Declaring the app dead may be an exaggeration, but a shift is happening. People are moving away from traditional social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter) to messaging platforms (Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, etc.). At the same time, the majority of installed mobile apps go unused and ultimately end up deleted. Only a handful survive to be used regularly and those are often platforms for a variety of engagements, not just single-use applications.

Functions offered by apps are moving into the invisible back-end of the messaging platforms in the guise of artificial intelligence-driven chatbots. Chatbots engage audiences where they already live—messaging apps. Instead of a user having to open up a new application every time a new function is required, the user simply stays within the messaging environment and chats to the proper bot. Want to buy flowers? Chat with the 1-800-FLOWERS bot. How’s the weather? Ask a weather bot. Not feeling well? Now that’s an interesting one.

Is healthcare marketing ready for this paradigm shift? As audiences move to new digital domains, we have to move with them to remain a relevant part of the conversations. If we don’t take steps now in the nascent stages of the new ecosystem, we’ll trail behind, mired in the delicate complexities of our industry.

How Chatbots Can Work for Pharma

Imagine the near future. Have a question about your diagnosis? Get details from a DISEASE-AWARENESS-BOT on Messenger. A patient has questions around a drug’s dosing, safety, or efficacy: Ask a BRAND-INFORMATION-BOT. An ADHERENCE-BOT will remind you to take your meds and answer dosing and administration questions. Trade info about your daily regimen with a HEALTH-TRACKER-BOT in exchange for encouragement, sympathy, and guidance.

This is not just an attempt to follow the crowd and the latest buzzworthy tech—there’s a huge potential for better health outcomes. At the 2015 Health 2.0 Conference, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the Surgeon General of the United States said that the single most important healthcare issue is social isolationism. Now, no one has to be alone. Users of a chatbot can seamlessly shift from chatting with an artificial intelligence, to interacting with human beings—all in one user interface, all in real time. No patient, no caregiver, no HCP need ever feel alone.

There will be challenges along the way. What will we do to adequately balance our branded messaging and how can we ensure proper safety information is conveyed at the right time in such small spaces? How will we handle adverse events reporting? And will our chatbots have to be considered medical devices?

These will be challenging questions to answer but the only way we’ll answer them is by discussing them. The only way forward is by chat. So chat with your teams, chat with your agencies, with the FDA, and with your regulatory bodies and digital strategists. Start a lunch group, a meetup, or a Slack, but get out there and get chatting.

  • Alec Pollak

    Alec Pollak is VP, Director of User Experience at JUICE Pharma Worldwide. Alec stands as the primary advocate for the human beings at the other end of the digital content, communications and tools designed and produced by the JUICE team.

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