The pharma industry is not exactly known for their stellar customer engagement practices. Whether you’re a health care professional (HCP) who got spammed with digital content during the pandemic, or a patient who gave up using a mediocre pharma app, your customer experience has probably been suboptimal. Customer expectations are changing, as on-demand services and streaming platforms like Amazon and Netflix raised the standards for how people spend their time. When it comes to HCP or patient engagement, the competition is no longer limited to other pharma companies — everyone is competing for attention and screentime. It is inevitable that the ‘experience’ pharma provides will become just as crucial as their products, with the quality of patient journey potentially affecting prescribing behaviour.

Novartis seems to have taken a page straight from Netflix’s playbook — no, they’re not producing new episodes for medical dramas, like The Good Doctor. Instead, the Swiss pharma launched an on-demand video hub for doctors, in an attempt to go beyond the traditional digital marketing offerings. The personalised service covers a variety of issues, such as trial designs and disparities in access, generally in short-form content ranging from three to fifteen minutes long. It will take a few months to assess the platform’s success, which is currently limited to rheumatologists as part of Novartis’ push for their drug Cosentyx.

Beyond digital content, pharma is also spending a lot of resources on underutilised patient services and apps, to the tune of 5 billion USD annually. Despite the massive investment, majority of eligible patients are not even aware that they can access pharma-sponsored support programs. A survey conducted by Phreesia Life Sciences revealed that only 3% of patients are actually using these services, in part due to lack of familiarity. In some cases, the apps are simply bad due to poor user interface and limited functionality. Pharma-backed apps tend to focus on one or two simple use cases and do not have a social component, which makes using apps compelling in the first place. Simply put, they have no network effects that other prominent health-related apps take advantage of.

Other pharma companies have taken a more straightforward approach, by attempting to go viral. At the beginning of 2022, AstraZeneca and Amgen launched an unbranded influencer campaign dubbed ‘Break the Cycle’ as part of their strategy for the asthma drug Tezspire. Their #DearAsthma promoted tweet led to more than 90 million impressions in just a few days.

While it’s clear that pharma can learn a thing or two from tech companies when it comes to crafting customer experiences, there are regulatory questions that need to be addressed. How do we make sure that these efforts are under compliance and are not misleading HCPs and patients alike? How can pharma go beyond just providing information that will support the use of their products? Did someone ask doctors if they really need another streaming app?