Author Archives: pharmaguapa
The other day I saw this video from Mashable about a new UV patch from L’Oreal that is meant to make applying sunscreen more fun. Essentially the patch is a stretchable skin sensor designed to monitor UV exposure and can be scanned. An accompanying app then tells you your exposure, can remind you to apply sunscreen and also uses AR to bring a little character to life (that’s the fun bit I presume).
This video reminded me of a meeting I had many years ago when I was working agency side. A cancer charity had approached us to discuss an app idea to try to encourage people to use sunscreen. Their idea was not disimilar to this concept from L’Oreal (minus the cool patch and AR) – they wanted to develop an app that would inform sunbathers of the UV levels and thereby get them to apply sunscreen.
The only problem was their target audience was young men and they did not understand their customer. They had presumed that knowing the UV levels, and subsequent danger and risks of skin cancer, that these young people would automatically apply sunscreen. They were aghast when I, a sun worshiper, flipped it round and told them that this data could be taken to be when the best time would be to get the maximum tan. I also challenged them that this app would never be used by an 18 year old on his first trip to Ibiza – unless his mum downloaded it for him and kept nagging him.
We then brainstormed around what it would take to get said 18 year old to apply sunscreen. Warnings of skin cancer and health certainly were not going to work. I came up with a very novel idea – partner with the big clubs and use sexy models. The concept was simple – have sexy models roaming the beach with sunscreen and get the guys to take photos and submit them to an online space. The clubs could co-sponsor and thereby get some extra positive publicity. The 18 year olds would learn about sunscreen from someone other than their mum and would, for that day at least, be safe – and hopefully thanks to the models sunscreen might become sexier. The photos would generate content and hopefully also buzz and with some careful promotion and PR had the potential to become a viral campaign.
Of course this idea never took – it was far to riskee for healthcare at the time and certainly for the conservative team from the charity. This was of course a shame but it also speaks to a broader issue – namely really understanding your customers and taking risks, two things pharma is not always particularly good at. There have been so many brilliant ideas, that would have benefited patients and would no doubt have been highly successful, but that die because the marketing teams involved are risk averse and conservative. It is also this issue that has led to pharma’s dominance in healthcare being slowly eroded by risk taking, modern organisations like Apple and Google. Until we can instill that same culture within the industry Pharma risks falling behind and not optimising all the opportunities that today’s cultural shifts and technology present.
In December one of my main client contracts will come to an end and as such I have been slowly starting to think about what I will do next year. Much as I love living in Zurich it is a very expensive place to be based without a permanent job so I am toying with the idea of moving somewhere cheaper. Having also just had my heartbroken by a Swiss chap I am also less happy here than I was and contemplating a move.
Traditionally people would move based on where their job is and for many the first move abroad is the result of a job offer. This was true for me too – the first time I moved abroad as an adult was an office transfer from the McKinsey London office to their Zurich office. Since then I have become a veritable frequent mover and have lived in Switzerland 5 times, Spain twice, Denmark once and London twice. Most of the moves have been work related but not all, and not all by choice. Some would say I’ve had my fair share of bad luck with work – redundancy, the brand I was working on failing in PhIII, interview & reality not matching up, etc. – but I like to think of it as good luck. It is thanks to my luck that I have had this truly interesting career, with a breadth of highly relevant experience, with multiple organisations and in multiple countries.
It is thanks to this experience that I am also able to seriously consider not only what my next job will be but also seriously think about where I want to work. Unlike when I started my career, today, thanks to the blend of my experience, area of expertise and technology, I can contemplate moving anywhere in the world. I no longer need a fixed office or a permanent 9 – 5 job or even be based in the same country as my work / client. I can seriously consider becoming one of a growing number of digital nomads.
This freedom and flexibility is behind the growing number of people becoming digital nomads. Many of them are millennials not yet ready to settle down and wanting to travel the world but there is a growing number of seasoned professionals, like myself, who place increasing value on this freedom and flexibility. Whilst many of the jobs these digital nomads do are as developers or content creators, and not always particularly senior, times are changing. One of the roles I do for example, reverse mentoring, I can do extremely well remotely (in fact it is sometimes easier to share a screen remotely rather than squish around a physical screen in a room together) – all I need is good wifi. For other work that requires me to be face to face it is generally easy enough to hop on a flight. In fact it may even be cheaper for clients to have me working as a digital nomad, and pay for the long haul flight, simply because I can charge less per diem if I am based somewhere like Thailand as opposed to Switzerland.
