Can DTC Marketing Influence Healthcare Decisions Anymore?

Take all the information you have on DTC marketing and throw it in the trash. The implementation of the Affordable Care Act is turning patients into consumers of healthcare and it’s impacting every aspect of healthcare including the prescription medications they use. If you could go back 10 years and look at past DTC marketing and compare it today you would probably see that not much has changed.

While some within the industry talk about the dollars being spent on DTC ads as compared to last year, there seems to be a silence around the effectiveness of these ads. While TV ads can work for some products like frozen pizza, data from Manhattan Research indicates that more and more people are turning to the Internet for health information.

Online health information, as implemented by pharma and biotech companies, has not changed that much. Content is still too long and at reading levels beyond the comprehension of most readers. It also takes way too long to update pharma product websites with new information covered in the news.

When it comes to the use of social media, most pharma companies are waiting for the FDA to issue social media marketing guidelines. However, patients and consumers are openly sharing information about specific disease states and medications via social channels. In other words, the conversation is happening with or, in most cases, without pharma participation.

Over the past four years I have led a lot of qualitative and quantitative research into how and why patients/consumers are using the Internet for health and the bottom line is that while more people are turning to the web for health information, how they use this information varies wildly by disease state and medication.

In the past, a patient’s physician was always the gatekeeper for medication recommendations but today co-pays are higher and patients don’t have the time to make an appointment to “talk to their doctors.”  So they are turning to the Internet, but often they are overwhelmed with the type and quality of health information online. DTC marketers have done little to help them cut through the clutter.

DTC marketing, as we see it today, has to change and has to become more transparent. Rather than “selling” patients on your product you need to help them choose the right treatment. We also need to give them support on how to live with certain health conditions because treatment choices are often made on quality of life aspects. DTC marketers also have to terminate the love affair with TV ads. Repeating the same ads over and over is a waste of money.

Perhaps the best way to become a better marketer is to put ourselves in our patient’s place and approach our brand by asking “why?”  While there is a lot of buzz around Big Data there is no substitute for good qualitative research that provides patient insights. That’s what can make DTC marketing relevant again, and isn’t that the overall objective of marketing?

  • Richard Meyer

    Richard Meyer has worked in healthcare marketing for more than 12 years and is the author of www.worldof and www.newmediaand He is the Director of Online Strategic Solutions.


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