The coronavirus pandemic is driving the growth of e-commerce in not only health products, but also medical software and health apps. E-health sites have also surfed on the health crisis. The pandemic should therefore accelerate the digital shift in the healthcare sector. Between regulatory obligations and Google instructions, online health marketing professionals nevertheless have many parameters to master …

Pharmaceutical marketing in England: strict laws to be respected

The digitalization of parapharmacy has existed for many years, especially in Europe. The beginnings of an e-commerce of drugs were indeed emerging in Germany, from the beginning of the 2000s. However, this trend is increasing today, and crystallizes the need for think up a real e-health marketing strategy.

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The health crisis linked to the coronavirus epidemic has strongly impacted digital transformation. This is especially true for online sales of health products. In particular, masks, hydro-alcoholic gels and hand soaps have seen a phenomenal increase in online sales.

This change in healthy consumption habits represents a opportunity for pharmacists ready to go online. Health marketing can effectively be used as a lever to stimulate sales of drugstores. This digitalization of sales could also help pharmacies to refocus on their core business: drug advice.

French e-pharmacies lagging far behind their European competitors

However, the digital transformation of pharmacies comes up against several obstacles, as the field of e-health is regulated in England. The sale of non-prescription drugs has therefore only been authorized since 2013. The country is therefore lagging far behind in this area. Belgium has been selling non-prescription drugs since 2009, 2003 for Germany.

The regulations governing the sale of medicines online in Europe have therefore not yet been harmonized. Germany, Great Britain, but also the Netherlands are already marketing prescription drugs online. French pharmacists still do not have this possibility. When England therefore counts less than 1.7% of “e-pharmacies”Germany has nearly 13% (Apotekisto figures).

However, embarking on e-pharmacy all the chances of giving results soon. The government of Edouard Philippe already had the objective, before the health crisis, of proposing laws to facilitate the online sale of drugs in England.

This reform is all the more urgent as England competes with countries which are less careful about health marketing. States which propose more flexible regulations, and which are the ground of a trade in adulterated drugs, sometimes with false labels.

The regulations to be respected in 2020 for pharmaceutical e-commerce

French pharmacies continue to submit to a series of strict regulatory obligations, pending a relaxation of the e-health law in England. These instructions go beyond the already rigorous framework of legal obligations applied to websites. They fall under both the choices of the Ministry of Solidarity and Health and constraints that Google applies :

  • French pharmacies cannot sell prescription products online;
  • Only pharmacies can use e-commerce to sell non-prescription drugs;
  • They are also the only ones able to create an e-commerce website and operate it;
  • It is always necessary to obtain authorization from the ARS (Regional Health Agency) to create an online drug sales site;
  • Google does not allow advertising and paid search for drugs online;
  • It is also not possible to sell drugs or health products through Google Shopping. You will not find any “COVID mask” for sale on the Californian giant’s e-commerce platform.
  • The National Order of Pharmacists is responsible for annually updating the list of e-commerce sites authorized to sell drugs.

Health software and the difficult question of personal data

The e-commerce of health products is not the only sector to be subject to heavy regulation in England. This is also the case with medical software and other health applications. However, these are developing at high speed, as evidenced by the virtual monopoly of an online appointment-making platform like Doctolib.

The delicate marketing treatment of personal health data

Of many healthcare players find themselves integrated into the development of healthcare software, mobile apps or connected objects. They can be doctors, or other practitioners such as physiotherapists and osteopaths. This also concerns pharmacists, laboratories and even mutual funds.

In all cases, these digital health tools often aggregate personal data. Most of the e-health websites also offer to record this medical data on the cloud.

All these new connected health tools are therefore subject to the regulations relating to “personal health data”. Parliament defines these in its resolution of 12 March 2014, relating to health marketing. It is thus “data relating to the physical or mental health of a person”, but also related “to the provision of health services”.

These data therefore include all of the following information. They can come from a healthcare professional, a biological examination or a medical device:

  • Information from medical examinations;
  • All data relating to a disability, illness or risk of illness;
  • Clinical treatment;
  • The medical condition of a person;
  • The various patient identification numbers or symbols.

The processing of this sensitive data, for its part, falls under European directive 95/46 / CE, and the Data Protection Act in England. This European directive implies in particular that the collection and storage of information depend on a data controller. The latter also has the role of managing the “risks associated” with their handling, and therefore ensuring data protection.