Whilst being based near a beach does sound wonderfully rosy it is not without its drawbacks. I am actually quite a settled, homey person, and would never have chosen to move jobs or countries this often by choice. However this is the deck that I was dealt and I now also realise that life is short and that home is where you make it. It is also thanks to my autoimmune disease that I have learned to truly value my quality of life.
Whilst I do not see myself being an endless digital nomad at this point in my life I feel it may be a good move for me. I am still young and healthy enough to do this. There is still much of the world I want to explore and new skills I want to learn (like free-diving) but I do not have the resources, or inclination, to take a gap year and just travel. I would like to continue working but travel – the classic digital nomad. Who knows where I will end up – ideally with a permanent job somewhere near a beach 🙂 – but I feel ready for a new chapter in my life and a new journey. And so I am starting to explore my options as a digital native, and in the process replacing the hopes and dreams I had with my ex with new hopes and dreams, and in doing so help my heart heal.
I recently had a conversation with a friend about what good looks like in social media, driven by a positive article about Allergan’s US Restasis Facebook page. The article talks about the Restasis brand’s foray into social media through this page and what great results it drove.
Naturally I went to have a look at the page but must admit that I do not agree with the article’s rosy glow. Yes it may have had good results at the time but closer inspection reveals some serious flaws in the brand strategy regarding their approach to social media.
The most glaring issue is that this is not a page but a campaign. Looking at activity on the page it is clearly time framed around six months. Since January this year there has been next to no activity. The brand has gone from posting regular content, driving traffic to their savings programme or other relevant material, to posting only three posts since January 2017. The content on the page is very clearly targeted and clearly driven by customer need, i.e. issues around how to pay for treatment, and for the most part drives to the brand website. Within the six month period the team have done a good job at responding to and answering questions, which gets a big thumbs up and demonstrates the understanding that this is a two way engagement channel.
However the strong campaign focus coupled with the lack of recent content really flags this as a lost opportunity to me. Rather than build a whole page, with a key purpose to apparently drive patients to the Restasis brand website, my recommendation would have been to focus activity and investment in promotion. By this I mean the focus should just have been on placing targeted adverts, including on Facebook, to drive that traffic. Building up a whole page simply for a six month campaign, rather than a concerted effort at driving long term engagement and value, is a wasted effort. It also brings with it additional risk and work due to the need to monitor 24 / 7.
Another recommendation I would have would be to focus on building up and improving the corporate Facebook presence, which is currently lacking and confusing. As a first step I would close the unofficial Facebook page which seems to be more of an employee forum but includes people replying to patient questions and issues. Now I have no idea of those people replying are authorised to do so but I would not be surprised is they are not. This is of course a huge risk to organisation but could be turned into an opportunity. There are clearly people passionate about the organisation prepared to engage on behalf of the organisation – these people could be trained and used to support the official activities.
For that to happen though there needs to be official activities! There is no official, professional corporate Facebook page, just some brand pages, and in this day and age I find this somewhat dated. By having a strong corporate Facebook page it would also provide the opportunity for brands, like Restasis, to have somewhere to post content (which can be geo-targeted to handle regulatory issues). It would also formalise and help control the discussions that are already happening – by not having a presence it does not mean that people are not talking to and about you.
To me this Restasis Facebook page, and Allergan’s approach to Facebook, is suboptimal and the sort of activity I would have expected from Pharma a few years back. Today however the approach to social media really needs to be more strategic, serious and based on a solid understanding on the value, uses and impact of the various platforms to both customers and the business. Today social media is a mainstream channel that can provide high value to both customers and the business and needs to be handled as such, and not as an “experiment” or “foray”. Embrace it, optimise it and reap the benefits.
