Pharma DTC At The Crossroads? 2011 Prevention DTC Study Results

Here are six thought starters I see coming out of Prevention Magazine’s 14th Annual Pharmaceutical Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) Advertising Study.*

1. Generic growth continues to put downward pressure on DTC ROI’s.

2. DTC continues to positively impact conversations with the doctor, but there is a general decline in patients receiving the prescription drug–a significant drain on ROI.

3. Consumers value Pharma websites, but opportunity exists to improve their value with less focus on ‘benefits-only’ messaging.

4. Consumers are consistently looking for Pharma to provide more information about the safety and risks of prescription medicines.

5. Social Media and Mobile Health are still in their infancy in helping consumers to gather information about prescription medicines and to manage their healthcare.

6. Consumers are interested in new health IT and advanced treatment solutions to help improve their health.

1.      Generic use continues to rise with 36% reporting that they’ve switched to a generic prescription or OTC medicine in the past 12 months to reduce healthcare costs.  With Generic medications now accounting for 78% of all retail prescriptions dispensed (IMS Health), this has sizable potential implications for any brand’s DTC Adverting ROI. 

Be sure your DTC ROI fully factors in what your brand’s current insurance status is and the use of generics and OTC’s in the particular disease you’re competing in.  Since managed care and formulary status is often out of the typical scope of a consumer brand marketer’s role, it’s often overlooked or underplayed.  But given the impact that economics can have on a doctor’s grant rate and a consumer’s fill rate, this is increasingly a critical factor for DTC ROI but a difficult one for consumer marketers to dramatically impact.

2. While DTC advertising continues to positively impact conversations with their doctor about the condition, treatment options and specific medications they saw or head advertised, there is a general decline in patients receiving the advertised drug.   This year 33% reported receiving the advertised medication that they talked with a doctor about, down from 45-50% five to ten years ago.

While increasing generic use, economics/insurance tiering and the absolute number of available prescription options available to Physicians to write for a particular condition may be impeding doctor grant rates, given its impact on ROI, an honest evaluation is needed to  think through how well your brand’s request will be granted in this current environment.  This means a ‘tough-love’ assessment taking into account factors such as:  1) product uniqueness in the eyes of the Physician/KOL, 2) competitive market share position, 3) insurance and Medicare status, 4) consumer usage dynamics, including use of generics and OTCs.

3. Online Search for a specific medical condition or illness and/or prescription medicines is down slightly in 2011 and back to 2005 levels.  However, 65% still say they have gone online for information on a specific medical condition or illness and 37% for a specific prescription medication.  Among those searching for information on a specific medication, risks, side effects and benefits are the top three information needs. 

Additionally, consumers see the value of Pharma brand websites.  Among those that go online for prescription medicine information, 49% looked at medicine’s brand site and 44% found them very useful. Only general health sites and non-profit or government sites ranked higher.

Interestingly, Pharma’s websites ranked more useful than patient community sites.  This seems consistent with the Pew Peer-to-Peer Healthcare survey data as outlined by Susannah Fox that showed that patients turn to different sources/constituents for different types of information i.e. to the doctor for accurate diagnosis and prescription treatment options, to patients for emotional support and everyday tips and workarounds.  While Pharma specifically was not studied in the Pew survey, it makes sense that consumers would turn to Pharma and their websites for specific product information, such as clinical information or how to properly use/store the medication, financial offers etc.

Online and website marketing are critical brand elements that must be perfectly integrated across all communication channels. While consumers find Pharma brand websites useful, opportunity exists to further improve value by looking to provide consumers with information and support ‘beyond marketing your pill and brand benefits’.

FDA mandates ‘balanced risk and benefit’ communication, but often the actual risks and side effect language is largely driven by FDA and regulatory teams, and not written for the average patient/caregiver for maximum learning—an important missed opportunity.  How much creative time is spent thinking about how to optimize visual and written communication of side effects and safety information vs. brand’s benefits? Showing patients how to improve overall well-being? Pharma websites would benefit.

