But the changing relationship between patients and primary physicians has impacted a larger ecosystem, including pharmaceutical companies.
Traditionally, pharmaceutical companies focused their sales efforts towards physicians. Indeed, until the 1980’s, pharmaceuticals were not advertised to general consumers in most jurisdictions. Interestingly, much of the pressure to ban such advertising came from physicians and organizations such as the American Medical Association (AMA) in the United States.
In recent years direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising has grown substantially. Such advertising is often a leading source of information for patients.
Most direct-to-consumer advertising has been through traditional media such as television, radio, magazines and newspapers, but the pharmaceutical industry has been increasingly employing new digital media through specialized web and social media sites, as well as through online advertising and search engine (e.g. Google) marketing.
Regulations usually require that advertisement disclose potential side effects, and these disclosures can be quite extensive.
“Ask your doctor about drug X. It might not be right for you. Side effects include…”
But are pharmaceutical companies gaining maximal benefits from these efforts and can they do so with the agreement of consumers?
Effective management of a marketing campaign depends on access to metrics on effectiveness. In the case of prescription pharmaceutical advertising useful metrics can be hard to obtain. Consumers do not have freedom of choice in selecting pharmaceuticals in ways that they do for other products they see advertised; they depend on their physician to provide a prescription. Many patients do not fill prescriptions they receive, and even when they do, they may not take the medication according to the directions or for the prescribed duration. They are influenced by friends and family, and their emotional state can change markedly during the course of a disease.
Self Care Catalysts is an example of a company that aims to help pharmaceutical marketers better understand different types of patients and how those patients change during the course of disease development. As Self Care Catalysts say:
“Health care behavior is a paradox; people know what to do, but they don't do it. We untangle your patients' decision conflicts around managing their health…
We cut through research clutter to explain and isolate the "whats and whys" of consumer health behavior.”