Healthcare specialists hit back at damning web report

Senior healthcare PROs have spoken out against a report criticising the pharma industry's reluctance to take advantage of online marketing opportunities.

The report by Datamonitor, released last week, said the industry has been slow to embrace opportunities offered by the internet.

But the industry has hit back. Ogilvy Health PR MD Matt de Gruchy argued: 'I believe it's misleading to say pharma is not embracing digital. There are a growing number of highly innovative and effective online programmes in this area.

'Although our client base is rightly cautious and respectful of the regulations within which we work, our role is to explore how best we can use a channel that is only going to grow in importance.'

The report urged pharma firms to evolve and engage with customers online - or risk being left behind.

Pharmaceutical PR is highly regulated by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. But proposals published in February by the European Commission could allow pharma companies to disseminate non-promotional information via television and radio for prescription-only medications to patients.

Datamonitor senior pharmaceutical analyst Dr Sandra Reynolds said: 'The onus is on pharma companies to get up to speed with technology and use the web in conjunction with existing marketing practices to bolster their share of voice.'

The report also urged the industry to consider online marketing tools as a method of communicating with patients. 'The ever-growing popularity of social media could also be better used, including video detailing and social network sites such as Second Life,' said Reynolds.

Jo Spink, MD of the eponymous healthcare shop, said of the report: 'While the pharma industry has been a little slow to develop this area, I'm not sure this is a fair assessment. The tide is definitely turning and this year alone we have started to use Facebook and embark on more lifestyle activity for our pharma clients.'

She added: 'Pharma should embrace being information providers and not just drug suppliers. A good pharma website can create goodwill with patient groups and prescribers.'

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