Revealing the Power of Digital Health: An ePharma 2017 Recap

The standard of healthcare in this day and age has been raised. Patients are no longer waiting for change to occur. We have become drivers of our own care.

Meanwhile, there has been immense growth in the wide world of healthcare social media. Physicians are taking to the interwebs to share insights amongst one another. Hospitals are collaborating with health organizations to help provide credible information online. Patients have become influencers, using their health experiences and expertise to shift old-fashioned views and co-design new care models that are in alignment with their utmost needs. But where does Pharma fit in this new digital age of healthcare?

This year at ePharma 2017, an annual conference where global leaders in digital and pharmaceutical marketing come together to develop innovative strategies in healthcare, the main theme focused primarily on various perspectives showcasing connected health aiming to center patient-centric care during its three-day event.

Photo credit: Tiffany M. Peterson, @Tiffanyandlupus Source: Jay Baer, @JayBaer

Setting the tone perfectly on day one at ePharma was entrepreneur and New York Times bestselling author Jay Baer, advising Pharma to leave their excuses behind and start learning how to use customer service as a Patient engagement tool.

Delivering some phenomenal Patient-centered pearls of wisdom was a panel led by Jack Barrette (CEO, WEGO Health) discussing what the catalyst of change will be to fuel Pharma into a digital mindset with panelists: Patricia Brown (Executive Director, Leader of US Promotion Organization, Merck & Co., Inc), Debra O’Brien (CMO, Mylan Pharmaceuticals), and Paul Evans (CEO, Evolution Road). It was refreshing to hear Debra O’Brien exclaim how crucially important Patient feedback is in Pharma while also stressing how essential it is to focus on assisting their consumers outside of just brand and medication. Paul Ivans chimed in to shed light on the lack of honesty and transparency in the Pharmaceutical industry,

“We need a major shift. So much is happening between the patient and physician, their conversations are changing and we need to take on new perspectives to engage both through digital health engagement!”

The ‘Embracing the ePatient’ panel contemplated the importance of cross-connectivity occurring between patients, providers, pharma, and payers as well as listening versus dictating what health consumers actual needs are. Martin Coulter, (CEO, Patients Like Me) expressed how much rare disease patient groups want to engage and collaborate with scientists as well as their firm desire to be in contact, build community, and engage in research. Sadly, their panel did not have a Patient advocate, a missed opportunity indeed.

On the #ePharma tweetstream, both patient advocates and industry leaders joined the conversation online:

Source: Twitter – Carlene Harrison, @SynceNerd_Carli & Jackie Caruso, @j_crucify Photo credits: Tiffany M. Peterson, @Tiffanyandlupus


Source: Whitney Petit, @CfEpilepsy


Source: Shakir Cannon, @BL00DB0RN


The following day was split into four separate track sessions: Emerging & Innovative Digital Channels, Innovation & Analytics Insights, Patient Marketing, and Healthcare Professional Marketing. Panelists held discussions focused on the power of social and explained how storytelling can be used as a tool to increase patient engagement. Topics ranged from the use of digital to advance clinical trials, increasing patient education, improving adherence, the impact of combining data & empathy, and even using robots to further engage both physicians and patients. Again, not a single Patient advocate was included in either of the 22 sessions that occurred that day.

Transformation and innovation in healthcare were the final themes for ePharma’s last day with separate tracks for both Patient and Healthcare Professional Marketing.

An intriguing session that stood out, Greg Sweatt, VP of ePatient Finder, who introduced a digital platform for physicians which utilizes EHR data to connect their patients to clinical trials. This seemed to be a most resourceful tool for healthcare professionals wishing to provide their patients with credible clinical trial options as well as many individuals living with rare diseases who often feel lost in a sea of misinformation when looking for new treatment options.

