Pharma Tech Ed: Looking Beyond Twitter 101


(photo Ǭ© Perfect Prototype)

By DJ Edgerton

Sardonic coolhunters like to say that by the time the New York Times reports on the latest trend, it’s already passe.

Well, by that definition, social media is positively primeval.

Take Twitter, the current media darling. It was first mentioned in the NYT way back in 2006 as one of Evan Williams‘ development projects. But it got its first feature story in 2007 (when it pointed out that one of the most popular Twitterers at the time had “9,177 friends and 1,851 followers”).

Twitter has changed the way millions of people communicate and think about communication. But should it really remain the only figurehead of emerging technology? What else is there for us to be considering?

These are especially important questions in the pharmaceutical industry. We have to keep our focus broader, since our actions with each tool are restricted. (Well, and to be honest, really, who doesn’t like knowing about the next big thing? Aren’t we all coolhunters at heart?)

That next big thing, particularly for pharma, will lie in augmented reality. A vague name for something you’re already quite accustomed to, augmented reality offers vast potential for functional, effective medical and health information for both patients and physicians.

Think of it as a mashup between green-screen technology and virtual reality. To borrow Wikipedia’s example, consider the yellow first-down line in American football games. Think of action movies in which the protagonist’s viewpoint is overlaid, by goggles or helmet (or by being an android ), with data about the scene and the people in it.

Don’t say it’s too expensive, too complicated, too technical. Radio stations are doing it. Doritos is doing it. These great examples and more can be found in a wonderful list, here. There are already applications for just about every good or service. This visually interactive iPhone travelogue may be one of the best.

And while, a decade ago, virtual reality was the next big thing that wasn’t, its drawback was that it often required bulky and expensive equipment. (Even then, though, some pharma applications were impressive, including simulators for cancer fatigue and schizophrenia.

But now consider what you can do without needing goggles or a full-body environment, just by having a person interact directly with the digital activity through an image on the screen.

Imagine a medical conference booth where surgeons could AR their way through a surgery simulation using your proprietary tools, just by looking down at their hands through a translucent video screen.

Could you improve compliance rates if your heart attack patients felt like they really did have their heart in their hands, and could move around a virtual image explaining what their medication was doing?

Imagine medical students learning anatomy and physiology with an iPhone app that could recognize and point out the names of the bones and muscles on anyone you point it at.

The opportunity for pharma with all emerging media – social networking, augmented reality, etc. – lies not in offering product information but in offering useful information. Making information more fun and more easily understood is what makes AR so cool. And information that’s easier to understand and more enjoyable? That is useful.

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