Can Pharma collaborate effectively online with the medical community?


How do we engage health care professionals (HCPs) online?  You know with Social Media, The Internet and all that stuff?

The sentence structure may vary but it is the type of question I am asked quite often.

The obvious reply is a question – Why?

Actually Pharma often has a clear goal for why it wants to work with online communities, which is a good start.  The issue, perhaps unsurprisingly is that the goal is often self-serving.  Exciting for the Pharma company, less so for the HCPs.

If the goal is indeed supported by online collaboration, then I suppose you could whip up a large amount of doctors you have never met, into a frenzy of crowd sourced excitement.  Maybe, but the project needs to be extremely compelling and nevertheless this is still a high risk approach.

This means when thinking about online collaboration, that the first 2 points below are indeed essential AND the 3rd is very likely to be required:

  • Select Health Care Professionals who are active online, join communities and use Social Media
  • Ensure there is a high level of value, in the short and long term, for those that you invite
  • Select those that you know personally, ideally who you are collaborating with already in, i.e. advisory boards & face to face events

What better way to represent than a Venn diagram 🙂

The 'sweet spot' of HCP communities
The ‘sweet spot’ of online HCP collaboration


Clearly the HCPs need to be active and comfortable interacting Online and the project needs to offer them Value but to minimise risk you really need those that you have a good Relationship with.

Also consider that those core HCPs may become advocates and invite other HCPs to take part (depending on the community goals and how open or closed it is)

I once saw a Pharma-HCP attempted online collaboration fail terribly.  In that particular example HCPs were already working closely ‘face-to-face’ with a Pharma company on an initiative.  The proposed online Social Media extension of this seemed valuable and aligned to the project goals.  However most of the lead HCPs were very uncomfortable with the online world, particularly Social Media and refused to give it a chance. (to be fair the ‘selling in’ process also left a lot to be desired)

In my experience some of the most important steps in making this work are:

  • Create an implementation plan based on the short and long term project goals
  • Define a clear moderation and use policy for the community, written in straightforward and human language
  • Provide a clear explanation of the online community project, its value to the HCPs and how it aligns to the ‘offline’ project
  • For the ‘core’ HCPs this should be outlined ‘face-to-face’ at meetings or in person, e.g. using a Medical Scientific Liason from the company.  This is intensive but can pay dividends
  • Unless the platform and method of using it are entrenched, training should be given and the above policies outlined
  • Moderator(s) and a number of ‘active contributors’ need to be identified who will generate discussion and drive the project forward
  • A steady stream of relevant content is required, to spark discussion and debate
  • Importantly Pharma needs to be able to respond spontaneously in discussions and  not be constrained with needing to approve everything that is said, before posting it

Clearly local regulations need to be adhered to and an ethical approach followed.   That said these projects tend to be fairly low risk, as the communities and the discussions on them are usually fairly well controlled, limited to HCPs and mostly by invitation only.

This is a great opportunity for Pharma to build closer relationships with HCPs, in projects of mutual value.

Many wrongly assume that HCPs do not want to engage with Pharma online,  they are certainly prepared to, as long as it is on their terms.

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