The Doctor Won’t See You Now

US Pharma reps think they have it bad?  Then they should spare are thought for their poor beleaguered colleagues on the other side of the Pond!

According to an article in the industry journal PM Live,  time-pressured doctors in the UK are increasingly refusing to see pharmaceutical sales reps altogether.

A study undertaken by in April 2012 surveyed more than 1,000 General Practitioner’s (GPs). They found that 52% of GPs did not see any pharmaceutical sales representatives in a typical week, while 26% saw only one pharma sales rep during that period.

Lack of time was the most common reason cited by GPs for not seeing pharma sales reps (38%). Other reasons included a practice “no-see” policy and a perceived lack of reps’ impartiality.

At the same time, they learned that doctors are turning to digital channels for independent product information. Nearly a quarter (23%) of the GPs surveyed said they preferred to find their own product information via independent online resources. said its findings follow earlier studies it conducted that show only 3% of doctors think online pharma resources are credible. Worse still 42% said they never visit pharmaceutical websites.

This research would appear to be in line with other trends among healthcare professionals.  European doctors’ use of iPads and other mobile devices is increasing and US pharma execs expect to increase their future spending on digital marketing channels.

SRxA can help Pharma companies to navigate the promotional maze and get the best bang for those pharma dollar bucks. Contact us today to find out more.

FDA Ad Study: Clarifying the Confusion

As a public health agency, the FDA encourages the communication of accurate health messages about medical conditions and treatment.  One way the pharma industry does this is through non-branded disease awareness communications. These are aimed at either the general public or health care practitioners and discuss a particular disease or health condition, without making mention of any specific drug.  Usually, they encourage consumers to seek, and health care practitioners to provide, appropriate treatment for the particular disease state.

This is helpful for under-diagnosed and under-treated diseases such as depression, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, osteoporosis, and diabetes. Some research has shown that consumers prefer disease awareness advertising. It’s considered more informative and less persuasive than full product advertising.

The pharma industry likes it too.  Disease awareness communications are not subject to the regulations and restrictions mandated by the FDA for prescription drug advertising.

But now, the FDA is concerned that disease awareness ads might confuse consumers. According to a Federal Register notice issued on June 20, the agency wants to know whether the public can distinguish between product claims and disease information, and how different types of information impact comprehension.

So worried in fact,  the Agency has planned a study entitled, “Experimental Study: Disease Information in Branded Promotional Material” to look into those questions.

The study will examine print ads for three conditions – COPD, lymphoma and anemia.

4,650 American adults will be divided into three groups and asked to review the ads electronically.

  • One group will see information about the disease that avoids discussion of disease outcomes the drug has not been shown to address i.e.  “Diabetes is a disease in which blood sugar can vary uncontrollably, leading to uncomfortable episodes of high or low blood sugar.”
  • Other participants will see disease information that mentions consequences of the disease that go beyond the indication of the advertised product, such as, “Untreated diabetes can lead to blindness, amputation, and, in some cases, death.”
  • A third group will see drug product information only.

Disease information will be presented in different ways. For example, on alternating paragraphs, on separate pages or in different fonts and colors from product claims.

Specifically the study will address whether or not consumers are able to distinguish between claims made for a medication and general disease information when they see an advertisement for a drug.  For example, if an ad for a drug that lowers blood glucose, mentions diabetic retinopathy do consumers  think the drug will prevent the affliction, even if no direct claim is made?

The Agency says: “If consumers are able to distinguish between disease information and product claims in an ad, then they will not be misled by the inclusion of disease information in a branded ad. If consumers are unable to distinguish these two, however, then consumers may be misled into believing that a particular drug is effective against long-term consequences.”

SRxA’s Word on Health looks forward to seeing the results. Given that warning letters have been issued in the past over ads that contain mixed messages, this is an opportunity for the FDA to revisit its stance toward such advertising, reduce consumer confusion and, most importantly, learn how best to disseminate useful health information.

