When it comes to digital health, pharmaceutical companies tend to be slow and cautious, because of the onerous risks they face from the FDA should they improperly market a drug via the internet or mobile channels. But big pharma recognizes the need to innovate and stay on top of the times as well. That’s why the trend lately has been for large pharmaceutical companies to spin out a smaller group that doesn’t do drug marketing, to test the waters and set the company up for a more robust social media, web, and mobile presence. We’ve already seen that with Johnson and Johnson’s Janssen Healthcare Innovation and with Merck’s M2i2 enterprise.
Eli Lilly and Company, the Indianapolis-based pharma giant, has been quietly offering its own non-commercial website for 7 years. The site, called Lilly for Better Health, just went mobile, with a new responsive-design that launched last week.
“It is not related to the commercial space at all, it’s totally not product-oriented,” Pauline Coderre, a consultant for health education at Lilly and the overall strategy driver for Lilly for Better Health, told MobiHealthNews. “It is Lilly-branded but it’s not a promotional site. We have less risk than other parts of the company when it comes to FDA and things like that. So I think we’re in a unique place within the company to test and pilot different technologies that we would normally not be able to risk on the commercial side due to the scrutiny that we’re under.”
The website presents a wide range of health information to consumers. The front page presents topical information designed to appeal to a wide range of people — in the summer months, for instance, it might give information about how to pack your medications when travelling, or tips for protecting your skin against the sun. But the website also contains a database of resources in the form of articles, videos, and interactive features like quizzes.
Another goal of the offering is to build health literacy and to be available to as wide a range of users as possible. As such, the site is offered entirely in English and Spanish, and is search engine optimized in Spanish. In addition, the site has pronunciation buttons for medical terminology that might be out of users’ normal experience.
“Big words, technical words, keep people from understanding what they need to do or what is going on with them,” Coderre said. “We’ve had people think hypertension was hyperactivity. But, in many cases, those are important because those are the words their doctors are using with them. So, for them to hear them and have a mental association with that word [is very valuable.]”
Some content on the site couldn’t be presented on a commercial Lilly website, Coderre said. For example, the Lilly for Better Health website can talk about depression and nutrition in relation to diabetes, while a Lilly site that was tied to a drug for people with diabetes would consider those topics to be off-label.
Coderre said the move to responsive design was an answer to data showing more and more health-conscious people moving to mobile as their main web-viewing technology. In particular, she said, data showed that a lot of Spanish-speakers were using mobile devices.
“I monitor the actual devices that are used on our site,” Coderre said. “I watch those trends and ensure that the devices that are being used can access the site and have a good user experience. So if I see more people using tablets, that’s the leading indicator for me that I need to be there for them.”
Right now, one thing that limits what can be done on the site is that Lilly for Better Health collects almost no information from site visitors, which keeps them wholly out of reach of HIPAA and certain FDA regulations on pharma interaction with patients. Even the feedback system just allows a one to five star rating from users, rather than any unstructured data. According to Coderre, that’s not likely to change soon.
“Every little element I add to the site I am taking on a little bit more risk, because I am working with internal compliance officers, internal regulatory officers [who] are very conservative,” Coderre said. “So every time I go and say ‘I want to do this’ I have a lot of steps to take in order to make them feel comfortable that this is not a huge risk for the company, or it’s a risk that we’re willing to take. And we have put in all of our conversations the benefit to the patient and [the importance of] supporting them.”