My last post was all about the value of respecting your customers, particularly if you are an airline, and was based upon my terrible experience with Turkish Airlines. To complete that article I should add that my experience with Turkish Airlines continued to be bad including during the flight with some of the most inedible food I’ve ever attempted to eat, old airplanes with seats that did not recline properly and grumpy crew. My holiday itself however was awesome 🙂
As I looked back at this article though I thought it also worthwhile to add my opinion on respecting your customers in the pharmaceutical industry. For too long this industry has been very self-centered and not particularly focused on customers, especially patients (who I also include as customers). Of course the industry is “plagued” by regulation which has made it harder to be as customer centric per se as many other industries. We all know by now that the end of the blockbuster era and the patent cliff ushered in huge change and a shift in thinking for the industry but we are still not where we should be.
So why are we still not as customer centric as we could be? Regulation is often one of the first reasons bandied about for this … “we can’t talk directly to our patients” or “we can’t do that because of regulatory restrictions”. Very often this is however just an excuse. We can still be customer centric and comply with regulations. For starters many patients do not want to hear promotional messages about pharma products anyway so even if we could bombard them with product branded marketing this would still be pharma and not customer centric.
Even where we can do promotion for it to be most effective it should be targeted and try to provide some value to the customer. What is it that a physician needs or wants to hear about? If we develop content – promotional or not – with the customer in mind then we generally see far greater results than if we just stubbornly try to force our message down their throats.
Coming back to the regulatory side of things though I do also believe that it is time regulators also become more customer centric, particularly towards patients. Whist I do not support a US style DTC promotion I also believe that the pharma industry sits on a large swathe of data that would be highly valuable and beneficial to patients, and HCPs. Much of this data is never made available to patients – in part because of compliance but also in part because of the “fear” of regulation and legal action. Counter this with the number of misinformation that patients now have access to online I think there needs to be a change in thinking in how we communicate and share information online. I firmly believe that as an industry (both pharma & regulators) we have a duty of care to make sure that patients have access to accurate, reliable information. We need to drown out the misinformation, and make sure that the correct information is coming in at the top of Google searches, and not hidden away a few pages in.
A second issue is that whilst many patients may never want to know the data, or indeed even understand it, there is a growing number of active and educated patients that do want more information. The informed patient wants to have the data so that they can make their own decisions concerning their healthcare. The days when we as patients blindly trusted what our doctors told us are diminishing. As a patient who has experienced misinformation coming from a specialist, in my case an endocrinologist who told me that the symptoms form my un-managed Hashimoto’s were all in my head, I firmly believe in the movement of the informed patient and the need for patients to be more active in their healthcare. Had I relied on that endocrinologist, and not actively sought my own answers, I doubt I would be here now writing this post as I would probably have either been too depressed or died of heart complications due to over-medication in an attempt to reduce my symptoms.
I think it is high time that all those involved in the healthcare system start to respect patients as decision makers and work together to support the informed patient. How can we make all that data that pharma sits on, that may have no commercial value to the organisation btw, available in a digestible and understandable format for patients. Pharma often has the money and resources to turn the data into content and disseminate it but may not be allowed to – or may not have the incentive to. Much of that data may also have a public health benefit so one could also argue that pharma should not shoulder the burden of dissemination alone. Pharma companies at the end of the day are businesses and if they are not profitable they will go under and that also does not benefit patients.
There are many more questions but there also numerous answers. For starters pharma can start to work more closely with patient associations. Why is it that for many pharma companies the patient advocacy department, if there even is one, is only made up of one or two people?! Whilst we have huge brand teams focused on marketing to HCPs the number of headcount that is focused on patients is tiny by comparison. Pharma really needs to start ramping up in this area.
In turn though regulators may also need to re-assess that pharma patient partnership model. Not all diseases have a patient association but there may be online groups and individual patient experts. How was can facilitate partnerships here for the benefit of all parties? How can we all work together to find a model that supports patients, is compliant but also does not bankrupt pharma? I think the answer lies in the question … we need to all work together! We need to start talking more to patients, and include regulators in those discussions. We need to put patients firmly in the center of the equation, along with HCPs. We need to not only start listening more but also start being more active in driving the change needed to do this. Only then will we start to see an industry that is truly respecting its customers and meeting their needs.
