Archive for the ‘Web Favorites’ Category

Granted, no one expects pharmaceutical web sites to exude the fun and games of say, The 21st Century Beetle – Rock ‘n’ Scroll, one of this year’s Webby Award winners. But even in their own category at the 2012 Webbys, pharmaceutical brand web sites were conspicuous by their absence. Of the five nominees, the lone branded drug site was FluMist’s Pick Your Nose—a clever take on Medimmune’s nasal alternative to the flu shot that made the cut for the second year in a row.

The real innovation in the category came from entries that were decidedly un-pharma. So much so, this looked more like the anti-pharma web awards. Which is a shame, really. Because the concept that seemed to resonate most with the Webby judges is one that also resonates with today’s empowered, engaged e-patients: helping healthcare consumers make informed choices. There’s nothing inherently un-pharma about that, is there?

So take note pharma. Here are ideas you can use.

Idea #1: GoodRx. My personal favorite and also the People’s Choice Webby winner, GoodRx aims to make prescription drugs more affordable for everyone, with or without health insurance.

GoodRx finds the lowest prices on 6,000 Rx drugs.

Co-founded by two ex-Facebook guys, Doug Hirsch and Scott Marlette, the site gives consumers the same kind of tools they use to find the cheapest TV or airline tickets. Just type in a drug name and zip code to compare prices from major US chain stores, mail order pharmacies and even some local stores. Plus there are store coupons, info on pharmacy discount plans and links to drug companies’ own discount programs.

What’s stopping any pharma brand web site from helping consumers search for the best prices for their product? Nothing. Except maybe fear of instilling sticker shock? But consider the alternative: at GoodRx, patients can also search brand vs. generic pricing. Talk about sticker shock then! Or they can use the GoodRx iPhone app right in the doctor’s office to get their doctor to write a prescription for the brand that best fits their budget. Maybe it’s better to head them off at the pass with your own product price search. Or, at the very least,with an easy tool that lets me check my health plan’s coverage or co-pay.

Idea #2: Ask a Patient  This year’s Webby winner for Best Web Site: Pharmaceuticals is all about patient empowerment. was created by Consumer Health Resource Group, LLC to help individuals research drugs and health care topics. home page

This year’s Webby winner for Best Web Site: Pharmaceuticals is all about patient empowerment.

If GoodRx is the Expedia of pharmaceuticals, then AskaPatient is the TripAdvisor. Instead of commenting on hotel accommodations, consumers review their medications, sharing side effects and success stories, and rate their experiences on a scale of 1 to 5. According to the site’s FAQ’s the average rating for all drugs in the AskaPatient database is about 3, which equals “average” or “somewhat satisfied.” After perusing a fair number of patient postings, I found as many high fives as low ratings. But like many other consumer product reviews, they are only one piece of the puzzle. (One person’s dream vacation can be another’s nightmare, after all.) However, AskaPatient certainly brings those dry adverse event profiles on the (mostly) unread PI’s to life.

What’s the big idea here for drug makers? I hardly expect them to open their web sites (or even their Facebook pages, for that matter) to consumer side effect complaints. On the other hand, it’s getting harder and harder to ignore the elephant in the room. An honest discussion of side effects as part of real patient stories can go a long way toward managing expectations and improving adherence. My dream web site: one that compares side effect profiles of all drugs in a  category, in much the same way that auto makers openly compare the stats of their cars with the competition. Maybe next year?

Idea #3: Help I need help. The branding of this OTC line of single symptom remedies is childishly simple. And simply brilliant. From product names (Help I Have a Headache)…

Help Remedies delivers on a simple brand promise: less.

to plain Jane biodegradable packaging… to contents (uncoated, uncolored, single active ingredients), Help Remedies has cornered the market on less—less drug, less dye, less confusion. The HelpIneedhelp web site is an exercise in simplicity itself and a beautiful showcase for the brand.  There isn’t a single happy patient cliche in site.  (The only people on the site are in the simply produced, tongue-in-cheek videos.) The playfully restrained design invites interaction and makes it simple (that word again!) to learn more, find a store or buy online.

The message for pharma? Simply, help me.

Help me understand my condition and your treatment. Help me find a way to afford it. Help me manage side effects. Help me any way you can. With simple and personal language. With  easy-to-use tools. With relevant support. With whatever YOU would want if you were in MY shoes. Help me.

Then maybe we’ll see more pharma innovation at next year’s Webby Awards.


I’m not an economist or fiscal policy expert. Just your average citizen. But I’ve achieved fiscal responsibility for the US through 2018. On my own. Without even touching a calculator. All I needed was 20 minutes and this nifty simulator from some really smart folks at The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB).

Of course, it wasn’t as easy as most campaign slogans make it seem. I had to learn about nearly every line item (courtesy of the handy info button next to each one), and make hard choices about which programs to cut, which to keep and how to pay for them. But as I wielded my sharpened digital pencil, the simulator did all the heavy lifting—crunching numbers and keeping tabs on my spending and income. The process also taught me a lot. I now have a much better understanding of the complexities and trade-offs involved than I could ever have gotten from watching C-Span 24/7 or reading every page of the official US Budget documents.

