The objective of DTC marketing has always been to generate new business for approved healthcare treatments—but today, can advertising alone do this? The answer is no. Why? Patients are acting like consumers. They now have access to a number of different treatment touch points and are more informed prior to making buying decisions. So DTC marketers need to address a multi-touch point marketing environment.

Before the days of mobile devices and the Affordable Care Act, consumers viewed commercials for drugs and either remembered to research the product online or asked their doctor about it. Today, 26% of Boomers and 35% of Generation Xer’s browse or surf the web while watching TV, according to an independent research firm. If they are interested in your product due to a TV ad, it stands to reason that they will go online to read about it—and they will not read only your website.

In research I led, we found that drug company product websites are just one stop on the patient journey when looking to learn all they can about treatments. Frequently, they go to health portals and use social media to help them decide if your product is right for them. Think of it as a kind of subway journey from awareness to then asking about or for a specific treatment—with a lot of stops along the way.

Which Stop is This?

What are patients interested in when deciding treatments? The number one stop, or issue, is qualitative—“side effects.” They want medications that work, but not at the cost of a “diminished quality of life.” Patients also want to hear about the experiences of others who use the product directly because drug company website language is too complicated to translate into the question of, “How will this affect me?”

Cost is another important “stop” along the patient journey. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, many insured patients watched their co-pays increase for certain prescription drugs. Even offering a trial coupon may not be enough when patients are thinking, “How much will it cost down the road?”

So for DTC marketers, what does all this mean? You need to think like patients. A good idea: Search for online information about your own product. A variety of social media listening tap into the thoughts and concerns of patients. In addition, we need to better determine how to both inform and educate patients about the issues and challenges in generating new scripts. For example, cost is becoming a bigger issue for healthcare consumers according to a report by Public Agenda, which found that a majority of Americans have tried to find information about healthcare prices before getting care, including 21% who have compared prices across multiple providers.

Today’s patients expect more from healthcare providers including pharma companies. The days of DTC commercials alone driving new business are challenged by patients who are accustomed to a multi-use online environment.

As consumer information access changes, so too must DTC marketing initiatives. We need to be proactive. Healthcare consumers are making important treatment decisions. Learning to anticipate the consumer’s next stop along the social media subway will allow marketers to be a part of that treatment conversation.

  • Richard Meyer

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

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