FDA to create new guidelines for mobile medical apps

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is set to propose new regulations for smartphone apps.

The regulations affect a small number of medical apps in the States and provide a clue as to how regulation might develop in the UK.

Around 150 medical apps have been produced to date. These include patient diary apps and calculators for those working in the health sector.

The FDA has now launched a three month consultation in order to devise how it will oversee what it calls “mobile medical apps”. It is focusing on the apps that could present a risk to patients if they fail to work as planned.

These types of apps include those which enable doctors to see medical images on an iPad with a view to making a diagnosis from them.

Other apps that could come under the regulations include those which allow doctors to use their smartphone as an electrocardiography (ECG) machine, apps that calculate the maximum dosage of local anaesthesia based on a patient’s weight and age and apps that collect blood glucose readings to help manage diabetes.

The FDA has already approved a small number of apps for use. These include a smartphone-based ultrasound device and a medical iPhone/iPad app that lets doctors view medical images and X-rays.

Bakul Patel, FDA policy advisor, said: “There are advantages to using medical apps, but consumers and health care professionals should have a balanced awareness of the benefits and risks.”

Kung Fu Panda – “This Time Its Personal” – Google Panda Survival Guide

So it’s now almost 6 months since Google rolled out their Panda update and boy has it caused some furore. This Panda has kicked some butt alright, the thread over on Webmaster World has spanned to over 250 messages –  and plenty of website owners are not happy with this particular algo update. Anyway I want to try and cut through all the hype and angst surrounding Panda and take a look at where Google are at in this significant update and how we as search engine marketers can avoid getting beaten up by Panda.

Question one – Is Panda a rolling update?

Barry Schwartz over at SEOroundtable did seem to think that Panda is a rolling update and that Google will continue to tweak their algo daily. However, a spokesperson over at Google commented: “We’re continuing to iterate on our Panda algorithm as part of our commitment to returning high-quality sites to Google users. This most recent update is one of the roughly 500 changes we make to our ranking algorithms each year.”
The team over at Searchengineland have kept a timeline on the various Panda updates that have taken place and have seen a clear update pattern evolve.  Since Feb, Google have updated Panda every 4 to 7 weeks so this seems to suggest that there are more changes to come.

Question two – Why have some sites that have been using so-called ethical SEO techniques fallen foul of the Panda update?

So let’s try and understand why some sites have fallen into the tumbleweed search results pages. The Panda update has impacted around 12% of search queries which means that a lot of websites have seen their search traffic impacted.
The common theme that I am picking up on why some sites have dropped down the SERPS is down to poor quality content, i.e. content that adds little value to your site and your visitors aren’t engaging with that content. Panda is a filter that Google has developed to flag-up what it believes to be low-quality content on web pages. Basically if you have too many low-quality pages with little original content then Google penalises those pages. It doesn’t mean that your entire site is out of Google but it does mean that pages within your site carry a penalty designed to help ensure only the better ones make it into Google’s top results.

So the types of pages that might get affected are those pages that you might have introduced into your site to specifically target certain keywords and get a higher ranking for them. Doorway pages, gateway pages, SEO articles – these are pages that you have been specifically created to appeal to search engine spiders. The content is keyword rich and the html has been appropriately formatted so that you can rank well for the key phrase being targeted. Little thought has been given to usability and how the end user will react to that page. These pages are deliberately often buried deep within the site’s hierarchy so that users who are already on your site can’t easily come into contact with them, for obvious reason.

A response from a Google employee on their Webmaster Forum commented:

“Bear in mind that people searching on Google typically don’t want to see shallow or poorly written content, content that’s copied from other websites, or information that are just not that useful. In addition, it’s important for webmasters to know that low quality content on part of a site can impact a site’s ranking as a whole. For this reason, if you believe you’ve been impacted by this change you should evaluate all the content on your site and do your best to improve the overall quality of the pages on your domain. Removing low quality pages or moving them to a different domain could help your rankings for the higher quality content.”

