Beyond The Pill is moving to Game On!

Can conservative Pharma companies becomes Gamers? Although a large investment by Merck and AMGEN was announced several months ago, the repercussions are now being felt. This could help open up the long pent-up demand for innovation by Pharma manufacturers.

The investment news came last summer, as quoted in FierceBiotech: “Akili Interactive Labs, the Boston-based startup developing nonpharmacological therapeutics for various cognitive disorders like autism and Alzheimer’s disease, got an $11.9 million boost in funding, raising its total Series B proceeds to $42.4 million.” Basically, they use gamification to improve cognitive function.

Recently, the new Pharma and gamer partners announced their first accomplishment, EVO, the game:

The first game application for children with a cognitive disorder has proven highly effective. This gives the marketers a differentiating aspect to their Rx. Being a fact-based industry, this is big news.

Why is this hot?

  • The terms “Beyond The Pill” has become the industries code for “innovation” — trying to offer some technology or service to make their drug stand-out in the minds of doctors and consumers. “Innovation” is a word that is intensely frightening to most Pharma marketers. For several years, as more and more blockbusters (drugs with sales over $1 billion) become generics (70% of ALL drugs are now generics), Pharma has been haphazardly explored partnerships and technologies, but has often failed due to cultural entropy and conservatism in the C-suite. This is a first.
  • Change needs to come from the C-suite: $11 million is a lot of money, especially for an industry so conservative and ROI-obsessed.  Every company, even MRM-McCann clients, are looking for ways to engage patients from clinical trials through drug adherence — the entire product lifecycle.
  • I have been “selling” into one of our Pharma clients an Artificial Intelligence platform from a company that did Sgt Star on the U.S. Army site; we have had several meetings to try and issue AI as their Beyond The Pill strategy for launch of a new ADHD drug; this success with Akili may make that path easier.

What is the most dysfunctional conversation? Between Doctor and Patient.

As communications experts in the healthcare vertical, from strategy to creative to even Search, we all struggle with language. Not just because of regulatory/FDA restrictions on what you can and cannot say — no, this is more fundamental. I’m talking about actual language — how people speak to each other about their health and treatment. There is a huge chasm and a few companies are trying to cross it.

Basically, no one is satisfied with the current state of communication. Get this stat: in a typical 15 minutes consult, the doctor will speak for 11 of the minutes. They dominate. Partially because of that, 50% of patients do not retain what their doctor said to them, and if given a new prescription, 1 in 6 will not fill or pick it up. Why? They simply don’t understand or believe.

So Pharma stepped in. Starting in 2002, Pfizer was the first to try and own the issue of health literacy — based on the U.S government declaring all patient communication should be written to a 6th grade reading level, the average in the U.S. (Now that is scary). Many agencies adhere to that rule. They have kept their focus on this even at MRM-McCann. This is how Pfizer defines it, which is merely common sense:

Clear health communication between health care providers and patients can help to improve understanding. Techniques that providers can use include:

  • Speak in simple language and avoid jargon terms
  • Focus on key information needed for the visit
  • Listen to patients or families about their needs or concerns
  • Make information relevant to the family’s culture
  • Use simple educational materials that have pictures to help explain things
  • Use interpreters, language lines, and language specific information for those that don’t speak English as their main language
  • Work together with patients to make decisions and set goals
  • Ask patients to share back information learned or plans made

Last year, Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) launched (Universal Patient Language) and called it an “open source” for creation of better conversations. Both companies have decided to share their secrets — their research and framing.

Why is this hot? The issues of the dialogue that occurs between patients and doctor’s is pervasive in all Pharma marketing. On one side, clients ALWAYS say “We need to craft the shared language so they talk about our treatment.”  If you speak to doctor’s they will say, with such limited time they have to get their questions asked and answered to properly help the patient. If you ask a patient, more times than not, they will either forget their questions, or try and squeeze them in at the end of the appointment — what is called the “hand-on-the-doorknob-conversation”. Even more so, in the age of the empowered patient, who needs to understand the science, can we really dumb down such complexity for the conversation?

As communications experts, these are incredibly valuable tools to use and consider in our client work. Yet, they need to be filtered through the lens of a science-based organization trying to be patient-centric — always a battle. Last, is the daunting reality of patient non-compliance — over 50% of ALL patients stop taking their treatments as prescribed within 100 days. even cancer patients!

