Category Archives: General
This time of year is often a time of reflection. It is a time of thinking about what you really want for Christmas – what items go on that famous Christmas list. What are the things you would really love Santa to bring you – and being Santa you can wish for whatever you want.
This year there were some practical things on my list – including an electric blanket and a pasta making machine (both of which I got – yay!). There were also though some wishes and hopes on the list. I have one wish every year and that is for donations and miracles for the dogs in the Bucov shelter that I support through Hope for Romanian Strays. With now over 1500 stray dogs living in the shelter (with an original capacity for 700 dogs) and of those over 300 puppies, there is never enough funds to help them all. The authorities do not provide enough food for that many dogs so it is up to us, and our supporters, to provide the additional food and care to try to keep the dogs alive. There are constant medical and emergency cases, like newly born puppies or injured dogs dumped at the shelter gates – essentially being left there to die. My wish did partly come true as thanks to some generous supporters and fundraising the dogs did get a Christmas meal. This is of course a drop in the ocean but at least they did not go hungry on that special day.
My other Christmas wish this year relates to work. Having left ZS in March I have gone back to working as a freelance consultant, culminating in an extremely busy December. However with my contract coming to an end in January I am again looking for the next opportunity. Whilst I would love the stability of a permanent job, the reality is there are not that many permanent roles for someone with my level of expertise and seniority. I also have such a huge passion (and depth of experience) for my area of specialisation (healthcare digital and social media strategy) that I have no desire to even consider anything else (except perhaps animal rescue!). I do also love the flexibility that working as a freelance brings and so I am putting feelers out again for some more contract work. As always it is a balancing act between finding new opportunities and meeting the requirements for the current contract – and this is one of the down sides of freelance work. I will have to start looking for the next opportunity whilst working flat out on the current contract – and find time to rescue dogs and take care of my health and personal life. I’m tired already just thinking about it! And so I make my wish and I hope that one of my tweets or posts ends up fortuously in front of the right person at the right time and I end up with a new contract for 2016. Fingers crossed ….
Linked to the above wish is another work related wish – a new laptop in the shape of the new Mircosoft Surface Pro. Sadly this is not a wish that Santa was able to grant this Christmas because Microsoft decided that Europeans are second class citizens compared to the US and that we have to wait 6 months to get our hands on this new shiny gem. My wish will have to continue being a wish only until March when I hear the Surface Pro will finally go on sale in the UK. Annoying.
My final big Christmas wish of course has to be health related. If you follow my posts then you know I have an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s. I think most patients with autoimmune disorders wish for improved (or at least stable) health. When I am happy and love what I am doing (and get plenty of sleep, eat well, etc.) I have no issues whatsoever with my condition. Sadly if I get over-stressed, sleep badly, or slip up on my food (e.g. eat something with Gluten in) I end up feeling pretty pants. Of course I plod on but there will always be a wish for that magic pill to come along and make life easier – or indeed cure my condition. That will stay a wish for a long time though as that is unlikely to happen! My other, more realistic, wish therefore is that more people are educated about the reality of autoimmune diseases, including doctors.
I got to spend my Christmas this year with my family, including my brother who is a GP. I was really saddened to hear that he had no idea the impact gluten (and diet in general) can have on patients with autoimmune diseases. I am not sure if he took my gluten free diet that seriously – I suspect like many doctors he felt that just taking my pills should be remedy enough. This makes me sad as I know the difference lifestyle makes on quality of life, and disease progression, for many patients with autoimmune diseases, but if doctors do not provide information or even support in this area then life just gets that bit harder. There really is nothing more frustrating that having your condition dismissed by your doctor – or indeed your online research either. Yes there is a large amount of incorrect and bad information online, but there is also a huge amount of life changing, accurate information out there. The fact that some of this comes from patients makes it no less valuable or accurate. Afterall how can a healthy doctor really understand what living with an autoimmune condition feels like and who are they to judge how we feel if we make lifestyle changes? And so I wish that more doctors listen to their autoimmune patients and try to understand their needs and conditions better. I wish more autoimmune patients had access to a great doctor like I do here in Switzerland.
If I could have my wish for a healthy 2016 and a new contract or opportunity to come true then I can also help make my first wish come true – I would be able to make a large donation to my charity and thereby rescue the lives of more vulnerable, neglected dogs in Romania. So should you hear of any opportunities (perm or contract) then do let me know … and you can do your bit to help my wishes come true!
The other day I listened to a really interesting presentation by Tom Blue, Chief Strategy Officer, American Association of Private Physicians, on the evolution of medicine. He made some fantastic points about how medicine, and the industry surrounding it, has changed over the years. It started with our battle against infectious disease, and the magic bullet approach (which became the blockbusters of yester year), and then evolved into specialisation and compartmentalisation around the different organs. Today we face a new era as our medical understanding has increased and where we understand that a heart ache may not just be related to heart but may be an indication of an overall systemic wide disease. Whereas we have built up an industry based on organ specialisation in fact it is that the GP is closer to the reality – a broad view across organs.
For me this totally resonates and makes total sense. Having been to specialists who focused totally on the organ (in my case the thyroid) it was my own research that led to pinpoint what the actual, systemic cause of my thyroid problems were. Admittedly it probably did not help that my Spanish endocrinologist was a heart-less, disinterested and unprofessional medic but had she had a broader vision she could have told me that in fact the problem with my health lay not in my thyroid but in my immune system.
