A key part of Canadian identity has always been about differentiation from our neighbors to the south – in fact it is practically a national pastime. And rightly so, a quick comparison of the Canadian and U.S. results of Edelman’s 2011 Trust Barometer is a good demonstration of just how different two collegial neighbours can be.
And yet, despite our many differences there is something we all share in common: a ferocious appetite for health information online. A recent study from Pew Internet found that 8 in 10 American internet users search for health information online, making it the third most popular online activity among internet users. Although the same data was not collected for Canadians, Edelman’s 2010 Health Engagement Barometer demonstrated to us that Canadians and Americans are virtually equal in terms of their engagement in health (81% In the U.S. and 83% in Canada).
But despite the fact that health information is an equally popular online pursuit both north and south of the border there are structural and regulatory complexities that result in a very different experience when visiting a .ca instead of a .com. There are some simple differences (Canadian Example/American Example), and some more profound differences (Canadian Example/American Example) between .ca’s and .com’s that in most cases result in reduced value or poor user experience for the end-user.
Despite the challenges though, there are some excellent Canadian health sites that should be on your radar. Here’s a quick synopsis of the Canadian digital health space.
Pharma companies wishing to launch condition-specific health sites in Canada face an interesting dilemma as a result of regulations: they either have to invest in community management to ensure that comments are moderated, or they’re forced to forego features that enable members of communities to interact with each other altogether. Teva Canada’s MSWatch.ca site is an excellent example of this. Back in October 2010, Teva closed the very popular community component of their Canadian Multiple Sclerosis site citing regulatory restrictions as a key cause. In Canada, direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising of prescription products is highly restricted – only the name, price and quantity can be discussed. Although Teva’s own content was within regulatory guidelines, forum members were discussing treatment options that rendered the site in violation of regulations.
Healthcare Professional (HCP) Communities
In the world of Medscape, Sermo, and ModernMedicine it can be tough to guarantee you’ll reach actually reach Canadian HCPs when working with professional communities. Similar to in the U.S., Canadian HCPs spend much of their time online divided between searches or within professional communities – they can be a hard audience to reach online. The Canadian Healthcare Network is a Canadian-specific professional community and has an active community of HCPs and great panels of industry experts that contribute on a regular basis. Not only does the site feature some quality health-related content, but it provides many of the same contribution opportunities to pharma and health companies that larger American sites like Medscape do.
The difference between Canadian and U.S. digital health properties is most apparent when visiting branded sites. Since Canadian guidelines were developed to channel first exposure to drug details through an HCP, most branded sites are hidden behind login screen that requires a Drug Identification Number (DIN) – a computer-generated eight digit number assigned by Health Canada. But that doesn’t mean every branded Canadian drug site has to be hidden behind a login screen. Vaccines, for example, aren’t subject to the same guidelines as other pharmaceutical products – there are actually very few differences between American and Canadian sites for vaccine products. It also hasn’t precluded companies from developing innovative approaches to building branded digital campaigns in Canada. Pfizer Canada (client) launched Start Something With Alesse earlier this year – a campaign designed to encourage young Canadian women to start entrepreneurial or community-focused projects. The campaign offered up a cash prize and advice from two female role models that have, “been there, done that” to help the two winning women get their projects off the ground.
Innovation in Canada is Alive and Well
Despite regulatory restrictions, digital health innovation in the great white North is alive and well. In similar fashion to their U.S. counterparts, Canadian companies within the health and pharma space are finally starting to find their digital mojo. Expect to see more experimentation from pharma and health companies in 2011.
Image credit: Jordan Thomlison