Better together? Savvy e-patients may make pharma marketing smarter

First came key opinion leaders. Then digital KOLs. Now, e-patients may be just what the doctor ordered for pharma marketing.

WeGo Health founder and CEO Jack Barrette

But in the way that not just any doctor qualifies for a speaking role, e-patients aren't just any patients. "Patient leaders are the equivalent of physician key opinion leaders in the patient world," said Jack Barrette, founder and CEO of WeGo Health, a social network for health influencers that also matches its members with pharma and healthcare companies.

WeGo looks for people who are already leading voices in various disease communities--the 4% of patient leaders who create 80% of the content, said Barrette, a former Yahoo! executive. The majority of the leaders in WeGo's network actually have the disease they rally around, while another 20% are caregivers, and a smaller number are both.

Patient leaders act as advisers for pharma and healthcare on marketing, advertising and clinical trials. They serve on patient advisory boards, join smartphone-based digital panels, speak at conferences and create content for pharma companies.

"Patients are saying, 'Just ask us. We can help with things like marketing messages. Even just how to describe things to the audience so we don't end up answering all these questions like we usually do when materials come out.'

"They can help design clinical trials from the inside out," he added. "It just makes sense for companies to open the kimono to patients and get feedback versus doing market research on patients as an audience and creating a slideshow."

The patients are compensated for their time, depending on the work. For example, they might be paid $100 an hour for focus group work, but then compensated as freelance talent if they create a video for a company. Speaking engagements at conferences are still a growing area, he said, although the days of finding absolutely no patients in the patient track are waning.

Along with connecting patients to pharma and healthcare companies, WeGo also works with the patient leaders to make them even better advocates. They offer education programs and speaking opportunities as a way to grow their knowledge and audience base.

"Our mission side is making sure leaders are getting recognized," Barrette said.

While the "e" in e-patient generally stands for electronic, it also stands for "equipped, enabled, empowered and engaged" patients who also then use the internet to achieve that participation in their health and health care decisions, according to e-patients.net and founder Dr. Tom Ferguson who coined the term.

Pharma companies can engage with this super group of patients via that media today more than ever, and should be taking advantage of it, Barrette said.

"I have said that social media is the last best hope to rescue the reputation of pharma," he said. "Use the channel carefully of course, but show that you can have a conversation with the people you treat."

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