Direct to Consumer: Don't Wait

By stocking waiting rooms with educational drug information, pharma can help get doctor–patient communication off on the right foot.
Dec 01, 2006

Charlene Prounis is managing partner at Flashpoint Medica. She can be reached at [email protected]
When a pharmaceutical product faces tough positioning challenges, sometimes the answer is to focus not just on the messages sent to doctors and patients, but on the messages doctors and patients communicate to each other. That insight lies behind a new approach to marketing known as doctor–patient encounter (DPE) communication. DPE includes the use of targeted waiting-room literature to encourage patients to engage in more proactive conversations with their doctors about specific medications.

DPE: Now More Than Ever

Glenn MacEachern is marketing manager at, Schwarz Pharma. He can be reached at [email protected]
According to market research from the National Council on Patient Information and Education, patients immediately forget 50 percent of verbal information from their doctors. Furthermore, within an hour of leaving the doctor's office, 60 percent of patients cannot recall the actions the doctor suggested they take, and only 35 percent of patients get instructions on how to take their medication.

Patients should understand their diagnoses, be empowered to ask questions, and feel understood by their physicians. But the unfortunate reality is that doctor–patient relationships are often fraught with conflict. Traditionally, patients have viewed doctors as authority figures, and have taken on submissive, passive, and compliant roles. Pharma companies can help build stronger bonds between patients and doctors by developing a DPE strategy that can spark more fluid conversations and promote a branded drug at the same time.

DPE programs are designed to address communication issues and the snafus and clinical missteps that inevitably occur as a result of miscommunication. When the basic elements of a well-formulated DPE are combined, the outcomes are positive. Patients are more adherent to therapy and take better care of themselves, and overall, both patients and physicians are more satisfied.

On the most fundamental level, DPE communication programs should take into account all aspects of human nature. It is human nature to feel ashamed of losing control of one's emotions, just as it is human nature to pick up non-threatening, attractive reading material positioned at eye level in the waiting room of a physician's office. DPE programs should help build relationships, initiate conversations about specific concerns, help generate useful information, provide insight into the patient perspective, and provide a context in which an agreement is reached.

Push for Positioning

Empowered through learning Strategically placed pamphlets and other informational marketing materials in a doctor´s office can help patients better understand their disease and the medication available. This leads to smarter conversations between doctors and patients.
Schwarz Pharma's DPE campaign for Niravam (alprazolam, orally disintegrating tablets) is one example of a successful marketing program that was conceived to both spur doctor–patient conversation and differentiate the anti-anxiety drug from similar medications.

As Schwarz Pharma prepared to launch Niravam for the treatment of anxiety and panic disorder in August 2005, there were several marketing challenges. Besides the traditional struggle to raise awareness about general anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder (PD), and successfully address the stigma related to these disorders, brand managers faced significant competition from generic Xanax (alprazolam, tablets). With all these factors weighing on the success of the drug, the company needed a sound patient-positioning strategy, based on unique and relevant brand-related features.

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