I am very open about the fact that I have an autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s, and I try to do my bit to help educate others about this disease, and other autoimmune diseases. I feel as an educated patient, who works in digital health, I am well placed to do so and to a degree feel like I have a duty to do so.
Sadly one of the common problems for Hashimoto’s patients is a sensitivity to gluten, and I am no exception. Prior to becoming ill I used to poo-poo people who said they were allergic to gluten, putting it down to a health fad. Then, a few years ago, I became very ill, despite taking medication for my diagnosed hypothyroidism. I had put on over 15kg in a very short period of time, had very bad depression, fatigue, brain fog etc. I had been diligent in taking my daily medication but despite this these symptoms worsened. It was only after a visit to an endocrinologist in the UK, who diagnosed my Hashimoto’s, and some online research that I started making some lifestyle changes.
One of those changes was removing gluten from my diet. I love gluten and removing it from my diet has been one of the hardest things, and to do this day I wish I could eat gluten. Howeve
r I have learnt that if I do eat gluten the above symptoms return and I feel terrible. It can make eating out in restaurants hard but increasingly I find restaurants are understanding and accommodating of my food allergy. Even in Sri Lanka they were aware of what a gluten allergy is and went out of their way to make sure no gluten made its way into my food. In the US I had f
ound there was traditionally a higher awareness than in countries like Sri Lanka, and so I always had confidence in the waiting staff in restaurants there.
This was clearly an mistake. The other week I was over in Austin at SXSW (and yes I must blog about that too!) and had dinner at what used to be my favourite sushi restaurant there, Ra’s Sushi. I had a long discussion with the waitress about my allergy and she was great in trying to suggest options for me off the menu. I opted for a crazy monkey roll minus the tempura and she brought it with the eel sauce on the side flagging that the sauce may have gluten in it (so I did not eat that). The roll did come however with a lovely mango sauce which I did eat (it part of the dish and not served in a separate bowl).
What then followed was what I initially put down to be an extra severe hangover (this was SXSW afterall!) but by day 2 I still felt pretty out of it and not well. Must have been something I drank I mulled. I then went back to Ra’s for lunch and ordered the same thing but this time it came without the mango sauce. When I asked about this the waitress informed me that the mango sauce had gluten in it! As you can imagine I was royally p***** off by this and all of sudden realised why I was feeling so rough! How could they have been so callous with my health despite my very clear and careful flagging of my food allergy?! This is not some random, obscure allergy either, but one that many autoimmune patients suffer from.
Now a week and a half later I am still ill as a result and I feel it my duty to write about this to try to make people aware that a gluten allergy is not some “fad”. It is not something I choose not to eat. Nor is it all in my head. Gluten has a very real impact on my physical health and well being – and believe me I really wish it did not. I would love to eat bread or pasta or random sauces like a “normal” person. But I can’t. And a restaurant should take my, and other’s, food allergies very seriously. I am “lucky” in that I can still function – to the degree that today at work someone commented on how well I was looking. Great.
Let me describe to you what it feels like when I eat gluten – and why even if I look great I am actually feeling incredibly rough. Firstly there is the fatigue. Autoimmune fatigue is hard to explain unless you have actually experienced it. It is more than tired. I ache. I feel like I have not slept properly in days, and that I have a huge hangover and the flu all rolled into one. I feel like I have been doing extreme physical exercise or been on some extreme sporting event for days. Trust me I haven’t! Despite my over 10 hours of sleep I am exhausted – and I have had a fairly easy day with next to no mental or physical exertion. In fact I have had some awesome, fun meetings today – I should feel energized and reinvigorated. But no – I just feel like I have a really bad flu – I am shattered, I ache and my neck area (where my thyroid is) feels particularly sore and sensitive. Despite this I also know that I may have trouble sleeping properly – one of the great paradoxes of Hashimoto’s fatigue + sleep disturbance. Awesome combination.
