All Articles Marketing Digital Technology Despite regulation, cool things are brewing in healthcare and finance

Despite regulation, cool things are brewing in healthcare and finance

4 min read

Digital Technology

Our daily social media newsletter frequently features case studies about restaurants such as Domino’s Pizza, consumer packaged goods companies such as PepsiCo and manufacturers such as LEGO that are reinventing marketing –- and in many cases their entire companies — using social media.

Rarely, however, do you read about wildly popular pharmaceutical Facebook fan pages (other than Redbull, ahem) or doctors such as Jay Parkinson — who for years did house calls in Brooklyn using Web-scheduled appointments, analyzing symptoms patients reported online and taking payments via PayPal.  Also few and far between are stories about financial services firms communicating publicly with their customers and being transparent about investments.

Two fascinating panels last week at Social Media Week in New York shone a light on this phenomenon: Navigating Social Media & New Technology in Healthcare & Pharmaceutical Industries and Reinvention from the Ground Up, hosted by Razorfish and organized by SmartBrief on Social Media Advisory Board member Shiv Singh.  Both were eye opening.

During the Razorfish session, David Cooperstein from Forrester said that the complete transformation of business via social media is hampered by the kinds of things that hold all of our companies back:

  • Budgets.
  • The pace at which large organizations move. Bundle CEO Jaidev Shergill pointed out that many big companies feel that there’s more to lose than gain by experimenting in the social space.
  • Organizational structures that are either uncomfortable with loss of control or have a hard time figuring out where the responsibility for social media should lie.

For doctors, drug manufacturers and banks, however, government regulation –- established to prevent harm to patients, protect citizens’ privacy and prevent the next recession — adds layers of complexity.

The primary social media barrier for pharmaceutical companies is the requirement to report “adverse events”  — if they hear anyone say anything bad about their products — to the FDA within 72 hours of hearing it. The other obstacle, ironically, is lack of regulation and an inability of the government to respond to innovation.  According to Bonin Bough, director of social media at PepsiCo, who spent many years working in pharmaceuticals, “Regulatory bodies don’t have the right people to understand the implications of technology. FDA doesn’t understand search tools, and they live in fear of unintended consequences,” he said.

With docs and banks, it’s largely a compliance issue –- they are legally hemmed in by what they can and can’t say online. Even though nine of ten physicians and ten out of ten banks say the Internet is a key component in their practice, regulations on information security (e.g. HIPAA) prevents them from participating in the way we are all communicating now.

All it would take, however, are a couple of breakout stories to get the ball rolling. A few examples where the momentum is starting:

  • ZocDoc: Think OpenTable for doctors. ZocDoc provides appointment booking online and patient ratings.
  • Hello Health: Facebook meets electronic medical records.  Conversations between patients and doctors can happen via e-mail, IM or video chat after the patient creates a profile and adds a doctor to their team.  Patients pay online in quarter-hour increments.
  • Health Tweeder: Data visualization of aggregated Twitter content on various disease states.
  • TIAA-CREF: Real-time peer discussions and advice about retirement on, Facebook and TC Talks on Twitter. The TIAA-CREF iPhone app paralyzed regulators, but according to Chief Digital Officer Jeff Fleischman, “made the organization 20 years younger overnight” — not to mention a more nimble and adaptable company.
  • Bundle: The program, which launched two weeks ago, shows consumers how their peers/neighbors are spending. The idea is to give info back to people in a safe and personally unidentifiable way that democratizes it and gets them engaged with investment.  Bundle’s investors, including Citi, MSNmoney and Morningstar, aim to monetize and create value for people trying to get out of a financial mess.

These innovations are an exciting start.  We’ll keep you posted as other pioneering examples come to our attention.

Image credit, trigga, via iStock