What does a pharma-patient relationship look like?

Just what do patients want from pharma companies websites? Earlier this year we conducted a qualitative research study in the US to find out.

Although the media tends to demonise pharma, most patients do at least trust that the drugs they are prescribed will help them to manage their individual health problems. In fact, often the only relationship a patient has with pharma is to go to the company website to learn of the product’s side effects or – in the US – to download discount cards.

Yet our research, among people with chronic health problems taking long-term medication to manage their health issues, shows there are opportunities for pharma to deepen its customer relationships.

Often it depends on the health condition. Patients taking statins, for example, were less interested in a relationship with a pharma company other than the possibility of the aforementioned product discount co-pays.

However, other individuals – such as those with multiple sclerosis, diabetes, or some cardiovascular conditions – want information on the best way to live with health problems and want to share and listen to experiences of other patients. This is where pharma tends to drop the ball.

As a source of good health information, our research participants tended to rate pharma websites very low, saying they contained too much product information and not enough about living with, or caring for, people with chronic health problems. Websites were also viewed as containing too much ‘dated’ and ‘sales’ information.

Instead, individuals tended to search for third-party sites when looking for up-to-date healthcare information; in addition, they trusted organic search to a far greater extent than paid search results.

“Most participants would be open to a pharma customer relationship management programme provided it met THEIR needs”

Surprisingly, most participants would be open to a pharma customer relationship management programme provided it met THEIR needs and contained tips on living with health problems, recommended on- and offline resources and even co-sponsored content from companies like supplement manufacturers.

Diabetes patients, for instance, wanted to know which foods and supplements they should avoid, while multiple sclerosis (MS) patients wanted to hear how other people in the community were managing their work/life balance.

“When I read a story on MS in my newspaper I want to know what doctors have to say about it,” one person said. Another added, “With all the new diabetic drugs coming out, how do I know if they are better than the medication I’m taking now?”

Pharma companies have an opportunity to engage their audience but it’s going to require a change in processes and thinking. Company websites need to be updated more frequently and focus on usability. We keep hearing about improving the patient-pharma relationship but, in order for that relationship to improve, companies have to focus on re-engineering their processes around the value they bring to patients, not necessarily sales.

Patients with chronic health issues want to be kept updated and informed without having to spend hours searching online. To me, as a pharma marketer, I hear opportunity knocking.


About the author:

Richard Meyer has over 20 years of marketing experience in consumer packaged goods and healthcare. He has worked for companies like Eli Lilly and Medtronic, and recently sold his digital healthcare consulting business to take a position as chief strategy officer.

Rich currently works with healthcare clients to develop DTC and HCP marketing initiatives. He leads research for clients and identifies actionable strategies to improve marketing. He has an MBA from the New York Institute of Technology.

Visit Richard’s blog here.

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‘Good enough’ digital marketing not an option for pharma