Pharma Industry Should Focus on the Patient, Health Policy Experts Say at Coalition’s D.C. Meeting

Sept. 21,2012 — Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming presidential election or the changing state of healthcare reform, “the patient is the trend of the future,” according to Kavita Patel, M.D., managing director, Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform Fellow, Economic Studies, Brookings Institution. “Understanding the patient better, understanding [care] from a consumer’s perspective, is really important,” she told Coalition for Healthcare Communication members at the Coalition’s fall meeting, held Sept. 19 in Washington, D.C.

Patel, who discussed the goals of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and identified areas that still need fixing (e.g., reimbursement, care delivery, quality measurement), said that there are several ways pharma and healthcare communicators can better support patients. “Consumer-facing products are a hot, hot, hot trend,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you are a red state or a blue state. In 2014, health insurance exchanges are going up around the country.” When these exchanges are established, entities that help consumers navigate the uncertainty will be viewed favorably.

“Whoever can emerge as a trusted voice or figure – be it a pharmaceutical company, a hospital, an insurance company or a social media company – that role is going to be not only where the money is, but what sets apart winners and losers in this new era of healthcare,” Patel said.

Healthcare communications also should focus on value, she advised. “Messaging which conveys a signal about value” is key to showing consumers why certain products are “worth the extra dollars.” Patel recommended that pharma companies reconsider their direct-to-consumer ads, because they may focus on attributes that either are not significant to consumers or are not understood by consumers. For example, she mentioned seeing a television ad that she thought contained details about the percentage of a drug but did not include sufficient background information.

“I was thinking that [the company] has a lot of faith that the average consumer is going to understand that this [percentage] means something and that it’s higher than the standard product that had been offered,” she said. “That’s where people are trying

to experiment with messages that demonstrate value, contrast and why it is worth the extra dollars for a certain product.”

Patel also noted that companies can help to shape the new healthcare lexicon – from accountable care organizations (ACOs) to health insurances exchanges (HIXs) and health information exchanges (HIEs) – which can be confusing. She added that “there is a tremendous need for smart, savvy communications about how we talk about products and how we talk to consumers.”

J.D. Kleinke, medical economist and author, American Enterprise Institute, told the Coalition that the next wave in healthcare communication is “context.”

“We need to have a much richer understanding about how drugs work and who they work for,” moving away from a product focus and toward a better treatment fit and stick rate, Kleinke said.

“When an industry is mature, it needs to move from product innovation to process innovation,” he noted, advising Coalition members to focus on “finding the right patients, helping to ensure that patients fill prescriptions and continue to stay on their medications. This is where you will find better value and margins for drugs.”

Part of this approach includes providing access to consumers about their conditions and available treatments. “The more access people have to data about their condition, the more willing they are to try something,” Kleinke said.

Coalition for Healthcare Communication Executive Director John Kamp told attendees that the onus is on industry to do its part. “The pressure is on us and our clients to reduce costs and minimize marketing sins,” Kamp said. As healthcare changes and challenges increase, “we just have to do our jobs better and more effectively.”