Julia Walsh, CEO of Brand Medicine International, joined me in the latest episode of Impetus Digital‘s Fireside Chat to explore the concepts of “search listening” and “search listening optimization” in healthcare, including how search listening can be used to inform brand strategy, improve patient-centricity, fight scientific misinformation, and more.
Here is a preview of our conversation:
Q: Tell us a little bit about what Brand Medicine International was prior to this cascade, this confluence of the digital revolution in the Pharma space, and what it looks like after COVID? Has it accelerated your business? Has it changed the business model?
A: In spite of the broader tragedy that was unfolding, there were some wonderful things about everything being put a stop to with regards to budgets being cut across the board as sales reps were pulled out of the field and conferences cancelled. Suddenly there was no work to create the traditional sales aids, those display panels; even investment in direct digital promotion such as emails was halted. In part, this was because Medicines Australia, which is the body here that represents the pharmaceutical industry were contacted, I believe, by the AMA, which is the body that represents the GPs, to ask that all promotional emails be stopped for a period to allow the frontline doctors to focus on getting their heads around what COVID was going to mean for them.
As everything was grinding to a halt, it allowed me to really reflect on the things that I believe are representing a blind spot in the digital communication landscape – and that is the online patient information experience. How patients interact with search engines, right from when they first experience a symptom, to when they get a diagnosis, to when they are prescribed treatment, to when they experienced adverse events, to when the disease progresses – that whole continuum – and the information that search engines serve back to them on that notoriously significant Page One.
When I started really looking at that, it just blew my mind, because I realized that, as an industry, we have been failing patients, because we haven’t addressed this at all. To me, in a way, this is really exciting because it means there’s a new frontier to conquer – a lot more work to be done to ‘clean up the internet’ and put patients front and centre in this digital ecosystem.
In Australia we face a regulatory challenge to this in that we are not allowed to put prescription medications online in terms of direct-to-consumer advertising. Right now, I’m pushing for “patient responsive content.” I’m calling it that because, if we are not present with evidence-based, patient-friendly content, what happens is we’re creating a vacuum where misinformation can thrive.
So I’m actually going upstream and working with regulators and trying to influence legislation to change it to enable that presence online for the patients. We cannot ignore that they’re looking for information. If they have low health literacy, they’ll find information that they think is quality and satisfying their informational quest, when in fact it’s misleading to them. And this gets amplified when they drag what they find into social media-based patient groups. So we have to thwart the misinformation at the source – and that is when questions are being asked of search engines.
For me, this break and transition through COVID allowed me the opportunity to think and to develop these ideas and pioneer #SearchListeningHealth. Actually, just this week, I published an article on how search listening optimization (SLO) is the new search engine optimization. I realized, through this work, that search engine optimization is really just about the platform whereas search listening optimization is putting the patient at the heart of how we design and calibrate our content to turn up.
While some people might think that search engine marketing, where you do listen to the long-form questions and calibrate your content with that a little bit using key words, they might think that that’s doing the job. What I see when I do a search listening report and I follow through not just the questions people are asking in the real world, but the results that they’re actually getting, I can see that whatever we are doing, it’s not working. The patient information experience is, for the most part, woeful. It needs to be taken up to the next level. For me, search engine optimization is your cost of entry, and search listening optimization is what we really need to be doing if we want to be turning up for patients, where and when they need us to…
For more of our discussion, you can watch the whole Fireside Chat with Julia Walsh, or listen to the podcast version, below.
About Impetus Digital
Impetus Digital is the spark behind sustained healthcare stakeholder communication, collaboration, education, and insight synthesis. Our best-in-class technology and professional services ensure that life science organizations around the world can easily and cost-effectively grow and prosper—from brand or idea discovery to development, commercialization, execution, and beyond—in collaboration with colleagues, customers, healthcare providers, payers, and patients.