Pharmaceutical marketing has always been innovative. It is a well-balanced mix of research, strategy, sales skills, ethical promotion, and customer relations. Pharmacists and pharmaceutical companies may be on opposite sides of the counter, but they share some of the same objectives; primarily that the patient is provided with the very best therapeutic care available so that they may obtain the most positive health outcomes achievable.
The field of pharmacy is constantly evolving. Pharmacy has moved away from products and dispensing to the more patient-centric, outcomes-based practice in today’s profession. Pharmacists need to further develop in-depth knowledge about the new drugs coming to market in order to provide the best pharmaceutical care to their patients. Furthermore, the physician shortage, the extra burden of COVID-19, and pharmacists achieving prescriptive authority are leading to more changes in the pharmacy profession. Therefore, pharmaceutical companies need to keep pharmacists as informed as any other care provider.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the demand for physicians continues to grow faster than the supply. They project a shortage of up to 139,000 full-time physicians by 2033.1 This shortage is primarily driven by a combination of population growth and aging. Rural and underserved areas will be hit the hardest with this shortage. This shortage across the nation will negatively impact patient outcomes.2
COVID-19 is having both short- and long-term consequences for the nation’s healthcare workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic has already emphasized shortages in specialty physicians, including hospital-based specialties such as critical care, pulmonary care, and emergency medicine.1
The United States is taking steps to combat the physician shortage. These changes include an increase in the number of medical school graduates, recruiting foreign-trained physicians, using mid-level clinicians, and applying new technologies.2
These shortages have increased reliance on pharmacists to help patients navigate the field of healthcare. Pharmacists are accessible, underutilized sources of knowledge.
In addition to those changes, states across the nation are allowing pharmacists prescriptive authority. Certain states allow pharmacists to prescribe medications, adjust drug therapy, administer vaccines, and perform lab tests. The necessary requirements and allowances vary by state.
Under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP), the Department of Health and Human Services has expanded the roles and responsibilities of the pharmacist due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These amendments enable pharmacists to perform additional duties regardless of state laws and regulations for at least the duration of the pandemic, unless otherwise specified.3
Marketing to Pharmacists
Pharmaceutical marketing has become increasingly important as the differentiation between existing products becomes smaller. Pharma marketers have two central audiences: patients and healthcare providers. Marketers must tailor their marketing strategies to accommodate their audiences. Pharmacists are no different.
Marketing to pharmacists must provide patient-centric results. For example:
- Provide educational support, such as print media, how-to videos, blogs, etc.
- Offer financial support through coupons, free samples, discount cards, etc.
- Adherence helpers, such as a downloadable reminder app to help patients remember to take their medications on time.
- Work with pharmacists to determine whether a new drug may have fewer adverse effects than a patient’s current medication, a more conducive dosing schedule, fewer drug-drug interactions, etc.
Pharmacy-facing marketing is a good idea. Here’s why:
- Pharmacists are medication experts—their job is to understand the drugs they dispense. They are open to receiving information from pharmaceutical manufacturers.
- Patients see their pharmacists an average of 12 times more frequently than they see their physicians, giving pharmacists more opportunities to monitor adherence, recognize the potential for drug interactions, and identify medication errors.4
- Patients trust their pharmacists.
- Physicians trust pharmacists as well.
For all the reasons above, when a pharmacist makes a recommendation for a change in medication therapy, prescribers are likely to accept it.
Pharmacists are highly prominent, highly specialized healthcare providers who are extremely patient centric. In the wake of all of the changes stemming from a physician shortage, the evolving and broadening prescriptive authority given to pharmacists, and the special circumstances surrounding COVID-19, pharmacists are already providing a unique, unequalled service to patients. Pharmacists should be placed high on the list of healthcare providers that receive marketing from pharmaceutical companies.
1. “Physician Supply and Demand—A 15-Year Outlook: Key Findings.” Association of American Medical Colleges website. June 2020. 14-209 CFAS Handout (aamc.org). Accessed April 7, 2021.
2. Xhang X, Lin D, Pforsich H, Lin VW. “Physician Workforce in the United States of America: Forecasting Nationwide Shortages.” Human Resources for Health. 2020;18:8. doi:10.1186/s12960-020-0448-3.
3. “Guidance for Licensed Pharmacists and Pharmacy Interns Regarding COVID-19 Vaccines and Immunity Under the PREP Act.” Department of Health and Human Services website. 2020. Guidance for Licensed Pharmacists and Pharmacy Interns Regardig COVID-19 Vaccines and Immunity under the PREP Act (phe.gov). Accessed April 7, 2021.
4. “Community Pharmacists’ Contributions to Disease Management During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. July 23, 2020. Community Pharmacists’ Contributions to Disease Management During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Accessed April 15, 2020.