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Alternative Media: Mobile Marketing


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-10-01-2005
Volume 0
Issue 0

Because mobile devices are a convenient source for breaking headlines and other news, many physicians have adopted mobile news services to stay abreast of specialty journals and clinical news.

Mobile computers are everywhere these days. Almost every theater, airplane, and cocktail party is alive with the familiar glowing, beeping, clicking, and picture taking of smartphones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and other mobile electronic devices. With the Gartner Group predicting that more than 80 million of these devices will be sold by the end of 2005, PDAs are quickly becoming part of mainstream life.

Jeffrey Tangney

While technology enthusiasts have trumpeted the coming of the wireless Web for years, few expected that doctors would help lead the adoption. And fewer still expected that pharmaceutical companies—not consumer brands—would jump on the mobile trend, into this age of m-(for mobile)marketing. But indeed they have. Today, more than half of all US physicians now use mobile computers and many of the top pharmaceutical companies have a well-established mobile-marketing program.

This article explores the rise of new technology in a traditionally techno-phobic industry. It explains why so many doctors are using mobile computers, how pharmaceutical companies have pioneered m-marketing (and what kind of ROI they have seen), and why, in hindsight, this all makes perfect sense.

Why Go Mobile?

In 1999, the Wall Street Journal was the first publication to note that PDAs were "a sleeper hit" among physicians. Later in 2001, investment banker W.R. Hambrecht cited "tremendous physician adoption (of PDAs)...a feat not duplicated since the Dictaphone." Four years later, the adoption continues. It is estimated that 57 percent of US physicians use a PDA, according to 2005 Forrester Research data. Furthermore, Gartner research predicted in 2002 that PDA adoption will reach 75 percent by 2007.

Driving this adoption are the unique demands of physicians' workflow. Unlike most professionals, physicians are moving from exam room to exam room, to hospital to clinic during most days. Mobile computers eliminate the need for pockets stuffed with books and notes. This lightens the memory load considerably for physicians since they are often expected to remember entire volumes of disease, drug, and test-related facts and access this knowledge within a moment's time. With a mobile device, they can instantly determine if drug x will interact with drug y, or what the differential diagnosis is for lab result z.

In addition, most mobile-computer programs are continuously updated and can be instantly searched by topic or keyword. As new treatments, guidelines, and drugs are approved, physicians can be notified of this information immediately.

Furthermore, these devices are easy to use and patient-friendly. Most mobile computers fit on a clipboard and require no login to use. Unlike desktop computers, which put a physical barrier between the physician and patient, PDAs allow physicians to maintain face-to-face interaction with their patients. Despite initial fears of causing patient anxiety when referring to their PDAs during visits, physicians have found that patients appreciate the extra effort to ensure proper care.

PDA Dependence

Medical schools have helped to stimulate the proliferation of PDAs among physicians. Roughly 30 percent of them currently require students to use PDAs and an additional 50 percent strongly recommend PDA use. "The future of medical education lies in the adoption of technology, such as mobile and wireless, that connects people, unifies the education process, and enhances learning," says Dr. John Halamka, associate dean at Harvard Medical School.

Many physicians have developed dependency on mobile computers. Accustomed to double-checking drug-drug interactions for every patient within seconds, it can be difficult to return to the more time-consuming process of looking up drugs in a textbook. "I have found that the use of a PDA makes my daily practice more efficient and safer for patients. If I forget my stethoscope I'll borrow one. If I forget my PDA, I'm driving back home," says Brooks Morelock, MD, an internist in Greenville, Tennessee.

But it's important to think small—not in terms of reach, impact, or ROI, but in terms of screen size. Web site designs, large graphical images, and lengthy text simply don't work on the 2"x 3" screens of most mobile computers.