What’s this got to do with health care? Don’t worry. The point of this post is not about slashing Medicare entitlements or repealing health care reform. It’s about the simulator tool itself. I can only imagine the complexity of assumptions, calculations, spreadsheets and algorithms that the bipartisan CRFB had to analyze and compile to make their simulator work. But the science and expertise is hidden behind an interface that’s engagingly simple. All I had to worry about was making decisions about what was important to me. Therein lies a crucial lesson for those of us who want to connect with health care consumers.

Why can’t we make learning about and making important health care decisions just as easy?

Let’s just stick with numbers. Like the federal budget, health care is rife with a mind-boggling blizzard of figures—blood pressure, glucose levels, calorie counts, A1Cs, to name a few—just as incomprehensible to us average Joes and Joelles as the budget deficit. But unlike the deficit, we are personally responsible for managing “our” numbers. And we haven’t a clue where to start. That’s why I’d like to see more consumer health care tools like the budget simulator. Mask the science behind an engagingly simple interface that makes the numbers real, personal and pertinent.

Years ago I demonstrated this by having an interactive game prototype developed for the management of hypertension. “Aim for 120/80” was modeled after a football field, with blood pressure (BP) values in place of yardage markers. To get into the end zone (120/80), you had to make choices like losing weight or exercising more. The distances each choice moved you toward your goal were based on the best available data at the time, The Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure—which is such a mouthful, even for experts, it’s commonly called JNC7. (JNC8 is due out next year.)

A football game teaches patients steps they can take to reach their BP goal.

The objective was to:

  • Visualize something that was invisible (hypertension);
  • Demonstrate the positive effects of the simple steps I can take to reach my BP goal;
  • But most of all, make sense of the numbers. Make them personal. Make them relevant. Make them work for me.

Alas, “Aim for 120/80” never got beyond the prototype stage. What’s really disturbing is how little else has been done since then to help make personal health care decisions easier for consumers. But I have stumbled across some notable examples.

Roche ACCU-CHEK Connect program is a good start

Diabetes management is a prime example of the disconnect between patients and overwhelming numbers. The founder and director of Taking Control of Your Diabetes (TCOYD) Dr. Stephen Edelman knows all too well is that the most significant thing patients associate with their glucose numbers is feelings of frustration, guilt and failure. He always strikes a chord with patient audiences when he talks about “making up the numbers” on their blood sugar diaries. If you don’t understand the numbers and how to manage them, why even bother to test and record them? You might as well just make them up—or record only the “good” numbers—to keep your doctor happy.

The ACCU-CHECK Connect program from Roche attempts to change that mindset and simplify the glucose numbers game. While not computerized, their “Testing in Pairs” and “360” tools help people with diabetes make the connection between blood sugar numbers and the things they do. The concept behind “Testing in Pairs” is particularly appealing: focus on just one set of numbers, say before and after breakfast, and see how small changes in your routine from one day to the next change your test results. Not surprisingly, the tools were developed based on input from diabetes bloggers and broadcasters, like Riva Greenberg. According to her, the number one recommendation the diabetes social media community made to Roche was “Keep It Real – Display the real experience of diabetes, the real blood sugar numbers we get, and teach patients what to do with them.”

I think we need more pharma companies and healthcare providers who listen to patients. So there can be more tools that teach patients what to do and how to do it. That’s patient empowerment at its best.

It isn’t ESPN 3D or even vuvuzela-dampening audio tools. It’s this nifty little calendar created by for Sony Ericsson. It’s a complete guide to the month-long contest in one simple infographic. Yet even a soccer newbie like myself could easily get the hang of it. I started picking out my team’s schedule. Then checking the standings in the various groups and stages. And eventually, long after the USA was eliminated, I was watching more futbol than I have in a lifetime. My “Aha!” moment: when I started checking the date to see who’s playing today. I was hooked.

All the elements of a perfect engagement tool:

1. Something Worth Following

While this should be a no-brainer—and certainly is with the international fervor surrounding the World Cup—it’s amazing to me how much marketing effort is spent hyping non-events or pseudo-communities that would never pass the “What’s in it for me?” test.

2. K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid!)

As every good copywriter knows, a picture is worth a thousand words. Here, a simple unifying stadium graphic neatly organizes 32 teams, playing up to 4 games a day, across 10 locations, and keeps all the schedules, results and scores up-to-the-minute and instantly accessible in a single intuitive interface. Without any additional navigation, I can sift and sort the data that’s relevant to me—whether die-hard fan attending the games in South Africa or casual observer from the other side of the world. (There’s a Spanish version, too!) For an easy-to-follow World Cup schedule that’s fun to boot, it beats hands-down anything from FIFA, ESPN and Yahoo Sports.

3. What’s the Kicker?

One of the first things that I learned about writing TV spots was to end with a good kicker—a reward for watching. Presumably, the audience would endure your message over and over again waiting for a good kicker. So what’s my reward from the World Cup Calendar?

Understanding for the first time how the competition works, how teams advance and what’s coming next. Feeling more connected with this international spectacle. Being able to talk about it with my British-born husband and soccer-referee brother. And enjoying it all the more because of all of the above. Not a bad return on a very small investment of time and energy.

But enough of this. I’ve got the World Cup Final to watch now.