The 500 attendees of the spring 2002 ePharma Summit, which included pharma marketers, e-communications managers, and technology providers, maintained a "buyer beware" outlook. As healthcare companies integrate technology applications into offline activities, they continue to seek definitive return on investment (ROI) from those initiatives.
Pharma companies are experiencing a "build-out" period similar to those occurring during previous information revolutions, according to Newt Crenshaw, vice-president of e.Lilly, the company's online investment arm. He says computers will become more "people-literate," and the focus will shift from a preoccupation with the novelty of specific technologies to using them to create value.
The summit's exhibit floor reflected industry's understanding of the change in consumers' internet use. Search engine displays such as Ask Jeeves and Yahoo! have replaced health portal and website exhibits. Other changes include pharma companies' progress toward "customer relationship management maturity," according to Alasdair Mackintosh, vice-president of Cap Gemini Ernst & Young. Currently, companies access sales and physician-prescribing data from multiple channels. But, he says, by 2007 most companies could move beyond physician-level data and conduct fully integrated customer interactions with all stakeholders across all channels.In addition, marketers seem to be raising the standards for their own e-initiatives and evaluating measurement tools more carefully. That was demonstrated in a case study presented by Atul Singh, head of e-business for Teva Neuroscience, who discussed the MSWatch website, a company-funded online community for multiple sclerosis patients and their families. Questions from a Forrester Research audience member showed that he was unwilling to accept "soft" ROI numbers that indicated MSWatch.com had increased sales of the company's MS treatment Copaxone (glatiramer). That typified the skepticism common among industry insiders.
Participants also questioned other models, such as the validity of the traditional R&D structure. Crenshaw discussed how e-R&D can improve pharma's innovation pipeline by minimizing investment and risk. He cited Eli Lilly's InnoCentive, a website that posts scientific problems and offers financial rewards for solutions.
Other conference highlights included a presentation by attorney Dean Forbes of the Federal Trade Commission's advertising practices division, in which he reviewed the FTC's new privacy agenda and discussed the agency's litigation against Eli Lilly for revealing the e-mail addresses of 669 subscribers to the Prozac.com medication reminder service. He said pharma executives have a responsibility to know what data their sites collect and must take appropriate security measures to protect consumers' privacy.