This directive also requires that each concerned consent to the processing of their personal data. It also provides that he can retract.

The procedure to follow to approve your medical software

As part of the marketing of a digital health solution that mobilizes personal data, the following steps are often essential:

  • The online solution / website must be declared to the CNIL (Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés de England);
  • The “data controller” must declare this processing to the CNIL;
  • If the CNIL considers its data to be “sensitive”, you have to wait for its authorization to market the medical software or the e-health app;
  • If the data involves exchanges with healthcare professionals, it’s a safe bet that they must go through approved hosts to work with you.

These mandatory steps allow e-health devices to be marketed in compliance with regulations. However, they do not take place not always linearly.

The CNIL does have a broad blocking power in health marketing. Failure to wait for its marketing authorization can, for example, result in a criminal penalty of 300,000 euros. The CNIL may also oppose the sharing of personal data via the cloud. This is all the more true when it involves data transfer outside European borders.

For more information on the laws concerning the processing of personal health data, you can read the following texts:

  • European Directive 95/46 / EC;
  • The Data Protection Act, article 63;
  • Articles L1111-1 to L1110-9 of the Public Health Code.

Healthcare marketing: the rules to follow to be well referenced

Health-oriented websites have long enjoyed a wide freedom. This contrasts surprisingly with the requirements that apply in parallel to medical e-commerce and e-health apps.

70% of people who have questions about their health in England have the first instinct to seek answers on the Internet (Figures Apotekisto). This is a huge market, which some sites categorized as “health promotion” therefore use to gain traffic.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has however changed the situation for some of these websites. Google actually changed its SEO algorithms during the May Core Update in 2020. It becomes hard to make a buzz around fake news health related, or to rebound on the medical fears of Internet users.

Google’s new algorithm 2020 and the loss of visibility of some e-health sites

In England, the SEO algorithm that Google launched in May 2020 has particularly impacted health websites. This algorithm, the “May core Update 2020”, is one of many Google updates. These change the way results appear in the search engine. As for the May 2020 Core Update, Google has set it up so thatit promotes very reliable websites.

This bias corresponds to a guideline adopted by the Californian giant for a few years now. Google thus favors in its rankings websites that respect the so-called “EAT” criteria: “Expertise, Authority and Credibility (Trustworthiness) ”. These criteria imply in particular that the information published on a medical website are verifiable and founded.

The 2020 May Core Update follows this logic, exacerbating it to adapt to the pandemic context. It appears that official and state health websites have greatly increased in visibility. This is particularly the case of lasante.net, the site of a French pharmacy approved by the Ministry of Health. This has gained 13% visibility. It is also that of the site of the National Agency of Public Health, Public Health England. This site effectively improves its visibility by more than 8% (Sixit figures).

Conversely, e-health websites that present themselves as ezines have lost visibility. This is for example the case of e-sante.fr, which has reportedly lost more than 55% of its visibility, or of medisite.fr (Sixit figures).

SEO best practices for a well-referenced health marketing site

As Google experts like to repeat, the May Core Update should not be understood as punishment. It is more of an algorithm that raises the ranking of websites that follow Google guidelines. The e-health sites that suffered from this update can therefore go up the slope, and regain their visibility before May 2020.

For a site or blog to be able to do health marketing while being well referenced, there are some strict guidelines that must be followed. In particular, it should be borne in mind that Google is adoptinga “Trust & Safety” team. This is particularly active in part of the COVID-19 outbreak.

This team aims in particular to fight against fake health information and conspiracy theories. At the same time, Google Ads is also fighting all advertisements that use the fear of the coronavirus to drive sales.

The logic therefore seems simple: avoid information that is misleading, or that uses fear to attract traffic. However, e-health editors know the difficulty of the task. It is sometimes a puzzle of find the balance between a “click trap” meta-title and relevant information, but which brings few visitors to the site. But this is the new challenge for the healthcare marketing industry: to attract truthful information, without playing on the sensational.

It remains possible toachieve this challenge by respecting some of the basic SEO principles. Google has always valued these guidelines, although we sometimes forget to integrate them into editorial strategies:

  • regularly post content edited by those that Google identifies as “experts”;
  • be the subject of a netlinking seriousness which testifies to the reliability of the information relayed;
  • attract the trust of Internet users, whether through qualitative content, relevant advertising collaborations or renowned certifications, such as that of the Swiss foundation Health On the Net (HON).