As any pharmaceutical marketer knows, it's getting more challenging to market products in today's ever-evolving landscape. The days of solely detailing doctors about drugs and expecting a trickle-down effect to patient adoption and adherence are in the past. Even marketers content with a traditional direct-to-consumer approach of heavy media and advertising have to reconsider their strategy in light of the needs of their audience and the dynamic environment in which they now find themselves. The landscape has evolved, and so should our marketing practices.
The New Landscape
It's no surprise to many of us that over time a significant power shift, from doctor to patient, has taken place. Patients have more of a voice in their care than ever—whether it is asking questions about treatment decisions or selecting their doctor.
I once read that most patients' first visit with a doctor comes from a word-of-mouth referral. That's a powerful incentive for physicians to want to keep their patients satisfied and returning for repeat visits. Physicians also tell us that they want to know what goes on with their patients outside the doctor's office. Are patients taking their meds? Are they dealing with the side effects? Do they believe the doctor made the right decision to put them on the drug in the first place?
Patients have more of a voice in treatment decisions than ever before—and they need to. Let's take a look at some of the reasons why:
- Changes in healthcare reform put financial and other responsibilities on patients
- Confusion persists about the "value" of branded drugs vs the ever-growing availability of generic options
- Patients see frequent media coverage scrutinizing drug manufacturers and their practices; are their meds to be trusted?
- Patients' "plates" are fuller, they are caring for themselves, as well as their aging parents and other loved ones
- Plus there is the simple fact that patients (including me, as well as the Baby Boomer generation) are not willing to grow old gracefully
An information-seeking and more empowered patient has evolved. According to the Pew Research Center, people of all ages use the Internet, and gathering health information is one of the top three activities, along with using e-mail and conducting searches. Add to that statistic the fact that the percentage of Internet users 55 to 66 has increased from 9% to 43% in just the past two years.
Patients are going online to rate the drugs they are taking, just as they might give four stars to a book they purchased on Amazon.com. They are hungry for insights from others like them who have been on the same road to wellness. Today more than 1,300 drugs have been rated on www.patientslikeme.com with comments from real patients that note the frustrations and beliefs they have about the drugs they have taken—everything from how efficacious a drug was to the reasons the patient stopped taking it. These facts all point to the need to respond to this more connected patient through the communication channels that they prefer.
So What Is a Marketer to Do?
The simple truth is that marketers need to do more. Traditional pharmaceutical consumer marketing that focuses only on awareness is not enough. Creating a waiting room brochure is not enough. We need to take a cue from our friends in consumer packaged goods that seek to develop brand loyalty and relationships with their customers. Research shows that patients want to have more of a relationship with drug manufacturers. I propose that what is needed is to offer more of a supportive relationship for patients, rather than simply marketing to them. Providing patients with tools, skills, and knowledge to empower and support them through their treatment experience with the brand. Using behavioral and adult learning models, health education insights, patient journey frameworks, and marketing acumen to educate and support patients.
At the end of the day, we all want better outcomes for patients. Investing in relationship marketing initiatives that help patients to successfully start and stay on treatments for an optimal brand experience also helps pharma marketers to differentiate themselves in genericized markets and provide value beyond the pill. Patients who have their needs met, are educated about the reasons to take the drugs, and know what to expect are better advocates for other patients and for the doctors who made that important recommendation in the first place.
Maybe we shouldn't look at this evolution so much as a challenge but rather as an opportunity that will help us better meet the needs of all healthcare stakeholders—patients, providers, and everyone involved. I for one am excited about the opportunities and being a bigger part of the solution.
Brad Aufderheide, MPH
SVP, Strategic Services