India – Greenfield Opportunity for Social Media in HealthCare and Pharma.

8 Feb

Meds India

The other day while looking at an RFP from a potential client, I was struck by this almost damning statement – “Currently there are no formal regulatory or legal obligations specific to social media and guidance from the FDA is not expected in the near future”.

Everyone in the Healthcare/ Pharma world has been complaining about the lack of adequate regulatory guidelines – whether it is from the FDA or the NHS – for Digital/ Social Media participation, but also for listening/ research purposes for Pharma and Healthcare companies. Its true, the regulatory bodies have been languishing – but whats happened is, that after a period of acting coy about it, most US based pharma companies have decided to be proactive (albeit in different degrees) about pharmacovigilance, and therefore have started self regulating.

Segue away to India – the 3rd largest pharma market in the world (from a volume perspective) and maybe the largest in generics?. Question – what is the state of Social Media for Healthcare here. Answer? umm – ground zero pretty much 😦

Lets look at some facts for Social Media/ Internet for Health Care. Given low penetration of computers/ internet, this is an ever debated issue. But, of all people online (and many folks as we know are now online thanks to mobiles not so much internet) – figures for those seeking medical/ health related info are fairly high – as high as in western countries (we are talking the 70s/ 80s here). Some older figures can be seen here


Now lets look at where Health Care is going in India in general –
a) Burden of disease is shifting from acute to chronic diseases – so therapies are changing
b) Focus of medicine/ the mindset is still very “reactive”/ treatment oriented – though that is changing a bit, with “wellness” coming into the picture. (I remember doing a country clustering exercise for a client some 4 years ago – based on scientific vs. alternate treatment types/ and “proactive”/ vs. “reactive” type of healthcare mindset. No surprises – India was at the peak of both axes).
c) Doctor patient ratio remains abyssmal – some 6 practitioners apparently for 10,000 people (add a rural-urban skew and numbers will be appalling)
d) Patient communities still non existent almost

Given this, does Social media have a role to play? (despite the usual/ global fears of – confidentiality/ liability/ responsibility/ authenticity of content/ potential crisis that Social Media always raises when spoken about in conjunction with Healthcare) Yes ofcourse – specially in building communities/ advisory forums for therapy as well as proactive lifestyle management. Sure, it wont be the 100 bil people – but can we atleast reach a percentage of it incrementally? Are we doing that?

Incidentally, where care is concerned – i saw a great example recently when I took my dad to get his eye treated. There was a youtube video playing of a (I assume) complicated eye surgery done in Bangalore – and this apparently had been streamed to a remote location when a less experienced doctor had been faced with it!

I did my usual research.

Top Indian Pharma companies:

#1: Ranbaxy
#2: Cipla
#3: Dr. Reddy’s Labs

Ranbaxy has popular OTCs like Volini, Revital, Chericof, Pepfiz. Revital has a facebook page, with some 27K odd likes. Fairly active – contests running, tips etc on bones/ diet, frequent updates. Also a mobile app. Looks like some of the other brands are beginning their Social media journey too.

Cipla has a dedicated portal for HCPs (Ciplamed) but no facebook page. The doctor resource seems fairly unidirectional in terms of messaging. It does have, a palliative care and training center.

Dr. Reddy’s has a facebook page – some 60K likes. Talks about Cancer/ world cancer day. Vitamins/ diet/ symptoms of dyslexia/ airborne diseases/ tips etc – also fairly active.
Has also many microsites – friends forever for alumni, for the legacy of Dr. Reddy’s (drreddysjourney) – (that even has a twitter handle), an ebusiness portal Vikreta2DRL, one for its R&D organization.

But, I couldn’t find any evidence of communities which these brands were sponsoring/ active on – so looked like they are just using facebook as a “connection” medium, more unidirectional tips etc – good for first steps, but leaves a lot to be desired.

I thought I would take a look at global pharma’s presence in India. In order of revenues, the top 3 big pharma in India are: GSK, Abbott, Sanofi.

GSK doesn’t have any India specific sites, (they do have US and other countries for their brands – Calpol/ Alli being the main ones). Neither does Abbott or Sanofi. I did see a facebook campaign called Bluediwali for Sanofi – on diabetes, but all their other properties were global/ other countries. Thinking maybe this is part of their strategy (keep unified global properties) I ran a check – it’s not true, they do have lots of country specific sites – mainly Mexico and Turkey specially! For a decent look at Social Media properties, check out this wiki.Note how many country specific sites/ communities exist that are being sponsored by the global pharma?

So this I don’t understand – large untreated patient population. Sure, low internet penetration. Also trend shifting to chronic treatment. Also, everyone says medicine is a very “local” issue – then why aren’t the global majors more active here?. Regulation on this practically doesn’t exist (even otherwise Indian regulation scenario is complex – its split between the Center and the State for one) but given largely self regulation in the U.S., certainly the pharma companies can extend that here.

Actually, if you ask me – even more so than company pages/ handles, India is pretty much greenfield opportunity to activate and then “own” patient communities – as support for therapeutic conditions. These may not entirely replace “Dr. Google”, but will certainly lend well directed, authentic support to the teeming millions. I can also see development in apps for adherence – which actually is a big area for Pharma even globally. (I downloaded a cardiograph on my iphone the other day – helps me monitor my heart rate 🙂 – nice toy!)


Another area would be support for Doctors – like a U.K> company’s fortnightly twitter journal aimed at peer to peer conversation (or Sermo in the U.S. or Dooox in Germany). Most urban doctors atleast have computers in their clinics nowadays – and I am sure they can use the peer network support. (Will hopefully shift the burden of weekend medical conferences/ train the trainer programs etc to semi urban and rural areas which sorely need them!)

Net net, reservations and all, there is immense scope for Social media in the Healthcare and Pharma sector – from Govt. bodies using it, to Practice Management committees, to Pharma companies and finally Patient Advocacy groups.

Wonder who will be the first to step up and become “early entrants” in this 13 billionish market!



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