Industry Insider: Cast a Wide Net

Jul 01, 2002

Joan Sinopoli
As president of the market research company Consumer Health Sciences, Joan Sinopoli has a tight grasp of consumer attitudes toward pharma marketing and products. Seven years of experience in multiple therapeutic areas leads her to conclude that it's a mistake to underestimate the impact of non-physician healthcare providers-or, as she calls them, "healthcare extenders"-on patient compliance with pharma treatment.

PE: What roles do healthcare extenders play in pharma's relationships with doctors and patients?

Consider the Source
Sinopoli: Although pharmacists, nutritionists, nurses, physical therapists, and even medical office managers may not write prescriptions, they can reinforce doctors' recommendations and help confirm or redirect consumers' preconceptions, reinforce compliant behavior, and relate to patients on a personal level. They're the ones patients talk to about their medications and how they feel about their treatments. (See "Consider the Source.")

Many pharma companies are creating tag-along programs for office staff to complement their direct-to-physician promotions because there are a lot of those "oh, by the way" conversations that take place with someone other than the physician at the point of service. In fact, educating non-physician professionals about treatments, their potential benefits, and how to talk to patients while they're waiting may enhance the productivity of the doctor-patient conversation.

PE: Is pharma doing enough to recognize pharmacists' impact, in particular?

Sinopoli: Pharma companies need to incorporate pharmacists into their marketing mix. How do you let a pharmacist know that new therapies are available, and what emphasis do you place on that? How do you talkto them about their own switching behavior when the patient comes in and why it's important to stick with the brand prescribed?

PE: What's the value of word of mouth?

Sinopoli: Patients seek out family and friends to provide healthcare information almost as frequently as they consult doctors, whether in regard to allergies or prostate cancer. Creating a word-of-mouth brand can influence consumers' initial impressions. That addresses the fact that DTC and public relations together contribute to the knowledge base of family and friends. That's where those influencers get their information. For many consumers, the word on the street is as every bit as important as the doctor's when they first seek disease or treatment information.

Nevertheless, trust still lies not only with doctors, but with the professionals working around them. And that's a trust worth cultivating. After all, the doctor isn't waiting around five minutes after you've put a prescrip-tion in your purse, when you have that one last question before you go.

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