LONDON: A majority of pharmaceutical marketers think that communication is harder than five years ago, thanks to the regulations surrounding the sector and the tendency for sick consumers to check their symptoms online.

A survey of 2,500 pharmaceutical marketing professionals by 3 Monkeys Health + Wellness, the communications agency, found that 83% felt their job was more difficult now.

In addition there was widespread unease about using digital and social media. Some 77% expressed worries about rules and regulations when using these platforms, while 60% indicated that they would be concerned if, in the next 12 months, they were asked to carry out a digital campaign for a brand they work for.

Meanwhile, a parallel survey of consumers found that most were using the internet as a source of health-related information. Some 73% said they went online after visiting a doctor to check their diagnosis.

And younger consumers might even go online instead – 62% of 18-24 year olds checked the internet when feeling unwell rather than visiting a GP.

Dr Martin Godfrey, managing director at 3 Monkeys Health + Wellness noted that consumer expectations had changed. "If the industry doesn't open itself up for change, patients and carers will simply by-pass them and go straight to Wikipedia," he told The Drum.

The Wikipedia issue was also highlighted recently by Beth Bengtson, principal at US healthcare marketing and communications company Hale Advisors. In a blog post for PhamaExec, she noted that nearly 50% of practising physicians used Wikipedia as an information source for providing medical care and argued that drug manufacturers had a public health responsibility to play a role in helping to fix the inaccuracies and incomplete information on the site.

And the 3 Monkeys survey found that 89% of pharma marketers did see a role for pharmaceutical brands in bridging communications between health care professionals and consumers.

But Godfrey described current healthcare communications as "turgid" and said there was "huge scope for companies to adopt more patient-centred strategies".

"It's now time for the pharmaceutical industry in the UK to consider moving to a new way of thinking," he declared, "one that's more flexible and innovative, daring to learn from other consumer-centric sectors which are also regulated."

Data sourced from The Drum, PharmExec; additional content by Warc staff