A Doctors Diagnosis

Educating Physicians

Targeted clinical alerts are a popular m-marketing program. Because mobile devices are a convenient source for breaking headlines and other news snippets, many physicians have adopted mobile news services to stay abreast of specialty journals and clinical news. One such service, the Epocrates DocAlert network, is actively used by more than one in four US physicians. Each DocAlert message offers a headline, short body, and a button to request that more information be sent to the physician's e-mail. Of the more than one million messages sent each month, over 15 percent result in a follow-up e-mail request. These messages can be targeted by specialty, prescriber detail, geography, or other variables.

PDAs also make it convenient for physicians to earn CME credit anytime and anywhere. Mobile medical education courses are short—half or quarter credits—since the content is developed to fit on a smaller screen. This opens the door for more specialized CME-sponsored courses. Mobile education also helps reduce the time, and in some cases, the costs associated with traveling to conferences, attending dinner sessions or completing online courses. And for pharmaceutical companies, mobile medical education can extend the reach of traditional meeting and Web-based programs to an audience seeking more convenient education options. "Waiting time is no longer idle with the mobile medical educator," says Howard Goldberg, MD, a pulmonologist in Los Angeles, California.

Physician Feedback

Mobile computers have redefined the meaning of captive audience. M-marketing programs utilize many of the same activity metrics that online programs track, such as e-mail request rates and CME program completions. And, as market-research companies seek ways to get immediate feedback on campaign effectiveness, prescribing patterns, and use of treatment protocols, they are increasingly looking for physician feedback at the point-of-care. Responses to surveys, for example, can be received wirelessly (or via synchronization) from the physician's handheld. Physicians enjoy sharing their clinical opinions and they get paid an honorarium for doing so.

Mobile marketing also benefits from the personal nature of mobile computers. Since these devices require a fair amount of profile information that is rarely shared between users, marketers can track promotional activity to user behavior. Rather than relying on relatively anonymous unique-visitor or open-rate metrics, marketers can link promotional activity directly to physician-level prescription trends to determine how often a branded application was opened or if their drug was locked-up.

Measuring the ROI

This physician-level linkage provides marketers and their management with the gold standard of ROI measurement: shareshift studies. In one such published study conducted for a top ten pharmaceutical company, consulting firm ZS Associates tested the impact of the Epocrates DocAlert m-marketing program on a test group of 300 cardiologists. Across two cardiovascular brands in highly competitive markets, the study of physicians demonstrated statistically significant (p < .01) shifts in market share relative to a pre-selected control group. Over the five-month test period, the primary-positioned product increased new prescriptions by 12.7 percent and the secondary-positioned product by 6.7 percent.

With the pressures of modern medicine only increasing, physicians will continue to embrace the benefits of mobile computers and become more accustomed to the convenience of readily available information during a patient consultation.

As such, marketers are leveraging trusted channels to get their brand messages directly to the physician's fingertips. Today, over 100 pharmaceutical brands have launched m-marketing programs, and many are already in their second or third year of active programs. It is undisputed that the practice of medicine is transforming, but the question remains whether your marketing programs will be part of the mobile evolution.


Pfizer elected to subscribe to Gene Logic's software systems, ToxExpressSystem and ToxShieldSuite. " SureScripts certified Axolotl Corporation's Elysium Web browser program. This will connect Elysium subscribers with pharmacies. " Thomson PDR has partnered with John Hopkins Point of Care InformationTechnology Center to distribute an online and PDA version of the Johns Hopkins Antibiotics (ABX) Guide. " NorthEast Medical Center selected Allscripts' TouchWorks Electronic Health Record service to connect doctors in 33 locations. " Ovid Technologies is adding more than 160 titles from Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Pharmaceutical Press, and McGraw-Hill to Books@Ovid, its integrated e- books platform.

ABX Guide


Agfaphoto hired Rick Maurer as vice president of sales.


Plexis Healthcare Systems was named the second fastest growing technology and software company in Oregon by the Portland Business Journal for 2005.

Jeffrey Tangney is SVP of sales & marketing and founder of Epocrates. He can be reached at jtangney@epocrates.com

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