Digital Insights: Big Pharma's Websites Falling Short

Where does the American public go when they have questions about their drugs? Apparently not the drug company websites.

By Michele Vaccarello Wagner, Senior Digital Editor

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When I wonder why, after 10 minutes in the microwave, the middle of my chicken fettuccine dinner is still ice cold, I go to Lean Cuisine’s website. When I lose the return envelope of my Netflix DVD, I go to the Netflix website, and when my husband breaks our oven door while trying to clean it, I go to GE’s website. But where does the American public go when they have questions about their drugs? Apparently not the drug company websites, at least not very often.

A recent survey of 850 U.S. consumers conducted by Accenture shows that most Americans who are seeking medical or drug advice turn to medical websites, social media outlets, online forums and communities and informational websites far more than the websites of pharmaceutical companies.

The survey reports that only 11% of consumers who seek online health information regularly seek information on a pharmaceutical company’s website, while 92% look to other online resources—WebMD, for example—for the same information.

So what is Big Pharma doing wrong on the web and why haven’t they cornered such a captive audience? Accenture believes pharmaceutical companies must not only provide correct and detailed information, but also “upgrade their websites to create a more dynamic, interactive experience, demonstrate an understanding of their patients’ needs, provide holistic solutions and clearly reinforce their brand identity in a two-way dialogue.”

Big Pharma’s slow acceptance of social media channels is most likely also hindering their web audience. There appears to be a clear disconnect in how drug companies communicate with their patients online, with Big Pharma only dipping its toes into the creation and leveraging of community forums, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, and YouTube channels. (Johnson & Johnson, Roche, and a few others are clearly leading the pack, however. For how they operate on Twitter, for example, visit the Pharma Twitter feed page here.

Thomas Schwenger, global managing director for Accenture’s Life Sciences Sales & Marketing practice, believes drug companies “must adopt a better understanding of their patient behavior through sophisticated analysis in order to fully capitalize on how patients interact with social media channels and websites.” He continues: “While pharmaceutical companies are methodical in manufacturing their products, there is a clear disconnect in how they communicate with their patients.”

Pharmaceutical companies have a major opportunity to connect with their patients through several digital venues, not only their corporate websites, but is it too late to reign this audience back in? And more importantly, will FDA ever publish social media guidance and standards so Big Pharma can confidently continue its digital efforts? Only time will tell.

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