Last week not one, not two, but three websites were launched by Big Pharma to help educate people with diabetes. Actually, there were four Pharma companies at work here: NovoNordisk launched info warehouse Cornerstones4Care; Sanofi-Aventis started a new customer-facing blog, Discuss Diabetes; and Bristol Myer Squibb and AstraZeneca teamed up for something called The Type 2 Talk, an attempt at improving the conversation between T2 patients and their healthcare providers.
A lot of money, time, and resources goes into developing these sites, and in this age of Health 2.0 and awareness of us ePatients, a lot of stock goes into making these websites successful. Clearly, Big Pharma wants to become a "go to" resource for diabetes info — ostensibly to support and educate, but also ultimately to sell their product. The billion-dollar question, however, is: do these sites do their mission justice? i.e. Can companies that develop Pharma products really help us PWDs in the thankless day-to-day grind known as diabetes management?
To answer that question, at least from one educated PWD's subjective viewpoint, we decided to have a look:
At face value, Type 2 Talk seems to have the most legit basis. It was created not just by Bristol Myer Squibb and AstraZeneca, but also in partnership with the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and the American College of Endocrinology — experts who ought to have a clue. The stated goal of this site is improving the conversation between doctors and patients (which we all know often needs quite a bit of work). The site's three sections, "Blood Sugar Talk," "Goal Talk.'" and "Motivation Talk," are supposed to provide guidance, in the form of clearly laid-out advice for both patients and doctors. The info is presented side-by-side along with "example" dialogue. While it's somewhat interesting as a patient to see "the other side" — the advice being given to doctors — I wonder if that perhaps does a disservice, because attention is being spread too thin. Do these companies really believe they are going to get doctors and patients to flock to the same Pharma-driven online destination just because they posted some mock conversations? Frankly, I doubt it.
Another section of the site looks more useful: Type 2 Talk Worksheets, which actually walk doctors and patients through creating their own "mock conversations" for various scenarios. Users are prompted to list challenges, like roadblocks to taking medications, or to lay out an ideal agenda for the next office visit. The Medication Log worksheet is a place for patients not just to tally doses, but to write down what roadblocks they might face, like "physical side effects," "concerns," or even "feelings" (OMG). A Realistic Goals worksheet helps patients write out their objectives with incremental phases of progress. With New Year's Resolutions just behind us, it might be worth checking this section out (I may even print out a copy of my own).
NovoNordisk's website, Cornerstones4Care, touts itself as being "customizable." So what can you can customize? Well, it wasn't obvious at first, but you can actually create a personal account here. Once I was logged in, I started searching for that special customizable content, but what I found instead was the typical information on managing diabetes that you would find on any other health website. Only a few features seemed somewhat interactive, including the MediReminder (which unfortunately wouldn't even allow me to customize time of day for the reminders), and the Blood Sugar Log (which didn't allow me to go past double digits when setting my blood sugar goals - Gads!).
Needless to say, I have trouble figuring out what is so "customizable" that I would care to frequent Novo's website. There are much better ways of keeping track of your blood sugar and medication, such as DiabetesMine Design Challenge winner Log4Life, SugarStats, and GlucoseBuddy. Browsing around, I occasionally spotted something that looked useful on this site, like the Activity Plan worksheet, but it was so buried amid a text-heavy website that I would have missed it if I hadn't been looking really, really hard.
Other than that, Cornerstones4Care offered basic information on diabetes medication, checking your blood sugar, staying active... Even their "Beyond the Basics" section didn't really go beyond anything, since it only covers how to treat high and low blood sugars, traveling with diabetes and handling sick days — all stuff most of us PWDs would consider basics! The text is made up of simplistic, bullet-point information and there is barely a patient example amongst all the dry information. Come on, Novo! This isn't the mid-'90s. Just having a website doesn't make you hip.
This brings us to Sanofi-Aventis's new blog, called Discuss Diabetes, which "officially" hit the Internet this week. Since it is brand new, there is so far only one post, an introduction by Community Manager Laura Kolodjeski, who talks about how they want to "engage in two-way dialogue."
Like the other sites, Sanofi-Aventis plans to share information on living with diabetes, but they also plan to feature guest bloggers and have even enabled blog comments, albeit heavily moderated; don't be surprised if your comment is delayed or even disappears, though Sanofi-Aventis says they promise they are reading every single one.
We have a mixed opinion on this site, since there have been so many barriers to Pharma engaging in the blogosphere. On the one hand, it's exciting to see companies breaking down those regulatory barriers that kept them from entering the conversation in the past. It's also nice validation of what we all do here in the Diabetes Online Community to hear Pharma say directly: "There is a lot for us to learn from you."
On the other hand, we can't help being a little wary of a huge Pharma org like Sanofi-Aventis attempting to engage the Diabetes OC by assigning a "Community Manager" to ostensibly become one of us. They want guest posts to make their site engaging — so we're all supposed to write for them for free? It's not that I want them to pay us to contribute, either. It's just that they ought to be bringing valuable content to us, and not the other way around, no? And not just product marketing stuff, either!
It seems to me that has the right mindframe, but it's always a tricky situation when a Pharma company dips into social media.
At the end of the day, the real question is given how busy all of our lives are, which kind of website would you be willing to spend your time on? An old-school static, one-way information-heavy website, like Cornerstones4Care? Or a lively, diverse and community-based website, like TuDiabetes, DiabeticConnect or DiabetesMine? A Pharma-run blog like that from Sanofi-Aventis is kind of a new animal, but I do wonder, will patients find anything valuable there besides the same basic info readily available at places like WebMD? And will the community be willing to feed content into a Pharma blog to make it more lively?!
In the 21st century, where Social drives everything, is it really worth Pharma's money to create static micro-sites that provide regurgitated information on how to care for diabetes? Wouldn't it be better to provide recommendations to thorough and thoughtful patient-led websites? I can only imagine how much money was funneled into creating these sites — and especially for a company like Novo Nordisk, which already has some very big D-campaigns going, we think the money dumped into these new sites could be put to better use.