Cost to society? Over $250 billion dollars in lost productivity per year.

Theory has it, if the patient truly understood the what and why they are taking a drug, they would be more compliant. Even though Pfizer started this effort in 2002, the situation is just starting to change. Or as BMS declares about the future: “Always ready, never finished.”




What is better? Doctor as authority or shared decision-making?

The Wall street Journal ran a piece this week about the power of shared decision-making and the impact it has on patient satisfaction, cost savings and healthier outcomes. While it was a simple and positive report, the findings are radical in that it is another herald of the transforming healthcare system.

Why is this important? Take Mass General, rated the #1 Hospital in the entire U.S. last year. They are not just doing one thing right to make the healthcare system work better for all, but they are doing neatly everything right. The hospital — and many others — have come to realize that the old model of “Doctor-as-authority-figure” does not really work any more — patients don’t feel in control, they often regret decisions, and last, they often end up NOT following the doctor’s orders and stop taking their medication, the impact of which is said to be over $200 billion in lost productivity every year.

Enter shared decision-making, which has had a radical impact on patient satisfaction. This visual aid is used to help patients make cancer treatment decisions:

Why is this hot? Because this heralds a major shift in a decades-old communication model, one that the entire U.S. society incorporated into their medical relationship with their doctor and thus, their health. This shared decision-making is not a mandate, but common sense; but even common sense in this case is a disruptor of the doctor-as-authority, which is how doctors are trained and inculcated into their own mindset. Radical that the doctor cedes this control; radical that the patient engages in complex decisions and comes away satisfied.

So, for Mass General, the results have been dramatic:





Telehealth is here, it’s what next that is truly…

Scary? Amazing? Ruined by bad user experience? Right for some not for others? Revolutionary?

Telehealth video calls surpassed 50 million in the US last year. Telehealth video visits will reach 158 million by 2020. Just pick up your phone and you get a video consult with a doctor. There are two points to be made: it is not that Telehealth is big news, it is the dramatic rate of adoption starting…now.

A recent study done by AmericanWell, a major Telehealth provider, basically proves an aggressive adoption rate, but with caveats.  One of the major barriers? A doctor is really not allolwed to diagnose you over the phone. Another? Telehealth also weakens your relationship with a doctor, who uses visual observation as a key tool for diagnosis. But here are the stats that make it hot:

  1. Today, 50 million U.S. consumers would switch providers to one that offers telehealth.*
  2. Willingness to switch to a doctor that offers Telehealth is highest among parents of children under age 18 and 35-44 year olds.
  3. 60 percent of consumers who are willing to have an online Telehealth visit would see a doctor online for help managing a chronic condition.
  4. 67 percent of adults ages 45-64 who are willing to have an online Telehealth visit would see a doctor online for help managing a chronic condition.
  5. 79 percent of consumers currently caring for an ill or aging relative say a multi-way video Telehealth service would be helpful.

Why this is hot? Not because it is accelerating in use, but for what comes next: biometric sensors for your phone so when you do a video tele-consult, any of us will allow the doctor’s network to hook into all your health data, perhaps resolving the “no diagnosing” barrier. But there are real concerns. Is convenience gained but something lost? Would you like the world better if you didn’t have to go through the hastle of arranging and going to a doctors office? How do the doctors feel? And who is this doctor anyway — do you medical advice from someone you know and trust?

This year, with our IPG health insurance, we all received a plastic flyer offering the service to all employees, 24/7. Please share any experiences you have, if you feel comfortable doing so.

Excedrin Migraine Experience uses Empathy and Virtual Reality

Excedrin is aspirin, one of the first miracle drugs. As one of the US largest and most memorable brands it is well positioned for headaches, but also for low-level migraines.

To stay vital and relevant, large older brands often reach into the “insight hat” and develop a campaign around that insight. Clearly, in the case of the Excedrin Migraine Experience, the insight was: “as a migraine sufferer, no one really understands what you go through, but let us help.” The impact of empathy can be a strong brand differentiator.

The brand chose different pairs of people — loved one’s, couples, friends — and used the VR experience of what a migraine feels like (which is nauseous and awful) to those people who don’t understand how bad it truly is. The execution is well done and the strategy is powerful: Technology delivering empathy, with a brand helping to bridge the empathy divide between those who do an do not suffer.

“I’ll never doubt you again,” is the title of one testimonial.  On YouTube in less than a week they have over 300k views.


