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Time for a shot of 'Digital Marketing' in Healthcare

Monday, September 10, 2018
By Setu Shah

Setu Shah, Co-founder, Rx PROSE

In February this year, Google rolled out a new feature called “Symptom Search” in India that let users find quality health information on their smartphones.

Google’s initiative, which was in conjunction with Apollo hospitals, is not just reflective of the changing trends in the way people are looking for healthcare solutions in India and how the healthcare industry is gearing up for this change by leveraging digital tools but also how the massive public data available on health and diseases on social media and digital platforms could be put to good use.

The emerging trends in ‘Digital India’ are currently on the agenda of every single boardroom – from a large corporate, MNC right up to a hyper local small and medium business. The traditional sectors like FMCG, Banking and Financial Services, Retail and Real Estate as well as Digitally Disruptive businesses have been extensively leveraging Social media platforms to engage with customers.

Now, even the laggards and conservative sectors like Pharma and Healthcare service providers are gearing up for using social media in their marketing strategies and patient education programmes. The highly-regulated nature of the pharma industry has led to a very cautious approach to using social media, but those companies who have been willing to invest in this new approach have found that it has given them a competitive edge over traditional digital marketing techniques.

The huge reach of digital and social media platforms, coupled with communication in local language enabling hyper-local conversations, is creating new ways for all sectors, companies and brands to engage with existing and potential customers. Healthcare companies, pharma accompanies, caregivers, hospitals and doctors are all now carefully looking at the chatters in social media rooms and the digital presence and digital behaviour of their customers to devise innovative reach-out, engagement and marketing programmes.

Studies have found that more than 80 percent of internet users in the US have searched for a health-related issue online. To ensure that this information is accurate, Google has an active partnership with Mayo Clinic. Google analytics in India too reflect a similar trend. In the last 12 months, there are about 1,320,000 searches on Google for “Diabetes”. For a pharmaceutical company and a savvy marketer, this translates to over a million potential patients with whom they can have engaging conversations

Social media marketing fits much more intuitively and less intrusively into a patient or health care professional’s daily routine compared with ‘traditional’ marketing. An ever increasing screen time on smart phones allows click based conversations where a person can simply “tap” on their phone screens to “know more”. These conversations with Patients, Care givers, Family members and Healthcare Professionals or Organisations can create interesting conversations which are highly relevant and can transcend barriers of geography, socio-economic divide and language.

For example Dr. Mikhail Varshavski commonly known as Doctor Mike, a Russian–American celebrity doctor who works in New Jersey has 830,000 followers on Facebook, 119,000 followers on Twitter a staggering 2,900,000 on Instagram and over 1,700,000 views on Youtube! While doctors in India are yet to make a significant online presence, platforms like Practo, Lybrate, Sehat, JustDial and CrediHealth have attracted listing from Tier 2 and 3 doctors too.

As the use of social media becomes more widespread, healthcare professionals, small and large companies providing medicines and healthcare services will require reputation management and crisis control in the event of any adverse comments and backlash from unhappy patients. one can already witness top doctors being critically reviewed as quacks on several online platforms which may affect a potential patient looking up for the doctor.

Among the other challenges to a pharma company kick-starting its first social media marketing campaign is the need to convince stakeholders and introduce new internal processes. One concern that can be overcome in well-designed campaigns, but is naturally very powerful, is the possibility that comments from the public interacting with social media campaigns may lead to compliance issues.

A report titled India Digital Health Report 2017 predicted that ‘Digital Healthcare’ is the ‘healthcare of the future’ and like many other markets, India too was at the cusp of a ‘digital health’ revolution. The report adds that healthcare in India, which is currently valued at US$ 100 billion, is expected to touch US$ 280 billion by 2020, and “Digital intervention” in healthcare will likely drive the industry’s growth at a CAGR of 23% by 2020.

The healthcare sector can look at accelerating this new momentum by levering the emerging digital landscape for patient education, conversations with support groups, stories about disease detection, prevention, management and control.

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