Alternative Media: Time to Change the Channel - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Alternative Media: Time to Change the Channel
Upgraded hospital television and Internet systems equal new marketing opportunities.

Pharmaceutical Executive


How has hospital receptivity to pharma programming changed?

Five years ago, hospitals would have nothing to do with pharmaceutical advertising in the patient room. They thought it would be too skewed with pushing a certain drug over another. It was kind of taboo. Today, that is starting to change. Hospitals' margins are being squeezed. Payer mixes are changing. Reimbursement percentages are declining. They're always pressured on their financial performance and margins. I think a hospital may be more likely today to say to the patient, "Merck is going to sponsor some health education for you and recommend some of its products." In return, Merck would give the hospital "X" to get to that dedicated audience. Hospital executives are much more receptive to that idea today, just due to their financial pressures. It allows a company to sponsor or partner with various hospitals to educate patients about a disease and have direct interaction with their core audience right at that "moment of truth."

How can this help brand teams with gathering information about patients?

On the market-research side, pharma companies can get a lot of information from patients via real-time surveys.

Pharma companies could draft a standard five-, eight-, or 10-question survey about a respective disease state that they want to gather more information on, and distribute it electronically to the patients during their hospital stay. If there's a negative response to any of the survey questions, a service alert would be sent to the company. These surveys would give pharma the ability to gather real-time patient feedback on whatever they want to gather feedback on.

What types of content should pharma companies distribute through this kind of service?

Straight-up ads, no. That is not the approach. Companies should create materials that work on a health-education platform. For example, you have a health-education video, a five-minute video on diabetes. It's branded by Merck, it's branded by Johnson & Johnson. At the end of the video, the sponsor company could feature a series of products that it offers to help fight the disease.

What hospitals want is a general-education video about various disease states and then, maybe at the end, sponsored information on what drugs the patient should consider. Hospitals want health services that come across as truly being in the best interest of the patient.

GE used to have this free health-education platform that it would give to hospitals, but it included a lot of advertisements from pharmaceutical companies and was not well-received because hospitals don't want advertising. If a program is going to be integrated into a health-education or health-services platform, it needs to have objective value to the patients.

Is it ethical for pharma companies to market to patients in hospital rooms?

Hospitals want the best drugs provided to their patients, and the patient needs to have a choice. Whether hospitals are going to be receptive to the idea of pharma companies having a hand in what kinds of education patients are receiving while on hospital grounds remains to be seen. I don't know the answer to that. I think it's a pretty gray area today.

For pharmaceutical marketers, this would be a new model that would require pharma companies to sit down with the hospitals to really determine where the value is. Both parties need to ask: Where can we provide the most value in regards to patients' health education, exposing the right product, and bringing value to the marketers?


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