If you think you’ve been negatively affected by Panda and wrongly so, then you can try and use the Google webmaster forum to see if someone from Google will manually review your site.

Question three – How does Panda impact the future of SEO?

SEO is all about adapting. I have been developing SEO strategies since 1996 and the techniques that I used back then would get my clients into serious trouble today. The point I am making is that as Google evolves so does the way we do SEO. 

Here are my 5 tips on how to avoid the “Panda Punch”

1 – Make the content on your site engaging
Yes, the process the of getting an SEO copywriter to produce a series of 300-500 word articles for your site used to be an effective SEO technique and it still can be. But, the content for those pages need to add value and they need to be of a high enough quality so that they capture the interest of your site visitors. If they don’t, then they won’t serve a purpose anymore because Google will ignore them. Spend more time creating fewer higher quality pieces of content as opposed to quickly bashing out hundreds of ‘doorway pages’ that don’t actually contain any valuable information that will help your site visitors achieve what it is they are trying to achieve by visiting your site.

2 – Fix usability issues
Do ugly and poorly designed pages inspire confidence, of course they don’t? Get back to basics and make sure that the web pages that you put up on your site are all well styled and that the content is easy to read so that it draws your visitors in and they stay to read it.

3 – Reduce the bounce rate
OK, so this is closely linked to usability and writing engaging content.  The last thing Google wants to see is a visitor that selects a page from the top of its search results and returns almost immediately without even viewing another page on that site. To Google that is a clear signal that it has failed to do its job properly. It has not served up a relevant, high quality page for its user’s search query.  Use your analytics pages to identify all the pages on your site that have high bounce rates, especially the ones that are ranking well or used to be. Then think about how you can improve the quality of those pages so the bounce rate reduces.

4 – Get people linking to and tagging those pages
Getting other sites to link to internal pages (other than your home page) within your site has always been an effective way of improving the credibility and authority of that page. However, it’s easier send than done, unless you have something on that page that is really going to add value and provide the owner of the linking website with a good reason to point his own visitors in the direction of your web page. It can be a well written article, white paper, video, info graphic – it doesn’t matter as long as what you are promoting is unique and engaging.  On the topic of linking it’s also important that you have plenty of internal links pointing to those pages also. Again, that’s a clear indicator of quality – if you’re prepared to link to those pages and send your own visitors to them, then Google will think that they must serve a valuable purpose.
There’s also no harm in making use of social bookmarking icons on your pages to make it easier for your visitors to flag the page up to friends and colleagues. The one’s I’d focus on are Facebook Like and Google +1. I’ll do a separate post on these later on.

5 – Don’t view SEO as a one-off project and don’t isolate SEO
SEO is not a project in the sense that it has a definitive start and end date. It’s an ongoing process that should be a key part of your marketing mix. And as its part of the marketing mix, don’t isolate it. SEO can and needs to be integrated with all your other marketing communications activity. Don’t just think about optimising web pages. Google now serves up a wide range of digital media in its search results. You need to be asking how do we optimise that video that we created, so that it appears in Google?  A wide range of digital assets can be optimised for search engines including video, images, clinical papers, product databases not just your web pages.
 If your business benefits from good search engine visibility then invest in that area full-time. SEO is an activity that can deliver good long term results as long as you get the strategy right and put in the required effort. It’s not an activity that will deliver short term results, unlike pay per click advertising. I like to compare SEO and PPC in terms of buying a house versus renting one. Yes, PPC like renting provides an immediate short term solution. However, buying a home and investing in SEO will deliver a greater return on your investment in the medium to long term.

Drug companies increase spend on mobile and online media by nearly 80%

Pharmaceutical companies across the world increased their investments in mobile phone apps and educational websites by nearly 80% last year.

According to a study by Ernst & Young, drug companies including Merck & Co and Novartis AG are leading the way in what seems to be a new wave of enthusiasm towards social media and the online landscape on the part of drug companies.