Treading Lightly – A New Approach for Pharma

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported on a dramatic change occurring in the pharmaceutical industry. The on-line article explored how many of the big pharma companies are changing their commercial model in response to the current economic and regulatory conditions. Most notably, drug reps are being encouraged to soften their sales pitches and re-position themselves as a trusted resource for the doctors they call upon. British drug giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for example, has stopped evaluating salespeople based on the number of prescriptions written  Instead, they look at how well physicians rate their representatives. GSK, Merck and Lilly are also asking their representatives to switch from making forceful, tightly scripted sales pitches to acting more like a resource supporting physicians’ treatment. Companies hope to get a foot in the door by providing practical help, such as assistance educating patients about their diseases or navigating reimbursement. Why now?  Clearly, prescribers, who are under increasing pressure from health plans to curb costs, have less time for, and patience with, persistent sales representatives. Plus, the government has been cracking down on aggressive, and off-label marketing. For some, myself included, this is nothing new. Almost 20 years ago when I worked in pharma, I rarely “detailed” my products. Instead, I helped “my doctors” build websites for their own practices, helped to organize, and on occasions even moderate, their clinical meetings and assisted them with….well just about anything they wanted assistance with, be it product related or not. The strategy worked, sales grew and my competitors, even those with better products or prices were neutralized. Increasing physician satisfaction, it turns out, is a much better way to promote a pharmaceutical agent than simply telling them to write more prescriptions or what the benefits are,” says David Ricks, president of Lilly’s global business unit. Unfortunately, salespeople still can’t provide the one thing many doctors want above all – time!  Even though pharmaceutical companies are attempting to engage prescribers in a more pleasant way, they still don’t always get a positive reception because nothing is being done to solve the doctors’ time problem. The bottom line is that physicians need to fit more patients – not sales reps – into their workday. Although it’s estimated that pharma sales reps  pay 115 million visits to 340,000 doctors each year, 23% of doctors surveyed by market research firm SK&A in 2010 said they don’t see drug reps at all. Eli Lilly decided to adopt its new approach after watching launches of new drugs fail. One problem the company identified was a mismatch between what doctors expected based on sales pitches, and what the products delivered. Before the change in tactics, psychiatrist Carey Cottle, MD says he was more likely to write prescriptions for a competing antidepressant like Pfizer’s  Effexor over Cymbalta, because Lilly representatives had a “high-pressure, car sales-type approach, and it was just not appropriate.” Now, surveys of doctors show that 85% are satisfied with Lilly, up from the 60% before the company changed ways. And business is up too. Sales of Cymbalta were >$450 million higher during the first nine months of 2011, than during the same period in 2010. We’d love to hear what doctors and sales reps think about this.

Doctors don’t care if patients take their medicine

When SRxA’s Word on Health read the above title from fellow healthcare blogger Lucy Pyne, we were intrigued.

Could this be true?   Citing a 2008 study entitled “Just What the Doctor Ordered,” she argues that physicians don’t consider adherence to be their primary responsibility and seriously underestimate the incidence of non-adherence, often thinking that they are unable to address the issue themselves. Instead, they believe that patients are responsible for their own adherence.

Could this be right? When prescribing new or different medication regimens, physicians spend most of the time explaining the purpose and side effects of the drug and sometimes how to take it. Less, and often no time, is spent on consequences of non-adherence, potential interactions, and refills. And in today’s high-volume pharmacy environment,  busy check-outs, drive-thrus, internet pharmacies and home delivery services in-depth pharmacist-to-patient counseling on the safe use of medication is no longer the norm.

Does it matter anyway? There’s plenty of research out there to show that the average patient forgets about half the information provided 15 minutes after meeting with a doctor. Studies also show that patients remember more about diagnosis than the details of treatment.

Hell, Yeah, it does! As a result patients are not being treated properly and the health industry is losing hundreds of millions in revenue. Adherence does matter, and it needs to matter more. There’s an abundance of reasons why patients don’t adhere to their medication. A fear of it harming rather than helping is particularly common.  No surprise then that the most frequently used health-related Google search term is ‘drug side effects.’ And while much of the information on the Internet is accurate, much of it isn’t, requiring healthcare professionals to rebut false information and deliver accurate instructions.

So, what are the options? According to Pyne, the pharma industry must review its approach to marketing. In order to maximize sales and overcome the dangerous consequences of patient non-adherence, the issue of non-adherence cannot be ignored for much longer.  Something needs to change. The simple truth is, drugs don’t work if patients don’t take them. SRxA can help industry address and solve their adherence problems. We have developed a number of unique programs that not only improve medication usage and prescription refills, but deliver better health and reduced costs. Contact us today to learn more.