The industry’s focus on organ speciality has not always had a positive impact on systemic disease like autoimmune disorders. When my mother came down with Churg-Strauss syndrome it took nine specialists to diagnose her as each was focused on their own speciality organ rather than her system as a whole – my GP brother actually diagnosed her sooner over the phone because he had a broader perspective.
When you look at all the specialists we have we do have some broader specialities like oncologist but there are few immunologists focused on auto-immune disorders. Pharma companies also need to move their focus from finding products to treat symptoms to looking for products to tackle the diseases. Cures would be fantastic but in the meantime products that reduce the effects of auto-immune responses (rather that treat the organ being attacked) are greatly needed.
However the healthcare industry is a very conservative industry focused on heavily entrenched ways of doing things – from the medical side as well as the industry side. Just seeing the slow battle of trying to introduce new technology and ways of interacting with patients it would be fair to guess that the change needed in how medicine is practiced and how products are developed will take even longer.
So perhaps rather than grumble at the various pharma websites that provide no interactivity or value I should applaud them for at least having made an effort. The next steps needed for modernisation will be far scarier and will require a huge industry wide shake-up. But who knows – perhaps the big leap required for digital and social media will help shake some of those traditional foundations enough to drive change?
Last week I was at the GLC social media & emarketing forum in Frankfurt listening to an interesting presentation by about HCP relationships. One of the slides presented showed a KOL map, showing who the KOLs are, who the upcoming KOLs are, and where they are based. This map is developed based on an analysis of presentations at congress and publication – but it is all offline inputs. I am however happy to hear that they are also looking into doing a KOL digital map.
Personally this rings a bell a with me as one of my recommendations in the past has been to do precisely this. Pharma companies generally have a great idea of who their traditional KOLs are, but they have no idea about how active they are online (if at all) and they often have no real idea of who KOI (Key Online Influencers) are. This is a big gap in a key knowledge area. As more and more HCPs turn to digital the impact of KOI will become increasingly important. Pharma companies need to start finding out which KOL are active online, and who the KOI are that they should be building relationships with them, just as they have traditionally built relationships with KOLs. This is essentially just a new group of KOL and the process for KOL relationship development offline already exist – they just need to be adapted for online.
From experience I know however that at this point alarm bells go off with legal and compliance as this is a new area. A second issue though is that unlike KOLs who are always HCP KOI may be HCPs, but they may also be journalists, bloggers, patient advocates, etc. This raises a whole area of problems. For the HCP KOI it is relatively simple to deal with – they fit into the existing framework and the Medical teams can build the relationships here, using a different process but still essentially following the same principles and guidelines. The problem however is how to deal with the other KOI – who owns the relationship? How to deal with the various regulatory issues that then arise? So, for example, for a non-HCP KOI there is the danger of being seen to be doing promotion. How can a pharma company deal with these issues?
The answer is to be totally transparent and never, ever look at relationship building from a promotional point of view. Building relationships needs to be based on providing value, whether it be for an HCP or a patient KOI. With that thinking as a starting point you then do some research. What are the KOI interested in? What content and assets would be of value to them? Do they have a blogger outreach policy or do they give any indication of how they feel about partnering with organisations? Build up a good level of knowledge about each individual KOI, just as one would do with a traditional KOL.
You then need to identify where the relationship will sit. As mentioned Medical KOI relationships sit comfortably with medical, journalists sit well with the comms team, and patient advocates sit well with advocacy teams. Very rarely do these relationships sit in marketing – even though very often this is where the desire to have these relationships starts. The other issue is of course also that digital and social media often sits either with marketing or comms – not with Medical, and yet Medical is the area that could really provide the most value and also get some real benefits from social media. Given the lack of digital expertise in Medical there is a strong argument, in some cases, for some relationships to live with the digital or social media team, who (hopefully) understand the dynamics of digital relationships.
Once you have identified who owns the relationship you then need to start relationship building. Like any relationship it will depend on the individuals involved, what channels they use, what value you can provide etc. However in general your first step will be to start building the relationship digitally – retweet their content, comment on their blog posts, etc. Offline however also plays a pivotal role in this relationship building – just because this is a digitally focused relationship does not mean it has to only stay in the digital arena. If you know the KOI is going to be attending the same conference as you then get in touch and arrange a meeting. Or perhaps you see that the KOI is going to be in the same town as you – arrange to meet for a coffee. Alternatively invite them to a specific event you are organising.
A good example of this comes from Roche Diagnostics blogger summits which are annual events they organise with key diabetes bloggers specifically to build relationships. Roche has been very successful – partly because they were realistic in their approach and accepted that this would need to be a long term initiative and it would take time for the summits and relationships to work (in fact it took 3 years). Another reason Roche was so successful was also because they went in with a “what can we do for you” mentality – rather than a promotional “what can you do for me mentality” – they asked attendees what they needed from the organisation and what value Roche could bring to the community. The response Roche got was very positive and they now have a good relationship with the community, who blog and tweet about Roche’s initiatives and help improve the Roche name within the community.
Follow Roche’s lead then when you look at building your own KOI relationships – allow time, and focus on their needs first and not your own. As the relationship develops and builds it will turn into a win win relationship, with the KOI spreading the reach of your content and providing a more credible way of reaching your target audience. Put aside internal squabbling and politics to focus on the relationship and share knowledge and process internally. Building KOI relationships will increasingly become a key part of the “KOL” process in the future so learn how to do it today – and do it well.