Excedrin mifriane VR HC hpome page 4.14.16Why is this Hot? This demonstrates that even large, older retail brands are trying new strategies to stay relevant and gain new attention. Relevance, in this case, is embracing technology to deliver emotion. The amalgam of Empathy and VR technology is a strategy that while in its nascent stages, is important to watch as it evolves and matures as a strategy for differentiation.

Working in the health vertical, it is clear that between poor reputation, bad User Experience, and stale content, the entire healthcare industry could really use the power of empathy. At the very heart and soul of empathy are the many employees, the creators of miracle after miracle, who could channel that passion to communicate to patients and create greater connection and perhaps treatment favorability. Delivering Empathy through technology might be having a VR experience of how the brain of an ADHD sufferer is wired is one example — for a parent with a child just diagnosed with ADHD that would be very compelling.

It is important to note that Excedrin is an “aisle” brand — pure retail. The real strategy is re-activating awareness of Excedrin and downloading coupons.

Excedin samples page 1 GHS 4.16.16

For Healthcare, empathy is THE strategy in a cynical customer-centric world

HCP empathy 2.19

Empathy is considered one of the high attributes of emotional intelligence; it is the foundation of strong relationships. These days, great brands work hard to align their message to provoke some emotion — joy, aspiration, sadness, outrage — but the hardest emotion to communicate is empathy. While it is used as a means to bond with a brand, it usually is packaged with cause-related marketing like raising money for a disease research.

What more apropos industry to embrace empathy as a differentiating strategy than Biopharma and healthcare? It is an industry that ranges from high science to high emotion. Why not use empathy to say to patients, “We get you. We care. Trust our medication. Trust our hospital.” What’s more is the government is rewarding doctors and hospitals on empathy.

Let’s go through some examples of how technology is creating the path to applying empathy as a business strategy. In fact, at many hospitals, they are training doctors to be mor empathetic. Patient satisfaction scores are now being used to calculate Medicare reimbursement under the Affordable Care Act. And more than 70 percent of hospitals and health networks are using patient satisfaction scores in physician compensation decisions.

First, Healthloop, an App that is in beta but has great promise. Hospitals in the post-Affordable Care Act world, have new metrics for both reimbursement and are rated (yes, up to 5 stars!); Biopharma companies are being judged by insurers on Outcomes (did the treatment actually work?) — it all comes down to being gaining competitive advantage for doctors, hospitals and even Biopharma.

This video for Healthloop says it pretty well:

Next is…a mental health support App. This is an amazingly human digital experience; unlike so many (abandoned) Apps, this one actually covers a 360 degree view of your day-to-day mental health. It stays relevant. It offers contact and human contact; advice that is simple, exercises that are based in cognitive behavioral sciences.

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Calm down kit HS 2.19.16

The Calm down Kit (above) is the best! How human can you get? If I were in a depressive funk, “watching cute puppies” may seem frivolous but it is reinforcing the need for positive thought.

Why is this hot? For CXM, how do we account for this? How do we understand that this is core emotional driver for patients in choosing hospitals and doctors — even treatments. Technology and good UX is finally enabling the ability to deliver an emotional experience. But all good strategies need measurement for validation and optimization: Do we need to evolve the definition of ROI? Should it be ROI which accounts for Empathy and UX? Return on Empathy? Can we measure this? Is this the ultimate Engagement metric? Healthloop caring, helpful content and interaction is reminding us who really cares. The patient testimonial on Healthloop says it all:

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It’s not a video game: Your next surgery may be done through Virtual Reality.

There are upwards of 70 million surgeries in the United States each year. While many are somewhat safe — knee replacement, open-heart surgery, gall bladder and organ removals– a large number are extremely risky and depend upon the skills and confidence of the surgeon. Surgical Theater is a leader in pioneering the use of Virtual Reality in the actual surgical theater. By bringing in new leadership who pioneered the use of VR in aviation the adoption of Virtual reality use in surgical settings is now accelerating.

How does it work?

VR Hot sauce 1.27.16

While the YouTube video portrays the VR “view”, the real magic is the actual process of how it is applied. Surgical Theater’s Virtual Reality and Image Guidance extends into the operating room. Coupled with intra-operative navigation systems, Surgical Theater’s platforms provide dynamic visualization capabilities in real time, allowing surgeons to perform a real-time “fly-through” of the surgical pathway, establish multiple views, and rotate and interact with the navigation image.