What Women Want…

…aside from a great body, a good man and killer shoes! Today we’re talking health, and women’s health in particular. We all know that health is the most searched topic on the internet so it’s hardly surprising that approximately 34.5 million women aged 40-59 go online each month.  and that 56% of them say they frequently use online sources of health information.  However, this doesn’t automatically mean they believe what they find. Internet giant Yahoo! and internet marketing experts Digitas Health partnered to thoroughly understand this group of women as people, not just as patients. They interviewed and surveyed thousands of women across America to better understand how they think and feel about their life stage, their health and caring for others with health conditions. According to the results of the  Yahoo!  / Digitas Health survey, just 21% of women aged 40-50 strongly agree with the statement “I trust the health info I find online.” Some other major insights emerged.

  • 66% of midlife women pointed to “no hidden agenda” as one of the attributes they strongly value in online health information
  • 67% said that they strongly value “information that is easy to digest and understand”

Pharmaceutical marketers take note! Women in this age demographic are a critical audience for advertisers based on their tremendous spending power and because roughly 3 out of 4 have at least one health condition. clearly there is room for improvement. “Two-thirds of the women we spoke to strongly agree that they need to understand the pros and cons when making decisions about health,” says Amy Janis, Senior Manager of B2B Market Research for Yahoo!  “It’s not that these women feel that brands have some ‘hidden agenda’; it’s more that they want companies to have ‘her best interests in mind.” It turns out what women want is: factual and prescriptive information that delivers emotional support and confidence to help her feel like she is making the right decisions. So what does this mean for pharmaceutical marketers? According to the study authors,  they need to :

  • Be honest and strong
  • Be everywhere she is
  • Be in the content she cares about
  • Be present emotionally
  • Be specific to health styles

SRxA’s Word on Health believes that given consumers’ cautious attitude toward the health-related material they find online, direct-to-consumer marketers must make transparency a priority in the material they present on the web. It’s time to set aside overt commercial agendas and ensure that the data provided is consistent with the type of unbiased health information they would receive from their healthcare professional. The industry also needs to recognize that patients and consumers are unlikely to base their healthcare decisions based solely on the information provided on one site. As such it makes sense to provide links to other credible health information online and hyperlinks to help people navigate and understand complex medical terminology. Better still, pharmaceutical companies can partner with independent third party specialist healthcare consultancy organizations, such as SRxA, to write credible peer-reviewed copy that talks directly to their target audience. For more information contact us today.

Pharma-Physician Interactions Perceived Positively

According to a survey released last week, nearly eight out of 10 physicians view pharmaceutical research companies and their sales representatives as useful sources of information on prescription medicines.

That’s good news for pharmaceutical marketers who spent $24 billion between October 2009 and September 2010 on physician-targeted promotional spending, and an additional $1 billion on continuing medical education.

The telephone survey of more than 500 American Medical Association members found that physicians consider a range of sources useful for staying informed about medicines. In addition to sales reps and company-sponsored peer education programs, doctors also rated continuing medical education (CME) courses, peer-reviewed medical journals, and their fellow physicians as useful sources of information.

The survey also found that physicians consider a broad range of factors in making their prescribing decisions, with almost all respondents relying on their clinical knowledge and experience as well as a patient’s response to a particular medicine. More than 80% reported that they take into consideration a patient’s insurance factors, such as formulary and prior authorization requirements, with just under 70% using information provided by pharmaceutical company representatives

The survey, which was supported by PhRMA, also looked closely at how physician respondents view their interactions with pharmaceutical company representatives.

More than 90% responded that interactions with representatives allow them to learn about new indications for approved medicines, potential side effects of medicines, and both emerging benefits and risks of medicines.  In addition, 84% of physicians said that interactions with representatives allow them the opportunity to provide feedback to a pharmaceutical company about their experiences with a specific medicine.  Large majorities also found information from company representatives to be up-to-date and timely (94 %), useful (92%), and reliable (84%).

The survey also included several questions about company-sponsored peer education programs, in which physicians present to their peers. Nearly 9 out of 10 of physicians who reported attending these programs said the information was up-to-date, useful and reliable.

Physicians attending peer education programs reported gaining a range of information, including: improved clinical knowledge (98%), potential side effects of medicines (97% ), new uses of medicines (97%), the range of treatment options (97%), and emerging drug risks (95%). Importantly, 94% said the programs strengthened their ability to care for patients.

