
Nov 22, 2005
By: Alana Klein
Consult your doctor? Make that: Consult your fellow patients. On a growing number of Weblogs—interactive Web sites better known as blogs—patients are advising one another about which medications to take and which to avoid. These self-styled experts may not have medical degrees, but they do wield growing influence among pharma’s end customers, not least because they talk frankly about the experience of using medications.
“Anecdotal evidence is underappreciated by the medical community, but patients really value it,” says Jerod Poore, who calls himself the “Chief Spazz” of CrazyMeds.org, a quirky blog dedicated to patients with neurological disorders. Poore, who says he is bipolar, epileptic, and autistic, created the site when he became frustrated with the information otherwise available.
“Product information sheets are incomprehensible,” he says. “Drug [company] Web sites are full of propaganda, and online support groups do little more than give you a gentle hug and tell you everything is going to be okay.”
CrazyMeds draws 5,000 to 6,000 visitors a day. It chronicles the pros and cons of drugs from a user perspective and, in Poore’s words, shares with fellow patients the “interesting stuff your doctor probably won’t tell you” about hundreds of drugs.
While patients use blogs for many purposes— to connect with other patients and trade information about treatments—most use the site to get information on a particular medication. Consequently, the drug guides get the most hits. In November, the top five most widely discussed medications were Topamax (topiramate), Lamictal (lamotrigine), Cymbalta (duloxetine), Seroquel (quetiapine) and Wellbutrin (bupropion). Holly Russell, a spokesperson from GlaxoSmithKline, says that her company has yet to form an opinion on blogs because they are still so new. Other companies manufacturing these medications declined to comment on how blogs impact their marketing strategies.
Some industry observers suggest that pharma should monitor blogs like CrazyMeds, since they reveal how consumers perceive their brands. “We are just beginning to understand how to tap into these blogs since they are a new phenomenon,” says Cathy Clift, chief planning officer for Rapp Collins Worldwide, a direct marketing agency.
“By understanding the psychological aspects of a disease, pharma can work towards making a better product,” says Debrianna Obara, vice president and director of media for Avenue A Razorfish, an interactive marketing firm.
But Poore’s intention is to help patients, not pharma. “I see CrazyMeds as another form of DTC,” he says. “The difference is that I try to provide patients with the good, the bad, and the funny of meds. Then, I let them make their own decisions.”