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Demographics Play a Key Role in Reaching Patients Online

Posted by | 2:43pm on Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Different segments of our population are engaging with technology in different ways 

Demographics play a key role in reaching patients online. Currently we infer the behavior of rare disease communities from the data gathered about chronic disease communities. This may not be a perfect fit — there are some people (including me) who think the online behavior in rare disease communities is more engaged than for more common chronic diseases.  The technologies available are changing rapidly and how people interact is affected by multiple issues.

This is why we as pharma marketers need to pay attention to the makeup of a patient community and use that knowledge to anticipate their online behavior based on the best available data. For example, young men between the ages of 18 and 24 (say, hemophilia patients about to take responsibility for their own care) will use the internet for social connections and information quite differently than older e-patients living with cancer.

Technology is changing how patients navigate their healthcare experience

New survey data shows how e-patients are using social media to connect to each other and to information. Susannah Fox talks about this a little in her recent presentation for the Health 2.0 Meets Ix conference -  Navigating the New Health Care Delivery System.

The best online marketing in this new world is direct, helpful and transparent.  Less brand as advertising and more brand as the whole experience — Providing the right information in the right way to the right people at the right time.

Why are e-patients with rare disorders online and willing to engage with pharma?

  • Many patients feel isolated when they are diagnosed with a rare disorder.  In most cases, no one has ever heard of their disease so they go online to make connections.
  • They are the primary drivers of their diagnosis and treatment because there are too few healthcare professionals that know what to do to help or are incented to invest time in their care.
  • They go online to find information to educate themselves and learn from others about how to adjust to living with a rare disorder and how to negotiate the therapeutic, financial, and insurance hurdles that they encounter daily.
  • They pay attention to pharma companies that develop their therapies.  They are open to a relationship with them when they show that they care enough to throw out a lifeline.

In this new world where patients have more and more control and responsibility for their own healthcare, the role of pharma to connect with these populations needs to change. Pharma has an opportunity to find new patients, facilitate their stories getting shared and create programs to support lifelong adherence.  Everyone has a role to play in helping patients with rare disorders live longer healthier lives, but those roles are changing.

Different segments of our population are engaging with technology in different ways

To see some examples of how these differences play out, take a look at this chart from the PEW Internet and American Life Project that shows how different segments of people are engaging technology.  Understanding these differences should play a key role in any online marketing strategy.

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About Wendy White

Since founding Siren Interactive in 1999, Wendy has been recognized as a thought leader at the intersection of niche pharma brands, patient empowerment and online marketing. Her vision for how the internet can facilitate interactions and provide crucial information that patients, caregivers and their healthcare providers previously struggled to find has propelled Siren to the forefront of relationship marketing for rare disorder therapies.

View other posts from Wendy

  • Soyoon Bolton

    Hi Wendy,
    Yahoo recently upgraded its web analytics tool with new demographic metrics that enable marketers to see their audience’s age, gender, and online interests. This improvement will help us learn more about the demographics and interests of current and potential customers. And by knowing our site visitors, we can get even closer to our audience.


  • http://www.accessfyi.com Dan Limbach

    I’m assuming this only works for users who are logged into their Yahoo account while surfing, or perhaps there is a cookie on the user’s system. And it assumes the user has supplied the correct demographic information in their user account. From my experience, you can’t believe everything people put in their demographic fields, especially age, and often gender. This will really mess with the results, and could invalidate the data to the point where it is unusable.

    I’m more in favor of a Comscore model where its data comes from a volunteer panel who are vetted for demographic accuracy.

  • Wendy White


    You are so cynical!! You do make a good point though. Most people won’t enter their real data unless there is a direct and immediate value to doing so (RealAge, PeopleLikeMe, etc…). Direct Marketing information has been abused in the past but as we are seeing there is now a shift in thinking starting because of the real value in communities sharing data and seeing benefits. I believe Industry can jump in — but only by understanding and following the rules of engagement.

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