“These days, it is absolutely critical for health professionals and the lay public to receive the right information at the right time, and this should be everyone’s No. 1 mission,” Dr. Weber says. “Companies need a customer service adaptation for medical information.”
Dr. Weber’s Medical Information Group at Enzon, in collaboration with an internal IT team, led the launch of a medical information Web site, which included automating the responses, facilitating the integration of IT functionality, and monitoring the results of the new channel. Enzon also collected feedback from healthcare professionals via an automated survey initiative. After a person registers on the site, they are e-mailed a user survey to evaluate their site experience.
In the manner of most small biopharma companies, Enzon’s medical affairs department initially provided a phone number, a fax number, and a designated e-mail address for handling healthcare professional inquiries about its products. In December 2008, the company launched the automated medical information Web site, enzonmedicalinformation.com.
Dr. Weber’s enthusiasm for the two-year in-house project was evident during our conversation, and he says Enzon has been very proactive in applying IT to its various functions, particularly in medical affairs.
With a full year of data to analyze, Dr. Weber could easily identify a dramatic growth in unsolicited inquiries from healthcare professionals. Of all the unsolicited inquiries, 20% were generated from the new Web site.
“This was a big shift, and one that exceeded our expectations,” he says. “Our stretch goal was 15%, but 20% is phenomenal during the first year, especially on an effort that we can’t advertise.” (Overall, the unsolicited inquiries grew by 30% year-on-year.)
The site not only increases the frequency of inquiries, but also extends the reach of medical information. Mr. Weber says the company has received requests from all over the world as a direct result of the Web site. “We’ve had requests from Pakistan, Canada, and several Middle Eastern nations in just the last week,” he says.
As more and more companies of all sizes plan to launch medical information Web sites, Dr. Weber offers up three best practices from his experience implementing enzonmedicalinformation.com.
1. Don’t lose sight of what is important, and that is treating people respectfully, empathetically, and with a complete understanding of their questions. While having an automatic response system can increase the speed and timeliness of responses, electronic activity can never replace dealing with people on a personal level, he says.
“Listen carefully, and respond back with questions by phone or e-mail to make sure that the information the physician receives truly matches what the intention of the question was,” he says.
2. Make sure connectivity and integration are possible.
“In the beginning, Enzon outsourced the response function for its inquiries, and the Web site was internally developed,” Dr. Weber says. “We were unable to connect these two areas until eight months into the project. Integration significantly reduces response time turnaround and the process is more efficient when systems can communicate with each other.”
3. Remain fully compliant within the environment, which requires record keeping and compliance systems.
“With the slew of regulations are out there, a company can make itself subject to an FDA audit,” he warns. “Although we have more automations and more IT applications in place, we also ensured that systems are in place for record keeping and compliance.”
The most important compass for success, however, he says, is getting the information out to the healthcare professionals as soon as they ask for it.
“A person who needs information should get it as fast as they need it,” Dr. Weber says. “There should be no barriers to slow the process. Physicians have lifesaving decisions to make and they need information to help guide them so they can positively affect patients’ lives.”
Thank you to Dr. Weber for his medical affairs insight, which allows us to round out our February coverage of e-patient communications. For more information about creating e-patient connections, visit A 360-Degree View of E-Patient Connections.
Editors note: On January 29, 2010, Enzon Pharmaceuticals completed the sale of its specialty pharmaceutical business to the sigma-tau Group, and Paul Weber, MD, RPh, MBA is currently working in a transition focused capacity at Enzon. He has also held similar medical affairs or medical liaison roles at Schering Plough, Hoffmann-La Roche, and Roche Laboratories.