Good Tailoring

Does your marketing campaign reach the huddled masses of frustrated or illiterate consumers?
Jul 02, 2007


Jessica DiPaolo
Americans have a well-documented appetite for health information. Analysts and others have watched consumers' growing interest in managing their healthcare—a trend supported by the increasing traffic to disease and drug Web sites—and have interpreted it as a symbol of the age of the empowered healthcare consumer.

Certainly, knowledge is power. However, according to the American Academy of Physicians (AAP), there are now more than 24,000 medications on the market, each with its own body of clinical and safety information. Consumers must wade through reams of information from disparate sources, spending lots of time clicking around, comparing one site to the next, just to get a handle on the basic health and safety information of a treatment. In this age of the self-motivated consumer, it's no wonder many patients might feel overwhelmed.

According to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), a national literacy study undertaken every decade that for the first time benchmarked health literacy in the United States, one-third of Americans can't read, understand, or act on the most basic medical information. That means, after looking at the label on their medicines, the 75 million US citizens with basic or below-basic health-literacy skills still don't know when or how to take their treatments correctly.

Low health literacy is linked to poor outcomes, including higher rates of hospitalization and death, according to former US Surgeon General Richard Carmona. And in the United States, it is the poorest, least-educated, and most vulnerable populations that have the largest disconnect between information, comprehension, and willingness to act. This is a particularly acute problem for senior citizens, who visit eight physicians and fill an average of 27 prescriptions annually, according to the AAP. This makes seniors the highest users of prescription drugs, yet they have the lowest average health-literacy score among all adults.

Certainly, a long-term view of health literacy should include solutions to increase overall literacy and strategies to empower people to take charge of their health. That being said, pharma companies can make an immediate impact on health literacy by adjusting their marketing approaches and materials to be more patient-centric.

Health Information, for You

Pharmaceutical companies spend billions of dollars to develop, refine, and launch marketing campaigns; identify treatment barriers; and create new messages to promote their brands. But the problem with the broadcast-marketing model is that patients' understanding of and ability to act on marketing messages is not on an even plane.

For example, let's look at the growing therapeutic area of statins, prescribed for cholesterol reduction, which have held a fair share of the DTC market in recent years. According to the American Heart Association, fewer than one-half of people with symptomatic coronary heart disease (CHD) are on a lipid-lowering treatment such as a statin. Despite sizable advertising efforts, many patients remain untreated. Even people exhibiting CHD symptoms, who should be most receptive to statin advertising, have not been converted to treaters.

Newer broadcast DTC messages focus on managing good and bad cholesterol (HDL and LDL, respectively), or treating cholesterol imbalances caused by both a patient's family history and food sources. While this shift in messaging is based on important research and clinical guidelines, the campaigns fail to drive action among a large number of CHD patients.