Online communities in South Korea – delivering patient power?

by Junghwa Lee | May 25, 2012

Anyone following the local elections in South Korea lately will have witnessed the enormous impact that social media has had on the results now that the government has lifted the ban on campaigning via Twitter and other micro-blogging channels such as me2day. As a nation, we’ve always led the way on digital activity with the fastest, most widely available internet services in the world. We are also a traditionally a ‘collectivist’ society with group and family opinion at the heart of all decisions, so while online “cafe” discussion boards, with millions of members interacting and giving their view anonymously for years, have been popular, the individual approach that social tools afford is something quite different for us. Already Twitter usage is twice the world average here and we have the world’s second largest blogger community after China.


With Korea being the second largest market for pharma in Asia after China and a market where patients pay a considerable part of their treatment costs on a fee for service basis, we are always looking for ways to capture feedback on brand value and the credibility for our clients. The group and individual view of issues such as affordability can really help pharma companies understand the potential uptake of new brands. This is particularly the case when looking at diseases like cancer.  For those who can afford treatment, our specialist medical centers tend to be as sophisticated as those in the West and often technically superior (the National Cancer Center, for example offers proton therapy). Almost half of cancer patients fund treatment at such centres through private insurance.


However because the National Health Insurance Corporation sets prices for new drugs and pricing is decided by a system of reference pricing, they often only receive partial reimbursement for new oncology drugs so it’s important to test how much of an issue this is. A study we did with the CML patient community in Korea for an international client revealed a lack of concern about the cost of treatment as well as an openness of patients in sharing concerns on the best choice of hospital or doctor with their peers. This direct feedback, collected over an 18 month period from both individuals and the group really helped inform the client on priorities for portfolio management not just in Korea but also across Asia.


So it seems that online patient communities can yield some useful information on patient preferences, at least in some therapy areas. But how digitally focussed are other key stakeholders such as physicians compared to western and other Asian counterparts?  Tune in to part two of this blog, published next week, to find out!

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