Do Pharma Organisations do enough to encourage the e-patient?

Niamh Madigan

e-patient : meaning (also known as Internet patient, or Internet-savvy patient) is a health consumer who uses the Internet to gather information about a medical condition of particular interest to them, and who uses electronic communication tools (including Web 2.0 tools) in coping with medical conditions. (Taken from Wikipedia)

This week, we read that a new online tool, has been launched in the US to help patients understand their disease better and how their medication works, giving them more control of their health.

The tool, entitled ‘Virtual Coaching’, has been developed by pharmacy benefits management (PBM) company Express Scripts and is being made available through HealthBridge Pharma & Biotech, part of United BioSource Corp (UBC).

We’ve seen more and more patients becoming savvier about their healthcare and their role in clinical trials. They are engaging and forming communities, with or without the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry. Patients are seeking health information online, but are taking part in making decisions about their diagnosis, treatment and after-care based on the information they receive online. But are pharma companies taking part in the conversation or doing enough to encourage the role of patients in their own healthcare?


“Pharma companies and patients should play a partnership role,” says Eileen O’Brien Director, Search & Innovation, Siren Interactive, and Relationships Marketing Experts for Rare Diseases.

She continues. “It seems that pharma companies are missing from the conversation because of the lack of guidance and regulatory structure.” Added to this a recent survey showed that 48% of respondents said that they would be very interested in reading comments or posts from pharma companies (Prevention magazines pharmaceutical Direct-to-Consumer advertising study 2011).

Some organisations may be missing from the conversation because of the lack of guidance and regulatory structure. Eileen adds, " if a company provides relevant, valuable content and tools, patients will engage."

Craig Lipset, Head of Innovation at Pfizer encourages patients to have more of a voice when taking part in clinical trials, he explains, “The notion of an e-patient goes a step further into the realm of participatory medicine, where the patient isn't looking to displace their healthcare provider; instead, the patient is at the table with a voice, able to say that they do have information.”

It seems patients want to share experiences and complement the decisions that are being made about their health . Ultimately pharma companies must realise that when the patient has a voice in that plan, they’re better engaged and they're more likely to persist and to follow that regime. Thus, they see better outcomes.

Lipset concludes, “Trends are all pointing in the direction of a greater use of the Internet, I think it's important for us to keep pace in terms of how we are looking at ways to engage those folks in research. And that means engaging them in terms of making them aware, through patient recruitment straight through to the life of the study and beyond, ways in which we're engaging, keeping them informed whilst still maintaining the scientific integrity of the study.”

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