4. Consumers are consistently looking for Pharma to provide information on safety of a prescription medicine first and foremost, but also information on risks, effectiveness, financial options and disease state information. The desire for more safety and risk information was suggested in multiple sections of the survey: online search results (see pt. 3 above), when asked what topics represent ‘acceptable’ posts from Pharmaceutical companies, 71% reported safety of an Rx medicine, and in their strong interest in ways to help them manage their prescriptions through more safety and risk information (see pt. 6).

Pharma would greatly benefit from providing more consumer-friendly information on the side effects and risks of their brands, including helpful tips and potential work-arounds.  It’s time to stop taking an old-fashioned marketing view that mandates that only a brand’s positives should be discussed.  Consumers are smarter than that; companies that provide balanced and helpful information/tips will enjoy greater trust and potentially greater adherence.  Many categories of medications are well known for both important benefits but also significant side effects.  Why not help consumers better manage these side effects so that they can enjoy the positive benefits of the treatment vs. getting frustrated and stopping treatment?

5. Consistent with other studies, Social Media and Mobile Health is still in its infancy in helping consumers gather information about prescription medicine. 

  • While 63% view social networking sites, 14% say they used social media for information about prescription medication (It is not clear in the report if that is 14% of the 63% or 14% of the total population.)
  • Further, among those that use social media for health information, 56% say social media is about info on a medical condition, 33% say for possible treatment options and 32% for reviews/ranks of doctors.
  • Additionally, 12% use their cell phone to look up health/medical information and 7% have an App that tracks or manages your health.
  • And among a variety of social media tactics, video (YouTube) ranked among the most ‘useful’ for prescription medicine information, ahead of Facebook, blogs and health forums/message boards, and equal to patient community  and medicine rating sites.

Clearly, Social Media is not THE answer for pharma marketers, but should be part of a broader integrated brand strategy.  This study also continues to suggest that social media in Pharma will work best for education and supporting ‘comparison’ of treatments and specific reviews/rankings of doctors, medications and hospitals—in other words, more patient education and less brand-specific ‘sell’ with perhaps one exception being video product demonstrations.

6. Consumers report high interest in new IT and advanced treatment solutions to help them manage their health. For example, consumers say they are very or somewhat interested in…

  • Having digital medical records you can use with different doctors (59%)
  • DNA tests to determine conditions/diseases you are susceptible to (57%)
  • Medicines that are customized to your DNA (56%)
  • At-home tests to diagnose non-life-threatening conditions/diseases (49%)

And to help manage their prescriptions medicines…

  • A program that checks your medicines for negative interactions with each other (40%)
  • Program that tells you about the risks of a medicine (38%)
  • News about the medicines you are talking (36%)
  • Program that automatically refills your prescription (34%)
  • A reminder to refill your medicine (31%)
  • A reminder to take your medicine (23%)

It is time for Pharma to support adoption of digital medical records to help patients better manage their health and relationships with their physicians.  Additionally, easier ways to understand and manage the safety and risks of prescription medicines remains an unmet need for many patients and their families.  Though caution here is recommended; often what consumers say they want and what they actually will pay for and use aren’t always the same…:-)

What about you? Any other important takeaways you see from the 2011 Prevention DTC Survey?

Other helpful information:

The Pew Internet American Life Project: The Social Life of Health Information, May, 2011

The Pew Internet American Life Project: Peer to Peer Healthcare, February, 2011

Prevention: 2010 DTC Study, by World of DTC Marketing

*The Prevention Wave 14 survey was conducted via telephone interviews from April 27-May 8, 2011 with a nationally representative sample of 1,507 adults living in the U.S.

2 thoughts on “Pharma DTC At The Crossroads? 2011 Prevention DTC Study Results

  1. Ellen,
    I always find this study fascinating, thanks for providing such easy access to it and highlighting the key points. It’s especially interesting to view the trends over time.

    Eileen O’Brien

    • Eileen, thanks for your comments. Based on the study, strong DTC ROI’s will be increasingly challenging moving forward with less requests being honored based on insurance mandates etc. But I was happy to see the acceptance of Pharma websites in general!

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