The Pharma-Patient “Relationship” Alternative

I wrote about the pharma-patient “relationship” in my last column, and my belief that, in many cases, it’s not going to happen in the way many marketers expect. I anticipated a modest backlash, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the reaction to that column. It seems that many in our industry share my belief that we have a special role as healthcare marketers and that trying to form a “relationship” between a patient and a drug brand isn’t the best use of our efforts. But even with a strong level of agreement, most had a similar question: “If our role is less ‘direct’ than that of the traditional consumer products marketer, what do we do?” I have three suggestions for places to start:

1. Content. We know much about our particular therapeutic areas and can serve an important role in helping providers educate their patients. And even with the growth of excellent tools such as those from the National Institutes of Health (e.g., MedLinePlus) it’s not as if patients are adequately informed and capable of participating in their health to the degree we (and they) desire. Pharma can be a fantastic source of relevant, professionally produced content delivered through a variety of channels. I’d start by focusing on making that content easy to find and consume.

2. Activation and Engagement. Aligning incentives with desired outcomes and activity is a proven management technique, and few entities have more to lose than pharma if their audience fails to act. Some who commented on my last column noted that their desire to form a direct relationship with the patient was simply an effort to have those patients become more engaged in their own care. That’s a fair point.

I would frankly like to see more pharma research and exploration into techniques such as gaming and rewards-based incentives for adherence, hopefully in collaboration with healthcare institutions and government. We simply don’t know enough about what will motivate patients to become more engaged and involved, and we need to take steps to resolve that lack of knowledge.

3. Balancing Collaboration with Competition. I’m proud of my market share wins over the years. But I also wonder what we could accomplish if we found better ways to collaborate—with each other, with our customers and with government. I sometimes see marketers pass up opportunities to invest simply because they can’t be the “exclusive” supplier. While that may be valid in many situations, these are sometimes shortsighted decisions. We need to put more thought into what we can accomplish as an industry—rather than what we can achieve as individual companies and brands. I admit that I don’t have this one figured out yet, but I’m hoping that by mentioning it here some readers will come forth with good ideas. We need to compete, but there is a role for collaboration that we should figure out if we’re going to defeat foes like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

If you have examples of programs that focus on any of these areas, I’d like to hear about them. We have much to resolve in our industry—but we have even more opportunity.

  • Joe Meadows

    Joe Meadows is President of Think Patients. Joe leads Think Patients, a consulting company that helps healthcare and life science companies improve business processes, engage in applied innovation, and deal with a rapidly changing healthcare business environment, with a focus on helping companies work with care management tools and new patient and provider engagement technologies. Joe can be reached at 484-200-7900.


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