Novartis believes simplicity is key to online success with consumers.
Nov 01, 2003

The internet has grown to the point that it reaches consumers at most socioeconomic levels, expanding the market and creating new opportunities for pharma. According to Paulo Costa, Novartis' CEO and president, that means the industry must do all it can to meet the increasingly sophisticated needs of millions of e-health consumers-and the millions more that they influence. An estimated 63.3 million consumers are searching the web for accurate, credible, easy-to-understand health-related information-and not finding it. Even those who find the information they need often don't understand it. Costa sees that failure as pharma's opportunity: to improve the quality and delivery of both disease- and treatment-specific web content and to raise consumers' health literacy.

"Patients and their loved ones have a right to know about diseases and treatment options and a right to have that information presented in a relevant, accessible manner," says Costa. "We understood early on that the use of technology can improve marketing efficiency and customer relationships."

Costa says Novartis learned that investment in technology can equal investment in consumer satisfaction, and that helping consumers get the information they need online when they need it not only encourages them to take an active role in their healthcare but also provides value to the company and its individual brands.

"Each day, our customers validate that theory in increasing numbers," he says. "Our commitment to web-enabled health literacy has helped us progress from building websites to building one of the industry's premier online brand experiences in just two years."

Novartis redesigned SimplyStated to help address health information seekers' unmet needs. The SimplyStated portal provides links to credible and easy-to-understand information about 14 diseases and tells consumers how to look for and evaluate it.
This article reviews the steps Novartis took to address the unmet needs of consumers who rely on its websites for health and product information and some of the results that those efforts generated. The company's story may encourage others to enhance their own web presence, to address the health literacy needs of US consumers, patients, and caregivers.

Missed Opportunities Novartis' e-marketing team commissioned Manhattan Research to interview 3,003 consumers to determine their attitudes and needs regarding online health information. The research showed significant unmet needs, particularly in providing third-party content that is easy to read, accurate, and credible.

Manhattan Research's president, Mark Bard, says that, within disease categories, there are two subsegments-patients and information seekers- that are important to companies' understanding of the way people search for or use information: "Although the two overlap in many cases, there is still a segment of non-patient information seekers."

Bard believes it's a mistake to look at customers in that subsegment and dismiss their relevance to marketing efforts. "In an area like oncology, 40–50 percent of those seeking information online are not patients, but they may be parents of children with cancer or children of cancer patients."

The e-marketing team considered that advice as well as other findings that revealed a general dissatisfaction among a majority of consumers with the accuracy, quality, and accessibility of health content:

  • 61 percent of web consumers (59 million) agree that the accuracy and quality of online health information needs improvement
  • 20 percent of internet consumers (19.3 million) have difficulty reading online health information
  • 26 percent (25.1 million) have difficulty reading online pharmaceutical information.

"Some people would look at the 26 percent number and say 'We've got about 75 percent of our audience covered, therefore we're doing a good job and we may not need to worry about them,'" says Bard. "But, in fact, you've got a population that raised their hands and told you 'I need help,' not just to the healthcare industry in general but to pharma specifically. One person may look at that and say, 'They're a minority, so we should underinvest.' The other way to look at it is to think, 'They're a minority, but if 74 percent are OK with the content, we need to disproportionately invest in the 26 percent who have trouble'."

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