Mike Collette, Patient Point

The Point of Care Communication Council (PoC3) on Friday unveiled its long-awaited verification and validation guidance, formally codifying a series of best practices designed to engender trust among marketers. The 15-page document establishes rigorous third-party auditing requirements—both for campaigns and point-of-care networks themselves—and standardizes oft-used (and oft-confused) industry terminology. 

The formal guidance, which follows a set of draft guidance released for community feedback in June, arrives almost two years to the date after the event that prompted the industry to take a hard look at its practices: the revelation that Outcome Health, then the point-of-care space’s biggest player, had allegedly misrepresented not just the number and location of its screens, but also the content airing on them. 

Such was the extent to which confidence in the point-of-care channel was shaken that the PoC3 itself came under fire, with the space’s good actors expressing frustration over delays in rolling out the guidelines and media agencies chafing over their limited involvement in the process.

Mike Collette, founder and CEO of PatientPoint and PoC3 co-chair, said he understands the frustration. “Candidly, we knew it was important to have full industry buy-in. We didn’t want to move forward without external input,” he said.

Collette also noted the challenges that come with creating a one-size-fits-all set of rules for the broad point-of-care space. “There’s digital and print. There are doctor’s offices and pharmacies. It’s not mostly uniform, like TV or magazines or radio,” he continued. “I would say that even we didn’t fully appreciate the complexity.”

And that’s before what Collette calls “environmental factors” related to the completely decentralized point-of-care network landscape come into play. “There’s a lot that goes into maintaining a network that isn’t fully appreciated, like changes in firewalls,” he said, adding with a laugh, “Our arch nemesis is the cleaning people who come in at night—‘Oh, great, it got unplugged again?’”

With the debut of the guidance, the PoC3 hopes it has put many of those frustrations in its rear-view mirror. The guidance offers specifics around network auditing (basically, “is the screen in the agreed-upon location and is it functional?”), campaign auditing (“is my ad airing where it’s supposed to be airing?”) and HCP presence (“are the physicians you’ve told me practice at a given location actually practicing there?”).

“It’s thorough, but in a way that’s easy to digest,” said McCann Health Engagement president Jeff Erb, who sits on the PoC3 industry advisory committee and helped develop the new guidelines. “It’s fair to the [network] companies in the way it needed to be fair, because auditing is expensive. But at the same time, it provides enough validation to agencies and clients. It gives them the comfort that everybody’s doing what they promised to do and that the content is being delivered.” 

Collette went a step further. “This is a turning point for the industry,” he said. “The objective all along was to be able to give marketers the same confidence in buying point-of-care that they have in any other channel. I feel the team has accomplished that objective, and then some.”

The arrival of the verification and validation guidance comes at the end of a busy stretch for PoC3. The group has doubled its membership, adding an A-list media agency (IPG’s Healix, formerly helmed by Erb) and consultancy (ZS) to mainstay point-of-care companies like PatientPoint, Mesmerize Marketing and Rx EDGE Media Network. It also grew the size of its industry advisory council, which is populated by media agency people and in-house pharma marketers.

Don’t sleep on the importance of adding those voices to the debate. Prior to the creation of the industry advisory council last November, there was considerable grumbling from the media-buying community about having been left out of the PoC3 loop. They griped that PoC3 wasn’t a representative industry organization so much as an alliance of point-of-care network companies. To that end, around this time last year rumors swirled that media execs from Omnicom, IPG and WPP firms were preparing to launch a group of their own.

The suggestion was that the buying community wasn’t on board with PoC3’s initial proposals for stronger validation and verification procedures—and Collette doesn’t deny that the rumors got PoC’s attention. “That was a good wake-up call, kind of like, ‘Hey, you’re not listening enough to our voices,’” he said. “It was a catalyst towards significantly expanding the industry advisory council and getting that necessary and important external input.”

One major component of the guidance came at the behest of Erb and his advisory council peers: A three-page “glossary of common definitions” that precisely defines phrases, like “touchpoint” and “specialty” and “conversion,” that often mean different things to different parties. It gets quite granular, as witnessed by the definition of “screen” (“A subset of units or devices. Any single digital monitor capable of hosting educational and advertising content. Locations may have multiple screens in waiting and/or exam rooms.).”

“You’d be surprised how much discrepancy there is when people from different companies are talking about something,” Erb said. “Some people might think you’re measuring the number of physicians, some people might think you’re measuring the number of prescribers. It’s all spelled out now.” 

Looking forward, PoC3 views the guidance as a living document, one that can be tweaked to accommodate new technologies or tactics. “We’re going in with our eyes wide open,” Collette said. “We strove for excellence here, but we recognize it’s not perfect. We’ll do a lot of listening.”