Medical consumer devices as product drivers in prescription drug marketing

Bob Rava and Dominic Meyer

GfK HealthCare

In Europe, where no direct to patient (DTP) marketing for prescription drugs is allowed, medical consumer devices, like injection devices (e.g., reusable insulin pens), are the only way to indirectly promote pharmaceutical prescription drugs. In the United States, patients will choose and / or switch their consumer devices primarily based on ease or intuitive use.

Therefore manufacturers of prescription drugs that are being administered in a medical device (such as inhalers or injection devices) have to prepare their medical consumer devices as patient or caregiver focused (depending on indication and patient population) as much as possible – and that is the point where UX (user experience) market research activities become very important.

This article is about…

• How to leverage from reusable medical devices to push prescription drugs sales

• Market research activities that are helping to optimize reusable medical consumer devices

“…the ease of usability for a consumer device is a critical step that must be conducted in a systematic manner.”

The role of reusable medical consumer devices in pharmaceutical marketing

In Europe DTP marketing for pharmaceutical prescription drugs is not allowed, whereas in other countries, such as the United States, DTP marketing is allowed but is closely monitored. For prescription drugs that can be administered via a reusable medical consumer device (such as injection systems, insulin pumps, inhalers, etc.), this burden of no DTP marketing or close monitoring can be overcome. Here are some examples:

• Europe, for example, allows the launch of DTP marketing activities in diabetes patient journals for insulin pens, insulin pumps and diagnostic devices (such as blood sugar meters) as long as these devices do not directly contain the active substance of the prescription drug.

• On the other hand, in the U.S., using such a reusable consumer medical device allows marketers to obtain additional marketing claims that extend the original marketing claims linked to the prescription drug product labeling.

Market research activities helping to optimize reusable medical consumer devices

Considering the big picture process of events that occur before, during and after an organization decides to launch a product (see below), the ease of usability for a consumer device is a critical step that must be conducted in a systematic manner. Given the high level of investment into market assessments and the need for strong and relevant value propositions, the final phase of testing the consumer’s touch, feel and use of the devices can be the deciding factor of success or failure in a new product launch.

Figure 1: Detailed device product development process

The development of a consumer friendly reusable medical consumer device is challenging because different consumer groups have different device needs. Here are some examples:

• Type I Diabetes – Insulin pens or insulin pumps: Type I diabetes patients are a rather active patient population, and insulin – in our days – is being administered irregularly (mainly on demand). Therefore insulin pens and insulin pumps must reflect the needs of an active, mobile and younger patient population. Usually this patient population is easy to teach more complex device handling.

“…the final phase of testing the consumer’s touch, feel and use of the devices can be the deciding factor of success or failure in a new product launch.”

• COPD – Inhalers: COPD patients on the other hand are an elderly, rather inactive patient population living their daily routine and are not flexible enough to learn the handling of more complex devices. Therefore an inhaler for a COPD prescription drug does not really require a mobile design but does demand a very easy device-handling.

For both examples described above, customer needs are very different. The two populations have their specific needs, and this usually also applies to certain subpopulations (or customer segments – examples for the diabetes patient population could be “diabetes patients that are traveling for business” vs. “diabetes patients that do not travel for business,” or “diabetes patients that are athletic” vs. “diabetes patients that are not athletic”).

Therefore it is essential to determine the optimal target population for the prescription drug using positioning methodologies followed by segmentation work prior to user experience testing. For the purpose of this article we will focus on user experience testing and will ignore the prerequisites for successful medical consumer device development.

Market research activities that help to optimize medical consumer devices usually consist of three phases of user experience testing:

1. Customer needs evaluation / assessment

As described before, the implementation of customer needs into the development of a new medical consumer device is important. There are two categories of customer needs that need to be reflected in the product design:

Therefore it is important to first understand both categories of customer needs via market research. As device cultures in various geographic locations (U.S., European countries and especially Asia) differ widely, it is important to include all relevant cultures in this market research activity. An example of such differences for an insulin pen could be that the device in Asia has to be designed in a way that does not allow “outsiders” to identify the insulin pen as an insulin pen.

“…insulin pens and insulin pumps must reflect the needs of an active, mobile and younger patient population.”

2. Prototype testing during customer requirements phase, as well as concept, feasibility and development (and qualification phase as needed)

In a next step, the findings of the customer needs market research have to be implemented in product development, which, optimally, would be followed by various waves of prototype testing.

Prototype testing usually consists of various sequential waves of user experience testing, which take place in an in-hall setting (using a laboratory environment, so-called device clinic, giving the development team the chance to observe naïve users handling the device) or in an in-home (ethnographic or diary-based) setting (where potential customers can use the device for a limited timeframe). These waves of market research not only include the pure handling of the device, but also take methodologies into consideration that allow the product development team to understand the experience that the user has with the device. Both findings feed back into product development of the medical consumer device.

3. Competitive device testing

Finally, in a last step, the finalized medical consumer device is compared with its competitors. Again, this market research includes user experience but reflects clinical trial character (usually approved by an IRB), allowing pharmaceutical companies to extend their marketing claims for the medical consumer device.

This market research usually takes place in an in-hall setting (in a market research facility), and includes multiple activations or handlings of the different medical consumer devices combined with self-completion sheets measuring product attribute relevance and product performance on those attributes. Output of this market research most of the time is a learning curve describing the proportion of accurate activations or handlings per iteration (see an example in the chart below).

Example market research comparing three devices

Figure 2: Example market research comparing three devices

If the trial setup reflects FDA requirements (one example is the validation of the questionnaire using a cognitive debriefing in the pilot phase), the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health accepts data from such market research. The findings of such market research can also be published in medical journals, giving the pharmaceutical company the chance for additional PR activities.

About the authors:

Bob Rava is Senior Vice President at GfK HealthCare, where supports clients in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries with his significant expertise in marketing research and business analytics, drawing on his experience of working on both the consulting side and the client side, for manufacturers including Johnson &amp, Johnson, Roche and Bristol-Myers Squibb. Bob holds an M.B.A. in Marketing from Seton Hall University, USA and a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics/ Statistics with a double major in Journalism from Rutgers University, USA. Email:

Dominic Meyer is Director of International Projects at GfK HealthCare (, where he serves the marketing research needs of pharmaceutical and medical device clients focusing on international projects. His responsibility is managing ad hoc marketing research studies at all stages of the product life cycle. Dominic has 10 years of pharmaceutical marketing research experience, with particular expertise in medical and surgical devices projects, including handling studies, such as packaging, application and device testing. Dominic has a Bachelor’s degree with honors in Molecular Biology from the University of Basel, Switzerland. Email:

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