The next session shook a few tables, but was very well received. Bringing the patient voice to the ePharma stage was, Tiffany M. Peterson, Founder, LupusChat joined by Kristen Hartman-Bennett and Jack Barrette from WEGO Health, sharing valuable insights on the Do’s & Don’ts of Pharma Marketing. These are some of their session highlights:


6 Rules of Working with Trusted Patient Influencers

  1. Collaboration begins with contracting.
  2. Be open to new ideas and embrace feedback.
  3. Rely on third party vetting of influencers.
  4. Influencer marketing is NOT a media buy!
  5. Be patient⎯ real influencer marketing means building a relationship
  6. Influencer marketing goes beyond reach.


Source: Tiffany M. Peterson, @Tiffanyandlupus


Although the concept of Patients as healthcare influencers is not new, it seems as if many health sectors aren’t yet receptive to it. While some contemplate whether the voice of the patient has monumental value, others are calculating data settling the debate altogether.


ePharma 2017’s Digital Footprint

As you may know, Symplur is a digital tool providing an open free platform for patients, caregivers, advocates, doctors, and other providers, connecting them to related conversations and communities.  Audun Utengen, Co-founder of Symplur noticed a drastic difference while comparing the metrics from ePharma 2016 to this year’s conference. According to his data, audience size, circulation of information, and message impact decreased immensely as measured by people, tweets, and impressions on Twitter.


Source: Auden Utengen, Symplur  Photo credit: Tiffany M. Peterson via Meta-Chart


He also notes a major change in healthcare stakeholder makeup.

  • “Non-healthcare organizations and Non-healthcare attendees in the top 100 by Twitter mentions decreased from 29% in 2016 to 17% this year.
  • Patient advocates in the top 100 by Twitter mentions decreased from 12% in 2016 to 4% this year.
  • Physicians decreased from 3% in 2016 to 1% this year”, he says.

In addition to the decline in online engagement, Utengen mentions a stark difference in topic focus which shifted dramatically away from patient-centered topic issues. The sharp decline in both Patient attendance and co-creation negatively affected the impact of ePharma’s entire conference from in-person attendance, to content material and even its digital footprint this year.

ePharma: 2016


ePharma: 2017

Photo credit/Source: Auden Utengen, Symplur


Over 10 Patient advocates attended ePharma in 2016. Utilizing their voices, health experiences, and expertise to ensure the patient voice was well represented across all fields of healthcare they took to Twitter sharing valuable insights which many in the industry found absolutely indispensable. A recent white paper published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research this August used data from Symplur and Standford Medicine X, an annual academic medical conference showcased precisely how essential Patient voices are to both increase conversation flow and deepen engagement at health conferences.

As we approach 2018 with healthcare conference keynotes, agendas, and sponsorships slowly developing, let’s ensure from concept through design that Patients are at the very center. Innovation cannot occur without all healthcare stakeholders at the table.

If patients are not on your panels, vital discussions will not transpire.

If patients are not on your advisory boards, dire mistakes and financial losses will be costly.

If patients are not valued, respected, and included as active partners in each sector of healthcare, then participatory medicine is nonexistent.

It’s time to stop ‘talking the talk’ and start ‘walking the walk’. The proof is already in the data, it is time for all major stakeholders within the healthcare industry to implement it.

Tiffany is a New York City-based patient advocate whose inspiration rose from her own personal battles within the healthcare system. In 2012 Peterson founded LupusChat, a patient-driven online community designed to educate all entities in the healthcare spectrum thus sparking innovative discussions and breaking restrictive barriers
between patients and various healthcare stakeholders. She is a vibrant advocate and longstanding member of the Society for Participatory Medicine informing healthcare
professionals and patients how to implement this into their practices. As a proud member of The Walking Gallery, she speaks on the importance of patient-centered care. Peterson has presented at numerous medical conferences such as Epharma, Health Datapalooza, ONC National Health IT Consumer Summit. You can read her more about her on her blog, and Lupus.

2 thoughts on “Revealing the Power of Digital Health: An ePharma 2017 Recap

  1. Cathy Chester says:

    Excellent piece and so true. Patients need and deserve to be part of all these conversations. How can I be part of ePharma next year?

    1. Hey Cathy! I’m trying to find some answers for you, but hitting some walls! I’ll reach out when I get somewhere. – Jackie

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