Why is this hot? Bottom line? The surgeon “performs” a highly difficult surgery before they actually do it.

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year, Virtual Reality got a lot of press and buzz. But beyond gaming and the marvel of the sheer immersive experience, the use of it for doctors is another ripple of the wave of digital innovation that will allow for more accurate surgery, better outcomes, and happier patients. After all, if you had a rare brain tumor, you would want the surgeon not to use an old CT scan or MRI, but a 3D ‘experience’ – no guess work, identify the exact tumor within millimeters.

As one doctor aptly put it: (Dr. John G. Golfinos): “The Surgical Theater system was crucial in determining whether an endoscopic approach to this tumor would be possible. With this technology, we were able to distinguish the tumor from the surrounding ventricles. Using the Surgical Theater system, we planned our surgical corridor and endoscopic approach which enabled a much safer and effective resection of the entire tumor”.

Human-speak? The doctor walked into that surgery confident and with a much smaller margin of error.

Do Humans Respond to Life or Death? Aetna “Give 11 minutes” Positive Reinforcement Anti-smoking Campaign.

Do humans react to negative or positive stimulation to change behavior? Are we more motivated by death or life? This is a huge unanswered question for the entire healthcare industry, mostly around patient non-adherence and the resulting negative outcome. One area where a massive amount of negative motivation has been used is around anti-smoking TV campaigns. Anti-smoking campaigns are famous for their outrageous, attention-grabbing technique of demonstrating the death-related implications of smoking — anyone recall the famous actor, Yul Brynner anti-smoking ad he did right before his death? ( But does it work? As behavior-minded marketers, do we need to really consider how re-framing a topic through the positive versus the negative makes a great impact?

Aetna launched their own anti-smoking campaign a year ago using positive, almost joyful reinforcement of why people should quit. Now they have expanded it with a

multi-channel, highly social campaign called “Gain more time — Machine 11.” The video tells the story best. Basically, you put in a cigarette and get a paper scroll that tells you that for every cigarette you don’t smoke, you gain 11 minutes of life…then they introduce you to a “life” event.

Why is this hot? Aetna, as a major insurance company, knows that the smoking population has a enormous impact on health and cost control. What is amazing is that they turned the behavior-change model on its head by reinforcing living — and why you should live then actually demonstrating it. This is brilliant and emotionally viral — you watch this video and you get it. The positive nature is so joyful you have an empathetic moment. Then they created a Tumblr-based site to pull you in and deepen the engagement with curated and Shared content.

HS aetna 11 minutes campaign 11.13

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Can Twitter really tell you which hospital offers the best care?

Healthcare and Social is a fast-changing landscape. While Biopharma manufacturers have been slow to adopt social strategies and presence many hospitals use Twitter aggressively to engage with their patients, and influence hospital choice through seeking satisfaction comments. This is certainly true with “Likes” on hospital Facebook pages. But a “Like” in some ways is more passive than a posted Tweet. The Tweet is often a more immediate post hospital care reaction and has a ripple effect. Amazingly enough, as of early 2015, nearly half of all U.S. hospitals have Twitter accounts.

Twitter hospitals H Sauce 10.30

 One study, which was published this month in the journal BMJ Quality and Safety, ( examined whether Twitter could be a reliable, real-time indicator of hospital quality. The study, researchers crowd-sourced U.S. hospital Tweets to determine whether their overall sentiment could denote quality of care.

The study found a positive sentiment correlation to the use of Twitter.  They also observed that smaller hospitals in more rural settings had deeper engagement, which makes sense as a local issue. But a true disconnect was unearthed: Twitter sentiment was not associated with Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) ratings but just having a Twitter account was. So, while positive engagement helps the hospital brand equity and reputation, the government’s own ratings do not yet measure it. So why have a Twitter account? Simple: engagement drives business in a world of customer-focused healthcare insurance.

Another study concluded that Twitter had a very positive impact on the overall goal and metrics the hospitals use. From “Tweeting and Treating: How Hospitals Use Twitter to Improve Care.” (, Dr. Frederick, July 2015.

“Savings opportunities are generated by preventing unnecessary office visits, producing billable patient encounters, and eliminating high recruiting costs. Communication is enhanced using Twitter by sharing organizational content, news, and health promotions and can be also a useful tool during crises. The utilization of Twitter in the hospital setting has been more beneficial than detrimental in its ability to generate opportunities for cost savings, recruiting, communication with employees and patients, and community reach.”

