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Is HCP/Patient Data Convergence the Holy Grail of Digital Pharma Marketing?

I have been a digital pharma marketer for 17 years, and as Convergence Point Media celebrates our 10-year anniversary as a proudly specialized healthcare audience activation boutique, I’ve been ruminating between the glasses of bubbly and string band jams on the age-old question, “what does success looks like?” In hindsight, Malcolm Forbes may have nailed it:

“How to succeed: try hard enough. How to fail: try too hard.”

When we started out, every client campaign we worked on, patient or professional, was premised on creating brand/audience relationships. Real-world personas were created and post-click actions tracked to ensure the best possible return for both brand and patient. We found that many of these campaigns exceeded their ROI goals, particularly when the brand platform prioritized two things: educating patients and facilitating meaningful doctor/patient dialogue.

Note to Self: It’s the Prescription, Stupid

The challenge becomes obvious when we step out of the weeds and look at the core truth of marketing prescription drugs to consumers: it takes a doctor to write a prescription. Not surprisingly, research shows that, to varying degrees, patients rely on their physicians when it comes to recommending medications. Further, even when patients proactively ask their doctors about a drug, the “honor rate” – the percentage of time a specific drug request by a patient is granted, resulting in a prescription - falls precariously low in cases where doctor and patient perspectives are not aligned on the right treatment regimen. 

Pharma marketers address this duality by dedicating substantial resources to professional marketing, studiously decoding the current behaviors, beliefs and priorities of physicians and allied practitioners and mapping them back to brand strengths and weaknesses. By and large, once a brand plan is in place, professional and consumer marketing are subsequently siloed into independent efforts. For years, professional campaigns have been bottom-up, data-driven and personalized, informed by the long-established conventions of face-to-face sales rep relationships. Patient marketing, on the other hand, has been an arms-length affair, bounded by HIPAA and self-policed privacy guidelines, often confined to generalized targeting and reliant on contextual inferences to reach consumers.

Marketing Siloes? That Dog Won’t Hunt

We learned long ago that a value proposition that facilitates patient physician dialogue is a winner, yet brands continue to commit substantial resources and media investment against each audience with little consideration to synchronizing their efforts. The good news is that the conditions now exist to employ the right combination of messaging tactics, data platforms and communications technology to open up productive avenues for creating and fine-tuning truly integrated physician/patient communications.

For a glimpse of what’s possible, here’s a lightning round of tactics and platforms that help achieve integrated patient/HCP activation, working chronologically from the earliest phases of the patient journey:

1.    Patients seeking providers or treatment – the early stages of the treatment journey are a time for matchmaking as patients and caregivers research their treatment options and seek out the right physician and care team. If your patient marketing budget is not infinite and HCPs are dug in on their behaviors with little news in a given therapeutic category, one smart way to allocate spend is to prioritize patients whose doctors are most likely to honor their request. Armed with a well-honed list of target physicians that are believers and heavy prescribers, patient media can be geo-targeted to concentrate NRx efforts where an incremental patient-physician conversation is most likely to yield a favorable result. 

2.    Patients on treatment with established providers – by the time most patients experience the progression of a disease or the need to switch treatments, their patient/physician relationships are often well established. Here, brands can employ a geo-cascade strategy as described above for new patients, to similar effect. More advanced solutions are available as well, as companies like Crossix and QuintilesIMS increasingly offer de-identified or panel-based access to data that can be overlaid against a display media campaign to not only quantify the diagnosed patient concentration of each placement, but also map patients to target physicians for advanced segmentation. From a content perspective, the effectiveness of this approach can be greatly enhanced by capturing user-provided data about treatment status and intent to visit the doctor, and customizing messaging to support the patient’s individualized journey. Supporting this from the HCP side, tools and materials for the practice can be furnished via non-personal promotions and professional branded websites to spark the same dialogue at the point of care, which leads us to…

3.    Patients visiting their providers – here is where the response curve spikes palpably, as the messaging platforms converge with the precise time, place and context of a patient/provider visit. With much of the uncertainty removed from the equation, physicians can be served branded messaging via ad-supported EMR platforms immediately following consultations, when prescribing decisions are being made. Similarly, increasingly advanced point-of-care platforms allow brands to prompt patients with doctor discussion materials, in the moment.

These represent the tip of the iceberg, but the message here is that there is, indeed, a formidable iceberg to excavate. Successfully synchronizing patient and professional marketing and media requires thoughtful and comprehensive tagging, testing and KPI selection, as well as an analytics approach that ensures the desired outcome aligns with brand goals. Such results are best achieved when brands can harness a strong working collaboration between their sales analytics team and agency partners. 

Brett Landry