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Say What? The Doctor-Patient Conversation


Pharmaceutical Executive

We spend a lot of time focusing on what our advertising says to physicians, what our reps say to physicians, and what our websites and various other channels communicate to patients.

We spend a lot of time focusing on what our advertising says to physicians, what our reps say to physicians, and what our websites and various other channels communicate to patients. All are important in the marketing of pharma brands. But there’s another critical communication channel we can’t ignore: the doctor-patient conversation.

Here’s a suggestion: Do some research with physician and patients (separately) and ask them what goes on during a typical visit. Ask how a diagnosis is delivered, how medication is explained, and what is discussed in terms of disease course or future treatment. My bet is that you’ll get two entirely different accounts.

Physicians believe they are clear, thorough, and supportive. Patients feel doctors don’t have time to answer their questions. Physicians think patients have become more demanding in terms of information. Patients think they’re not getting the information they need from their doctors. This disconnect is of growing interest as doctor-patient communication is recognized as critical to good patient outcomes. Methods to improve communication are even being studied in clinical settings.

So what’s the point? The point is that your brand is often at the center of these conversations. The moment of truth for your brand isn’t when a doctor reads your ad or tells a rep she will try it on her next patient. The moment of truth is in the exam room, between the physician and the patient. That’s when your brand is introduced, suggested, explained, and prescribed. A second moment of truth comes once that script is filled-whether or not your patient takes your brand as prescribed. Success at both of these critical points relies heavily on the doctor-patient conversation.

If you don’t know how information about your brand is being communicated from your target customer to your target patient, you’re missing a critical link in the transaction chain. Efficacy expectations may not be properly set by the physician. Patients may resist therapy because they don’t understand potential side effects. Any number of communication mishaps can prevent those scripts from being written.

The good news is that you can have an impact on this conversation. But it goes beyond printing the standard “You and Your New Drug” patient brochure. It takes:

  • Consistency and clarity across channels. Make sure your KOLs are delivering the same brand benefits as your reps. The more times a physician hears the same thing, the more likely he’ll be to communicate it to the patient during the office visit.

  • Support, support, support. Staff education, in-office materials, practice support. Be helpful-physicians are busier than ever and need the assistance.

  • Gap fillers. If you find there’s a gap in the in-office dialogue, fill it. Implement patient support programs to provide what patients aren’t getting from their physicians. Provide offices with fair, balanced, non-promotional disease education for their patients.

But before you try any of these, you need to first listen to what’s being said. What you hear may surprise you.

Abby Mansfield is SVP, creative director, at Topin & Associates. She can be reached at amansfield@topin.com.

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