Pharma’s Mobile Responsibility

By: Jason Marshall, Director of Strategic Planning (3/19/2015)

For multiple reasons, pharma has been slow to adapt to new digital channels. This is in large part due to the strict regulations placed on drug promotion.

Social media, the responsive web, and gamification are just a few examples where non-pharma consumer brands are leading the charge.

But when it comes to mobile, pharma brands may actually have a responsibility to provide a strong voice. The audience—consumer and professional—is already using these devices; it’s time we catch up. It’s our responsibility to accept this new landscape and add value to the mobile conversation by providing accurate information and support.

The future is mobile, and it’s been here for some time

Consumer behavior has been rapidly evolving, particularly the way in which people absorb content. Long gone are the days of quietly reading a magazine on the train or casually watching evening sitcoms with full focus. Consumers have smartphones and tablets in hand, actively engaging with material, and are more empowered to seek out interesting content.

The numbers are clear: 58% of American adults have smartphones. That’s a 13% increase in just three years. And they’re not just using those phones to make calls and check email. In 2014, Internet access on mobile began to exceed PC, and in 2015, mobile search will surpass desktop. Similarly, consumers are using apps—on average, 27 apps a month to be exact.

What about healthcare? We know patients are already seeking health information via mobile. In fact, WebMD recently reported that smartphones have overtaken personal computers as their top traffic source. Even when adding tablets to the equation—the top traffic source remains mobile visitors.

Ux What Makes a Good App

So, where do we begin?

The mobile web is a good place to start. Brand websites should be designed mobile-first and should be built responsively to ensure users have access to the same content regardless of their device. A logical, efficient layout is key to providing information quickly and accurately.

These rules aren’t only true for consumers. Healthcare professionals are notorious early adopters. 79% of U.S. physicians say they currently use smartphones for professional purposes. Brands should answer that need by providing the most current and accurate information in a mobile-friendly way.

After mobile websites, the next clear step is app development, which may or may not make sense for each brand. The need for an app will depend on the competitive landscape, the kind of information the brand wants to share, and the available budget. But again, the audience is there. 50% of patients say they already use their mobile device for health and 66% say they want to use apps specifically for health management.

Now is the right time to dive in

We know it works. In a recent study on medication adherence, patients using a pharmacy mobile app saw an adherence success rate 2.9 times higher than those who did not use mobile for medication management. This serves patients, physicians, and brands, because following the prescribed treatment regimen leads to better outcomes, particularly for chronic conditions.

The FDA recently opened up this platform, stating that the agency would not regulate mobile apps that are provided to consumers to promote general wellness. The opportunity is there. It’s a matter of pharma brands investing in research and planning to determine whether an app makes sense for their patient base and their product.

Whether it’s mobile-responsive web design, application development, or other mobile services like SMS messaging or integration with wearables, pharma belongs in mobile. It’s where patients go first for health research and condition management. If the most accurate and helpful information about a drug brand comes directly from the manufacturer, then the onus is on pharma to provide that support in the mobile space.

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