Direct to Consumer: The Not-So-Cold Call - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Direct to Consumer: The Not-So-Cold Call
Think telephone outreach is out of touch? Think again. The phone is making a comeback.


Pharmaceutical Executive


Here's one real world example: A major pharmaceutical company launched an inbound calling program—powered by speech-recognition technology—and promoted it through direct mail flyers and point-of-sale displays at drugstores. People who called the number were engaged in a conversation around the target condition. More than 90 percent of the callers screened positively for the condition, based on their responses to a series of branching logic questions.

For this population, the system offered to share more information about a specific drug that might help ease the caller's self-reported symptoms—providing each person with just the right "dose" of information. Eligible callers were then offered a coupon for a specific drug. One hundred percent of the people with the target condition accepted the coupon.

Let's take another example: A manufacturer partnering with a health plan launched an outbound calling program based on demographics and claims data. The calling program reached out with tailored screening questions and information about a specific blood pressure medication. The goal was to help undiagnosed or at-risk members gain access to appropriate therapies. Subsequent review revealed that the number of patients in control of their blood pressure increased by more than 21 percentage points.

Insight at the Individual Level

Well-designed interactions can help pharmas identify and address common barriers to healthy behavior at an individual level, offering feedback and triggering additional support (such as a transfer to a nurse or a tailored e-mail) as appropriate. And as the system learns more about a person, future interactions can be even more helpful.

For example, you may learn when reaching out to a population of diabetics that Janet, a 40-year-old single mother of three, isn't taking her medication because she can't afford to and that Carlotta, a 40-year-old single Hispanic woman, is having difficulty communicating with her physician regarding concerns she has about side effects. You can use this insight to create campaigns targeted to single moms, 40 year olds, Hispanics, and so forth.

A "Call" to Action

Companies using this marketing approach are seeing response rates that far surpass direct-mail and e-mail initiatives.

One national organization aiming to drive requests for information about a depression medication shifted from direct mail to speech-enabled phone calls—and saw its response rate increase 27-fold. In fact, more than 95 percent of patients who interact with the phone-based program ask for follow-up materials. Another drug company found that phone-based outreach was more than 14 times more successful than e-mail at driving asthmatic consumers to a Web survey.

These aren't just flukes. Data support the fact that people are willing to interact over the phone about their health. Hang-up rates are low—between 3 and 7 percent—and once a person is on the phone with a well-designed program, between 85 percent and 90 percent of them complete the call.

Warm Up the Phone

Today, pharma companies are using the ubiquitous telephone to bring health education and assessments to life through real conversations, with content that's personalized to an individual's specific concerns. In addition, pharma is getting a better handle on how a population is living, thinking, and making decisions about their care. Do it right, and that cold call becomes something people can warm up to.

Alexandra Drane is cofounder and senior vice president of Eliza Corporation. She can be reached at


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