Some DTC marketers feel that pharma is definitely and appropriately part of the conversation over healthcare choices simply because full prescribing information is readily available via every channel imaginable. That’s not enough. Consumers today don’t want just full prescribing information; they want more, a lot more, from drug companies who continue to lose trust with a skeptical public.

According to, 80% of Internet users have looked online for information about any of 15 health topics—such as a specific disease or treatment. This translates to 59% of all adults. Web-wide, 34% of Internet users, or 25% of adults, have read someone else’s commentary on or experience about health or medical issues via an online news group, website, or blog. And 25% of Internet users, or 19% of all adults, have watched an online video about health or medical issues. Further, 24% of Internet users, or 18% of adults, have consulted online reviews of particular drugs or medical treatments. In other words, people are reaching out to the Internet and each other to make decisions about their healthcare.


During research late last year, I found that almost 90% of patients did not understand the label language contained within drug websites. That’s not surprising, since most labels are at or above the 14th-grade reading level. While some drug websites have gotten more user-friendly, they have still not addressed the needs and wants of empowered patients. Patients today want more than standard answers to questions, because the questions are about them and how different treatments are going to affect the quality of their lives. That is what healthcare marketing is about today: Giving patients the information they need to make choices based on how those treatments allow them to live the life they want to live.

DTC marketers need to do a lot more when it comes to digital marketing, going far beyond a product or disease-state website. They need to listen more to conversations and concerns around treatments and health conditions, and they need to be more responsive to getting information that patients want and need on their websites. Right now, it usually takes weeks for a drug company to respond to a media story about a medication or health condition. An analysis of social media shows that the spike that occurs around these stories is short-lived— so unless you talk to your audience when the subject is fresh on their minds, you’re missing a great opportunity to earn their trust at a time when big pharma needs to earn the trust of every patient and customer every day.


Is digital marketing going to solve all of DTC marketers’ problems? No. But digital marketing is more than just some online tactics: It’s a way of thinking about marketing…and an increasingly important one at that, since research confirms that more and more people are going online for health information. DTC marketers cannot hide behind product labels. They have to find a way to win regulatory and legal people over to their way of thinking. They have to show the organization how important collaboration is in marketing today. Even the FDA is taking a wait–and-see attitude when it comes to reaching out and helping consumers get good, credible health information. Eventually, pharma marketers are going to assume some risk…but as long it rewards consumers with great health information, the risk is going to be small compared with trying to “sell them” at time when consumers don’t want to be sold.

If DTC marketers want DTC marketing to stay relevant to patients, they have to find ways to help patients cut through the clutter to get the information they want at a time when they need it. If they continue to use the same old DTC marketing model, patients are going to continue to turn away from them and use other sources to make healthcare decisions.

  • 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.