In total, global pharmaceutical companies started 97 new projects aimed at using IT to improve the quality of patient health. By comparison, 124 project had been started in the four previous years altogether, representing a massive leap forwards for development this year.

Just over 41% of this year’s projects were apps for smartphones – an increase from 11% since 2006.

Experts say that the move is partially due to the increased pressure that pharmaceutical companies are under from governments to prove that their products are worth their prices. Plans exist in the UK to match the prices of products to their benefits starting in 2014. This therefore calls for more involvement from patients throughout the lifecycle of a drug, from initial testing to post market surveillance – all of which can be easily and effectively facilitated via the use of social media.

Carolyn Buck Luce, global pharmaceutical leader at Ernst & Young, told one US website: “Pharma can’t exist the way they have existed; what is surprising is the pace of change.”

“The next big change in health outcomes is behavioural change, where medicines play an important part but not the only part.”

ABPI releases social media marketing guidelines

Pharmaceutical companies can implement social media marketing with more confidence thanks to new guidance issued by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI).

The ABPI social media guidelines suggest best practice for managing events and pharmaceutical data via social media and the internet in general.

They also provide a useful framework for pharmaceutical marketing professionals in the industry who wish to use social media to benefit their organisations.

In a white paper entitled Pharmacovigilance and the Internet: A Call for Change, the ABPI says that blogs, tweets and other online communications and communities hold a mass of important data that could complement traditional marketing methodologies. However, this useful information is not actually being accessed by many stakeholders in the industry because present legislation does not support marketing professionals in their obligations to collect and work with data.

The paper suggests a number of points for pharma marketing professionals to consider, including following discussions on social media sites, sharing messages via one-way communication and engaging with the general public via interactive communication. It also says that social media is a valuable tool with which to communicate externally with customers. According to the ABPI, eight out of ten internet users search for health information online.

Pfizer launches world’s first social media-enabled drug trial

Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, has launched the first ever home-based clinical trial programme.

The programme will allow people to participate via social media sites.

The trial is being held in the States and will test the overactive bladder drug Detrol. LA.

The drug giant will allow people to register for the trial online, to receive the drug at home, and to monitor their condition via social networking sites and mobile phone apps.

It is anticipated that Pfizer will source participants via Facebook and Twitter in the first instance. Both sites have a heavy mobile presence, allowing the pharmaceutical company to extend its reach.

Experts say that carrying out drug trials in this way has many benefits. It enables a company to save money on research and development by not spending as much on trial monitoring and data collection services: pharmaceutical companies often pay university research teams to do this for them.

It will also be able to source a more diverse collection of trial participants, with few participant withdrawals and more reliable results as a consequence.

The trial is fully supported by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is in the process of encouraging pharmaceutical companies to modernise their research and development methods.

Mobile technology combats drug counterfeit in India

A new pharmaceutical venture between the USA and India has launched an innovative mobile-based anti-counterfeit scheme.

Sproxi, a US-based pharmaceutical company, has launched in India and revealed a product designed to combat any drug counterfeit issues.

Mobile Product Authentication (MPA) enables consumers to check the authenticity of a pharmaceutical product by sending the unique code on the drug as a free text message to the manufacturers in real time.

The service then confirms whether a brand is genuine or not.

India suffers from a huge trade in black market pharmaceuticals.

Ashifi Gogo, CEO of Sproxil, said: “India has one of the largest pharmaceutical markets in the world, but is plagued by counterfeit medicines made elsewhere that tarnish the brands in question.

“Our services enable Indian companies to reduce the presence of counterfeit medicines by connecting companies directly to their consumers in a scalable manner, using mobile phones.”

Spraxil launched the first national mobile-based anti-counterfeit service in Africa and has also sold millions of anti-counterfeit labels that service some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.

Many of these companies are now looking to build on the SMS service by seeing if verification codes and similar authentication methods can be sent by mobile social networking sites.