Weathering the Storm - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Weathering the Storm

Pharmaceutical Executive


Help Patients Financially

Pharmaceutical companies have long provided financial assistance to patients who cannot afford their drugs. AstraZeneca, for example, has offered patient prescription-assistance programs for 30 years, and actively promotes its AZ&Me prescription savings program. AZ goes even further with some of its prescription brands, such as Symbicort, for which it offers a Measures of Success program that bundles adherence programs, reminders, and money-saving coupons.

As an increasing number of consumers run into financial difficulties, many for the first time, they may be unaware of these programs or be too embarrassed to seek help. It's our job as marketing professionals to help direct distressed patients to programs that will help them maintain their health—and their loyalty to our brands.


Sample Decisional Balance Tool
A word of caution: Pay close attention to the tone of your financial assistance copy. It can be a touchy subject with patients, and it's easy to make mistakes. Here are two examples taken from the Web sites of major pharma companies:
  • From Schering-Plough "Schering-Plough believes that the pharmaceutical industry needs to address the challenges facing low-income, chronically ill, underinsured and/or other uninsured people who cannot access the prescription medicines they need to improve their health."
  • From GlaxoSmithKline "Healthcare costs are an issue—for all of us. Getting sick carries with it a lot of concerns. Will I feel well again? Will I miss work? What about my family? How much will it cost? As healthcare costs have gone up, some patients feel that they have to do without medicines they need. That's why we offer savings programs and coupons in addition to the many programs available elsewhere."

While Schering-Plough addresses financial assistance as if it's a public policy issue, GSK addresses it as a personal concern using warm, understanding language. Patients will appreciate this empathy, and be more likely to raise their hands and take advantage of the offer—which in turn will make them more loyal to the brand.

Enable Healthy Choices

Usually, patient education takes a top-down approach. Patients struggling with chronic disease, however, tend to tune out even the best advice. To reach them, marketers can't simply issue instructions. Instead, the patient must feel empowered. After all, while the brand is the expert about the product and the disease, the patient is the expert on his or her life.

One proven, effective, and very simple tool to empower patients is a "decisional balance tool"—a graphic presentation that helps patients balance the pluses and minuses of various health decisions, and understand the trade-offs they are making. For example, a decisional balance tool created for the American College of Sports Medicine compares the benefits and costs of regular exercise with those of inactivity. (See chart, left).

The power of these assessments is to highlight the often strong dissonance between patients' actions and their highly cherished values and goals, which helps motivate them to take action.

When patients feel stressed and vulnerable, as they do now, the opportunity is ripe for pharmaceutical brands to benefit by partnering with patients to help keep them healthy through the hard times. Those patients will thank you with their loyalty and their adherence to their medications.

Maryann Kuzel is president of Star Healthcare. She can be reached at


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