Watch Two iPods and Call Me in the Morning

October 1, 2006
Grant Winter
Successful Product Manager's Handbook

Video podcasts open up an entirely new channel and an opportunity to reach physicians, patients, caregivers, consumers, and even the investment community.

I have seen the future and it is coming to a pocket near you: The portable-video revolution is upon us, and it will change the way you market your drugs, the way you detail physicians, and the way patients receive information. Oh yeah, and it will save lives. But first, let's go back in time...

Portable Video Tips

In 1982, Ronald Reagan was in the White House, the public only had three main choices for their evening news, and Ted Turner had recently started CNN, which was derisively referred to by the Washington news establishment as "Chicken Noodle News." We typed our scripts on typewriters, which pounded the words onto multilayered script books that had carbon paper between each page. The pages of TelePrompTers went by on a conveyor belt and often got jammed.

It's hard to believe, but back then, DVD sounded like something you could get if you didn't wear protection, e-mail sounded like science fiction, and you actually had to be somewhere at a certain time and place to receive a phone call.

Full Speed Ahead

Today, our cars tell us where to go; DVRs record our favorite shows and play them back when we want them; and information once only available at the Library of Congress is now just a Google away. Cell phones, iPods, and BlackBerrys mean that advanced communications technology once reserved for Air Force One are now in your teenager's purse. NBC Universal recently formed a strategic alliance with YouTube.

In June, National Semiconductor announced that it was giving each of its 8,500 employees video iPods for work. According to an article in the August 17, 2006 issue of USA Today, nearly 24 million Americans will watch television on their cell phones by the year 2010. This doesn't even take into account video iPods and streaming video on the Internet.

So what does all of this have to do with pharma?

Television stations are under increasing pressure not to air video news releases, and DTC advertising is under more scrutiny than ever before. Add this to the fact that doctors are pressed for time, patients are constantly seeking new information, and drug companies are continually researching new products. The healthcare industry needs a new medium to deliver information.

Product managers need to know how to communicate these messages in a convenient format—one that is portable and on-demand.

"We've seen an incredible interest in using the iPod across many areas of medicine," says Elizabeth Kerr, director of science and technology markets for Apple. "For example, doctors are using video iPods to teach and treat patients, educators are using video iPods as teaching aids, and pharmaceutical companies are using them to keep their sales forces up to speed."

Indeed, drug companies are starting to create materials specifically for portable video devices, and third-party organizations are giving video iPods to physicians to promote disease education.

Medical centers are jumping on the trend as well: The Cleveland Clinic recently added video podcasting to its Web site so doctors can learn about ailments related to cholesterol, cancer, and stroke whenever they please. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the New England Journal of Medicine, and Pfizer are other organizations already using audio podcasts.

Video podcasts "open up an entirely new channel and an opportunity to reach physicians, patients, caregivers, consumers and even the investment community with our messages," says Lisa Adler, vice president of global corporate affairs for Millennium Pharmaceuticals. At a recent medical meeting, a third-party organization approached Adler, asking if Millennium would sponsor the organization's podcast to patients and physicians.

The information tsunami is also being felt at the clinical level. Christopher Barley, MD, is a Manhattan internist who says his highly educated, well-to-do patients come in armed with enormous amounts of information, some of which is confusing or inaccurate.

"Ten years ago when I started practicing medicine, if a patient wanted to get information, they would read it in a book or a newspaper. Today, they go on the Internet and type in 'constipation' and get 5,000 hits."

Barley says he's not just educating patients, but frequently re-educating them, telling them that the information they found online is out-of-date or just plain wrong. He says there is a need for accurate, unbiased information in video format.

FDA Weighs In

FDA seems to agree. Tom Abrams, director of FDA's Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising and Communication, says video Podcasts can help FDA meet its public health objectives: "One objective is to get more good information about medical conditions and prescription drugs disseminated to the American public. Folks have stated that these new technologies will have a greater potential in reaching consumers who may be underserved by other media."

Abrams does caution, however, that although the technology is new and flexible, the rules governing the messages are not: "The second objective would be to ensure that this information is accurate and balanced," he says. "We would remind pharmaceutical companies that they need to comply with the regulations. Patients and healthcare professionals benefit from accurate and balanced information."

Back to Basics

When I was a TV journalist in Washington in the 1980s, a reporter I knew was obsessing about how to cover a particular homicide. She kept going back and forth and back and forth, driving her photographer crazy. Finally, he put down his camera and said to her, "Joan, you don't have to solve the murder, just do the story."

Something similar can be said about these new technologies that are changing the face of healthcare: You don't have to know how to build the device—you just have to know how to build the content. It's all about the story.

Gina Moran, head of internal communications for Novartis Pharmaceuticals, has been in healthcare PR for more than 20 years. She says everything is so much faster today, but one thing hasn't changed: "It's a funny thing. Despite all of the different technologies and the different channels, there's still a simple story at the basis of all of it. Even a major disease is best told through an individual story." The only thing that's really changing is the delivery mechanism.

Once you've got the video delivery mechanism down, stick to the basics of building an interesting story. Include patients in your videos. Aside from the fact that people don't warm up to test tubes, this new delivery paradigm means that you are communicating in an even more individualized fashion. You are not broadcasting anymore, you are "custom casting" to much more narrowly defined patient and physician groups that can choose to watch—or not watch—your message when and where they please.


Doctors will be able to explain complicated diseases to patients, regardless of their literacy levels, by reaching into their lab coats and pulling out a video iPod or cell phone. Patients can go online and watch it again if they didn't understand something. And if a new indication is granted for a drug, detailing materials can be updated seconds after a rep plugs in his or her iPod.

Patients with complicated histories will be able to store their entire chart in their cell phone or iPod. Imagine what that will mean for emergency care! The ER doors slam open and an unconscious patient is wheeled in on the gurney. "Is he on any medication?" asks the doctor. The paramedic says, "I don't know, check his cell phone."

Imagine another not-so-futuristic-anymore scenario: A patient goes into a drugstore to fill a prescription, and the pharmacist asks for her cell phone number. A video about her medication and disease is beamed to her phone, causing her phone to ring whenever it's time to take a pill. Imagine the advantages for public health: fewer missed doses and more preventive treatment of "silent" diseases, such as hypertension and high-cholesterol. Imagine the reduction in drug-resistant infections due to patients stopping their antibiotics when they feel better, instead of when they are better. Imagine the healthcare dollars saved. Imagine what this means for your bottom line.

Grant Winter is president of The Manhattan Bureau and He can be reached at