That unfortunately is not the end of it. The other major symptom is brain fog. Just as autoimmune fatigue is hard to understand and describe so too is brain fog. Again I will liken it to a hangover – when you just cannot think straight – but far worse. I have next to no memory right now and have to write everything down on post-its. I struggle to clearly remember the bulk of some of my meetings – only the gist. I am struggling with people’s names (although I have never been good with names).
Brain fog however is more than just memory – it is also means I cannot think as clearly. For a split second today for example I could not remember how to look at the next week on my calendar. Basic and yet for a split second I drew a blank. I am extremely fortunate that I am highly intelligent and can compensate for my brain fog – as one of my colleagues generously mentioned today I was just a “normal” person and not my normal bright, on the ball, intelligent self. She said that she would never have guessed the difficulty I was having intellectually. I still got all my work done – but it was hard work and I was painfully aware of the gaps in my cerebral capabilities. Again I am fortunate but my years of experience also means I can cope and still deliver great work despite my brain fog but what about those with less experience? How would they cope?
This then brings me to my final point. Many of us autoimmune patients look fine, normal, healthy. You may never guess the battle we are going through or just how incredibly ill we feel. We have a chronic condition that we have to live with and deal with and we plod on, we persevere because we have to. Whilst on the one hand I am happy that I look great (and clearly my Karen Millen dress is hiding my gluten-related bloating well) on the other hand I do sometimes wish people could see just how ill I feel. I think if you could see how ill we patients sometimes really feel you would be in utter awe of us.
We do not want your pity though – but we do want you to try to understand. And we also want you to respect our health and our allergies and not be cavalier about it. If you are a restaurant and a customer states they have an allergy then you need to do your utmost to make sure that that is respected and if you cannot do that then be honest and open. I would rather have gone hungry than eat gluten that day and suffer the consequences for days and weeks later. Needless to say neither I or my friends will ever frequent a Ra restaurant again, and if you have a food allergy I would suggest extreme caution eating there – which is a shame as the sushi is awesome.
I might add as a final piece though that they clearly do not care as my complaint remains unanswered and ignored. Perhaps by reading this they will get a better grasp of what it means to ignore someone’s allergy and realise that as a result of their disregard for my allergy I now have to suffer and struggle through these horrible symptoms. Maybe this one post will mean that they will start to take food allergies seriously and that no other autoimmune, or other, patient will have to needless suffer as a result of one dinner out. Let’s hope!
PS. For full disclosure the sushi in the photo is one I made not one made by Ra’s sushi. And it was 100% gluten free.
This time next week I will be in Austin Texas enjoying day 2 of SXSW. If previous years are anything to go by I will be having an amazing time, but may be sporting a mild hangover. My first year at SXSW was a real life changing experience but sadly my second year, last year, was far less outstanding. I still enjoyed last year but it lacked the “wow” of my first time. I suppose though this is to be expected as with all things in life!
This year I am hoping to land somewhere in between. Of course I am not expecting that same “wow” that I experienced the first time – the element of the unknown and surprise is gone – but I am hoping that this year I will be a bit more prepared than last year. I have also been looking at the programme and I am already more inspired than I was last year. I had struggled at SXSW16 to find things that really got me excited, with a few exceptions, but this year’s programme looks like there will be plenty to get me stimulated (besides all the parties and free booze of course!).
I am also really chuffed as this year I have an old friend my MBA attending along with a couple of my London friends so I have high hopes on the social side if nothing else.
This year I also have a clear objective – to gather as many freebies as possible! In April I will be heading back out to Africa to join my boyfriend for the Namibia leg of his trip and I plan on restocking him with pens and other stuff that he can give away to kids as he travels through the continent. It really struck me in Morocco that all the children just wanted pens – that was the first thing they asked for – followed by “bon bons” (sweets) and interestingly enough then following by “cahiers” (notebook). SXSW will provide me with the opportunity to gather up freebies and put them to good use. Rather than those free pens just lying around at the bottom of my handbag they will hopefully be used by some child in Africa in school. Of course I will be on the look out for more than just pens – I will gladly swipe sunglasses, toys, etc. Perhaps not the most digitally orientated objective but I a good objective nonetheless in my mind.
So if you are going to be at SXSW17 and want to ply me with free goodies just get in touch!