Chapter 13: Promoting Information Therapy is good for pharmaceutical companies
Mrs Sethis persistent dry and itchy skin condition was recently diagnosed by her dermatologist as Eczema, a fairly common condition in the medical world. However, Mrs Sethi was not too familiar with it. She went to the chemist to buy the ointment that her doctor had prescribed. She read the leaflet accompanying the tube, and instead of reassuring her, it accentuated her fears. The side-effects section made her feel that the medicine would worsen her condition, not realizing that such undesirable effects were only reported in large doses and in extreme cases. If the pharma company had provided more understandable and patient-friendly information along with the standard leaflet, it would greatly help assuage Mrs Sethis fears.
The good news is that Information Therapy provides a great opportunity for pharmaceutical companies to restore their tarnished reputations . and companies which adopt this will become market leaders. Pharma companies have to reach out to two distinct segments . doctors and patients. Lets look at both of these individually, and see how Information Therapy can help pharma companies to do a better job. Traditionally, drugs were prescribed by doctors, and pharma companies spent a lot of money convincing doctors to prescribe their brands. This has become increasingly harder, as the market has become very crowded, and there are lots of me-too brands.
Pharma companies who want to continue influencing doctors will have to adopt new techniques and many have learnt that providing Information Therapy is a much more cost-effective and ethical solution. Companies have always provided educational materials about their drugs, but a lot of this used to be biased and incomplete. Instead of this, if they now invest in providing doctors with Information Therapy tools . both for continuing medical education for the doctor and for his patients, this is likely to be far more useful to the doctor. A doctors professional knowledgebase is his most powerful asset and doctors need to be well-informed and up-to-date. Merck has taken a leadership role in ensuring doctors in the U.S. are updated, by providing them with free access to many medical textbooks and journals through their portal, www.merckmedicus.com. Indian companies are starting to follow in their footsteps by gifting medical books and medical journal subscriptions to doctors. Many have started offering doctors free subscriptions to the worlds largest online medical library, MDConsult at www.thebestmedicalcare.com/mdconsult/index.htm, thus creating a win-win situation.
While the traditional customer for the pharma company was originally the doctor, marketing to the end-user (the patient or the consumer) has become increasingly important. Doctors write the prescriptions, but it is the patients who actually take the medicines! Since pharma companies want to reach out to consumers directly, they now spend a lot of money on DTC . direct to consumer marketing. This is still in its nascent stages in India, but given the huge impact it has had in the USA on increasing drug sales, it is simply a matter of time until Indian companies start using DTC in a big way. However, DTC has backfired since pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. have suffered an image problem by releasing dishonest DTC campaigns, which have been heavily criticized. Indian companies need to be smart and learn from these mistakes. Rather than spend on DTC, which is seen to be advertising, they need to invest in creating disease specific websites that focus on providing Information Therapy to the patient. Disease management is trust marketing . patients log on to websites because they want to learn how to manage their illnesses . and a pharmaceutical company which provides them with reliable information will be seen as trustworthy.
Any time a patient takes a drug, he has lots of questions about it. What are the side-effects? Risks? Complications? A study showing that patient compliance with treatment for high blood pressure was less than 50% revealed the following interesting facts. Many patients are afraid of medications, their side-effects, and the lacklustre attitude of their doctors. If we need to improve patient compliance, we need to analyse the patients perspective . and we can do this by putting patients in charge of their game plan, so they can become active partners in their healthcare. A patient who understands why he needs to take medications for high blood pressure all his life does not need cajoling or bullying!
Information Therapy gives pharma companies an opportunity to reach these influential patients, because it allows them to create a partnership with the patient. Patient education programs can increase patient adherence and retention and provide an excellent return on investment. For example, patient counselling tools for physicians can increase calls from physicians requesting MRs to come back to the clinics and replenish these tools. Digital, customized patient progress self-monitoring tools can motivate patients to stay in therapy, helping both doctors and patients.
Patient education by pharma companies is not new and Eli Lilly and Co. began its Diabetes Interactive Network in the USA in the mid-1990s. However, Indian companies have failed to use the internet to bond with their patients. They can learn a lot from pharma companies abroad, which invest extensively in Information Therapy to improve patient compliance. For example, in Australia, Mirixa uses a web-based clinical system to enable pharma companies to use community pharmacists to deliver personalised medication-related patient care. This increases customer loyalty and improves their market share. Pharma companies that offer their patients online value added services to help them manage their disease have already seen how helpful this is. An excellent example is www.avonex.com by Biogen which sells Interferon for the management of multiple sclerosis. Why arent other companies using similar tools? One possibility is that they are worried about whether these sites are compliant with Indian regulations. It is true that they need to be careful since the information which they provide is in the public domain. This means that it cannot be about marketing their product . it has to be about helping the patient manage his disease. This is why Information Therapy can be so helpful . it helps the pharma company focus on the patients need, and not on their product!