Professional Promotion Through Patient Understanding

Patient-feedback programs can go a long way in helping physicians understand which drugs work
Jul 03, 2007

Paul LeVine
Far too often, physicians receive feedback about a medication they are prescribing only when the drug is working poorly or not at all. But what about when a drug is doing its job? How often do doctors hear from their patients about the positive aspects of their treatment? Unless the patient has a follow-up visit already scheduled, the usual answer is never.

So what's the problem? Query a few physicians and you'll generally hear the same refrain: "Well, if I haven't heard from the patient, I assume he's OK" or "Most of the time, the patient will call me if there's a problem." This asymmetry of information is known more colloquially as "no news is good news." And while it may serve physicians reasonably well, this way of thinking does nothing for pharmaceutical companies looking for feedback about their drug promotions.

The Role of Patient Feedback

One solution to this problem is to use patient-feedback programs to deliver key product messages to physicians. Often these approaches are offered as customer-relationship-management programs or other consumer-based initiatives that offer drug manufacturers real-world data about the use of their products. But there is one key problem with this approach: These initiatives almost never provide consumer/patient feedback to the prescribing physicians. These programs usually include surveys of patients, some educational material, and targeted mailings to patients—but they never make the link back to the person who controls the prescribing.

Jeanne Zucker
Though it may sound paradoxical, the most effective deployment of a patient-feedback program is within a pharmaceutical brand's professional promotions activities.

Here's how a patient-feedback program should work: Pharma sales reps invite physicians to participate in the program. It is introduced as a hassle-free way to receive direct feedback from their patients about a particular brand of prescribed treatment. Once the physicians have signed up, they are provided with material to distribute to patients. When the medication is first prescribed to a patient, the physician encourages the patient to participate in the program and provide feedback about his or her experience. The patient takes a baseline survey to establish his prior medication use, symptom assessment, and condition awareness. He then will take one or more follow-up surveys, which assess his experience with the newly prescribed treatment. The design and scheduling of the surveys are aligned to focus on the key attributes of the product. An individual patient report is delivered to the physician immediately and provides the physician with comparative survey responses. Ideally, the report is discussed with the patient at a follow-up appointment—but even if not, the information about the patient's treatment experience has been provided to the physician.

Average NRx Lift
If constructed correctly, a patient-feedback program offers two distinct advantages: First, it leverages the academic detail that reps are providing about the product, thereby extending the influence, and second, it "supercharges" the effect by tying the key product attributes to that physician's own patients—thereby making the product messaging highly personal and relevant.

A Midcourse Correction

Patient-feedback programs can be implemented at any time during the product life cycle. The following is an example of a feedback program established as part of a midcourse correction.

A manufacturer was having a hard time penetrating a competitive class within the sphere of central nervous system treatments. The product launched with the expectation that its different mechanism of action would beat the market leader, and indeed, the product had some distinct advantages: faster clearance, no residual effects, and greater flexibility of use. However, it had one major disadvantage—a shorter duration of effect.

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