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
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.