Direct to Consumer: Building the Super Consumer

Tailored self-management programs turn regular people into ideal healthcare consumers.
Jun 01, 2006

Kristine Nash-Wong
They can't leap tall buildings in a single bound, but in the world of pharmaceutical marketing, "super consumers" are undisputed heroes. Long recognized in the United Kingdom and acknowledged recently in the work of Kate Lorig at Stanford University, the super consumer is, simply put, an expert patient.

Super consumers are self-driven, take-charge folks who possess the confidence, skills, and knowledge to better self-manage chronic conditions and general health challenges such as obesity, stress, and lack of sleep or exercise. Compared with the rest of the population, they make better use of healthcare resources, have better relationships with providers, and exhibit higher levels of treatment compliance. Super consumers have not only the ability to identify their symptoms, but also the initiative to go to the doctor and request a prescription, generally by brand name. They also readily fill their prescriptions, take medication as prescribed, and get refills on time. Once acquired, brand managers should have little trouble maintaining long-term relationships with super consumers. And, these expert patients typically share their great brand experience with friends and family, who become potential new customers for the brand.

The Path to Super Consumer
But here's the rub: Super consumers currently represent only a fraction of the drug-buying population. What is promising, however, is that most "average Joe" consumers aspire to be expert patients, too. They are highly motivated to manage their healthcare, but they just don't know how.

How can brand managers empower average Joes to become super consumers? Self-management programs have been shown to develop confidence and motivation by teaching participants how to use their own skills and knowledge to take control of their healthcare. According to a recent study by HealthMedia, 60 percent of those who participated in its chronic condition self-management programs enrolled as average Joes. Of that group, 53 percent reported that the programs improved the way they managed their medical conditions. (See "The Path to Super Consumer," page 106.) And, particularly when administered online, self-management programs are an extremely cost-effective alternative to traditional media.

From Average Joe to Super Consumer

Meet "Joe," a 47-year-old man with hypertension and type II diabetes. Because he has a demanding job, Joe relies on his wife to make his doctors' appointments and to fill his prescriptions. Joe doesn't like going to the doctor and sometimes forgets to take his medications and check his blood sugar. And, because his hypertension is now symptom-free, he questions his need for medication. Still, Joe is very motivated to take better control of his health so he can get back to his Saturday golf game.

To transform Joe into a super consumer, a self-management program must address his ability—or inability—to identify symptoms and treatment and to communicate clearly with his physician. This program also must look at Joe's willingness to fill and refill prescriptions and to take medications as prescribed. And finally, the program must successfully identify and break down each of Joe's many hurdles to success.

A number of psychological and practical barriers could be interfering with Joe's initial doctor appointment, such as not having a regular healthcare provider or having a poor relationship with his established provider, general discomfort about going to the doctor, lack of insurance to cover the visit, lack of transportation to the doctor's office, an inability or unwillingness to get time off for the appointment, and so on. Once Joe finally makes it past these barriers to get to the doctor's office, he'll have to jump over several new hurdles before earning the title of super consumer: Can he converse with his physician in a clear, concise, and self-assured manner? Does he have the information he needs to make behavior changes that will improve his overall health? Is he educated about his treatment options? And will he be both compliant and persistent with a prescription regimen?

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