Peer education programs allow physicians to have important dialogues with their expert colleagues. This sharing of information ultimately benefits the patients they treat,” said PhRMA’s John Castellani.

SRxA and its team of independent Clinical Advisors specializes in providing support to the pharmaceutical industry and has developed a number of highly successful and unique peer-to-peer education programs. For more information, contact us today.

Budget reductions in healthcare marketing

A recent survey of pharmaceutical executives conducted by FirstWord Pharma suggests that lower budgets will be the biggest change in healthcare marketing and communications over the coming year.

Of the 539 people surveyed across 64 countries, 62% expected reduced financial resources. In fact, more than two-thirds of respondents saw this as the largest challenge to be faced in 2011.

Globally, more than half of those surveyed indicated that stricter rules on product advertising would be a key factor during the coming year.

Other changes identified by the respondents included:

  • an increased focus on digital channels for marketing communications
  • the rise of the informed patient
  • a decrease in the use of traditional advertising and detailing aids

What are your biggest challenges for 2011?  Word on Health would love to hear from you.

Pharmaceutical Marketing – new year, new challenges, new solutions?

As each week passes, regulations governing prescriber-sales rep interactions seem to tighten and as a result fewer and fewer physicians are admitting reps to their offices. In parallel more and more doctors are looking on line for the information they need about the drugs they prescribe and products they use.  It’s not surprising, then, that so many pharmaceutical companies have pared down their field sales force.

Increasingly the pharma rep is being replaced by internet based customer-centric strategies, portable technology and other forms of closed-loop marketing.  This seismic shift in pharmaceutical sales and marketing means there are fewer face-to-face meetings and that doctors have relatively limited opportunities to interact and share knowledge with their peers.

However, a recent survey undertaken by SRxA, shows this is precisely what doctors want.

Because the traditional pharma sponsored dinner is no longer acceptable in today’s heighted era of regulatory scrutiny, SRxA has worked with its team of clinical advisors to develop a number of exciting new and compliant approaches. Healthcare professionals from all specialties who have participated in these events have unanimously rated the programs as “excellent” and our clients are delighted with their return on investment.

Undoubtedly, healthcare marketing is a much tougher business than it was just a few years ago. Rising costs, increased regulatory pressure, and shrinking sales forces, mean it’s harder than ever to reach physicians and patients. To succeed, you need to tailor your marketing strategies to the changing times.

Our team of pharmaceutical marketing experts and clinical advisors will work closely with you to:

  • Identify gaps and opportunities in your current strategy
  • Build enduring relationships with consumers and healthcare professionals through targeted, effective multi-channel programs

To find out more about the SRxA survey, the “for physicians – by physicians” programs, and how SRxA can help you meet your marketing objectives, contact us today.

Broken promises & fresh starts

SRxA’s Word on Health can’t help but wonder how Abbott employees are feeling today after learning that 3,000 jobs are to be cut.  According to Bloomberg, the corporate axe will fall as part of the company’s restructuring plan following its acquisition of Solvay’s pharmaceuticals business.

How ironic and painful it must be each time they see their corporate mission statement:  “A Promise For Life.”

So who will stay and who will go?  According to the company, most of the positions to be eliminated will be in sales, corporate staff, manufacturing and research.  While we’re not quite sure who that leaves, we do know that there will soon be a lot more pharma people out there looking for jobs.

Though few Abbott workers will take comfort from the fact that the restructuring will result in savings of $810 to $970 million over the next two years, they are certainly not alone.

2010 has been a busy year for the pharma chopping block.  A Google search on “pharmaceutical sales job cuts + 2010” elicited 331,000 results.

In the last quarter alone, Astra Zeneca, Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Roche, Takeda, and UCB have all announced significant reductions of their sales force.

It’s all a far, far cry from the pharmaceutical industry zenith of 2004 when roughly 105,000 sales reps were employed in the US.

These latest job cuts appear to support the notion that the pharmaceutical industry is moving away from transactional selling to more value-oriented or solution-oriented selling.  Without its traditional army of sales reps the pharmaceutical industry will need to come up with new and better ways of engaging the physicians.

SRxA is here to help.  Contact us today to learn how we can help you to create and deliver successful programs in these changing times.