As it turns out, Twitter is also a pretty good gauge of hospital quality. The study found that “hospitals that people liked on Twitter were also doing better at not having patients come back within 30 days – one of the indicators of care quality.” Twitter logo h sauceWhy is this hot? Adoption of Social in Biopharma manufacturers is far behind that of hospitals. Also, hospitals are being held to ever-increasing quality-of-care metrics – these metrics act as badges of honor but are needed to attract patients to their services. If they keep patients from being re-admitted to the hospital within 30 days, the Affordable Care Act rewards them with higher reimbursement. Also, hospitals are pioneering what sort of content engages patients and community. Look at Mayo Clinic, they have 1.23 million Followers. True, they are a world-class brand, but it shows what is capable and a hunger for connection. Biopharma should watch hospital Twitter experiences very carefully.

In terms of content, an expert on the topic weighs in…

Alicia Daugherty, who works with the Advisory Board’s Marketing and Planning Leadership Council, points out several key strategies for hospitals that are trying to maintain vital, active Twitter feeds: “It’s all about relevancy–the care experience prompts patients to follow the hospital, and then it’s up to the hospital to sustain their attention with interesting, useful content,” Daugherty says. She separates hospitals’ most engaging tweets into three common categories:

  • Practical health advice: Daugherty notes this is easy to offer, although Twitter is somewhat saturated with health tips and tricks.
  • Unusual or counterintuitive information: These tweets can be more interesting, but harder to provide on a regular basis.
  • Content that sparks a conversation: However, the most active discussions may center on controversial topics–and that’s “usually best avoided” for hospitals, Daugherty concludes.

As an example, just look at what the Cleveland Clinic has on it’s page today…education, help, hope.

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The Curated Experience: Like Disney, Like Pharma

Some of the top line lessons for marketers from Disney are centered on the way people are treated and how the experience is curated. There is an important place for curated experiences in pharmaceutical marketing and we can learn a few lessons from Disney.

Attention to detail

On every ride there are access corridors, stairs, and pathways for the crews to clean and maintain them. These utilitarian areas are still branded with the ride’s theme right down to the railings and door designs. They probably change to unadorned stairwells and metal doors inside the attraction and away from guests’ eyes and experience but as far as the customer experience is concerned the ride’s theme carries on forever.


For a company with many brands and a consolidated call center make sure that therehumira-website-300x300 are scripts and protocols available for each patient and brand. For brands with multiple indications look closely at how patients are treated at the front door. The best experience is one where each condition has its own site. Next best is one where the user’s choice is remembered so that they see the most relevant information on subsequent visits. Remember, even if you have an 85% “first visit” rate, those 15% of return visitors are probably mostly made up of your patients.

You’re never rushed

Disney has technology to optimize the guest’s experience, but lines can still be long. When my daughter waited in line to see her favourite characters there was a line a mile long behind us. When talking with the characters she wasn’t rushed or snubbed, the experience was fulfilling and worth the wait.


Your patients have often been through a long journey to get to their script, take the time to really curate an experience for them and make them feel valued. This can be an extra couple of minutes on a phone call, a call center script that offers more options, a more complete digital experience, or even a retargeting campaign centered on services for patients rather than just selling the brand.

Technology set to “help”

The FastPass system at Disney is absolutely genius. For those who haven’t visited recently, the FastPass system is available to all park visitors and essentially ensures that every guest will have a great experience on at least three rides. They limit the number of FastPass guests for rides in one-hour periods so that they can manage the lines. This provides a better experience for guests who aren’t standing in line all day and frees up their time to buy food and Disney merchandise.


What could your patients do with extra time? There are often ways to curate their experience to assist with the journey. Can specialists be found nearby? When filling a script are there nearby pharmacies or even specialty mail-order pharmacies available?

For your writing physicians, are there ways you can make their lives easier? Most rare disease claims require prior authorization forms, are there ways that your information can be organized to help them? Even better, is your payer marketing program set up to make their lives as easy as possible?

Why It’s Hot: The Disney experience is something that is not replicated in other theme parks but which pays dividends in terms of revenue per guest and repeat visits. Look to your own customer experiences and ask the question: what would Disney do?

Source: Klick Health