The internet is driving a reformation of the relationship between doctors and patients, says a leading NHS guru.

Speaking at the PM Society’s recent digital showcase meeting, Joanne Shaw, chairman of Datapharm and chair and chief executive of NHS Direct, said the internet was enabling a shift in how healthcare is managed because of the increasing interest in and access to health information over the world wide web.

“Patients are showing a tilt towards decision making by them. Patients want information to back up what the doctor says but also to make well-informed choices about their treatment and health… Increasingly people are turning to the web for this information.”

Shaw noted that when people can’t find the information on UK web sites they turn to US sites, while there was increasing interest in interacting with other internet users, getting advice and sharing experiences.

“The internet is empowering people to take control of health and it’s changing the relationship between patients and healthcare professionals. Because patients are taking information to HCPs it’s changing the management of the condition and treatment options in some cases… It is threatening to HCPs and a tricky change for pharma to navigate,” she said.

Meanwhile, Mark Blayney Stuart, head of research at the Chartered Institute of Marketing, discussed how “mobile” was becoming a way of life and as a result was having a massive impact on marketing. 

“This is not a phone,” he said, pointing to his smartphone. “This is a very powerful computer that just happens to make phone calls. It is also my alarm clock, a map and my CD collection. In the future this will be my money and even a homing device for lost children.”

These changes have crept up on us and will have massive implications on marketing, he said. For instance, because mobile is location sensitive, marketing can become geographically targeted, while its time sensitive nature can impact impulse buying and has already given new life to the idea of coupons – what is now termed ‘dynamic couponing’ – as well as tailoring campaigns that can be adjusted dependent on events on the day such as changes in weather.

“There is still the idea that we like technology and people will use it because it’s new but that isn’t what happens. There’s got to be something the individual user needs or wants. But people also want recommendations, not choice.”

Blayney Stuart also said QR codes had a lot of potential but were currently underused. But applying this to the medical field could open up a lot of opportunities for pharma, he added.

“Think about the problem you need to solve or what you offer that your competitor doesn’t do and produce an app to help deliver that.”