All this talk of brands...

Here is the news: Big, bad television and the untrustworthy Internet are driving droves of patients to their doctors to request specific drugs by name. And that patients ask for, they usually get.

The statistical evidence is mounting. Prevention magazine's ninth annual survey of consumer reaction to DTC found that the number of Americans who talked to their doctor about a specific medication they had seen advertised jumped seven points this year to 41%, or 85.8 million. And of those, 36% (30.2 million) got it, whether they asked for it or not--up four points from 2005.

A survey of Baby-Boomer caregivers by Campbell-Ewald Health (MM&M, January 2006) revealed that a whopping 78% of Boomers and 72% of parents reported that, having approached their doctor about a particular drug, they eventually received it.

And now, new research by MRxHealth in conjunction with MM&M, investigating US consumers' preferences for seeking and using health information, adds more meat to contentious bones. The study reveals that there is an 87% likelihood that patients who ask their doctor for a specific drug will get the product they want, regardless of the channel that got them there.

The study also uncovers a few "hidden" factors contributing to poor patient persistence and adherence, based on the values and attitudes of patients, such as a lack of confidence in the competence of medical professionals and objection to expense.

But perhaps the most startling revelations concern the comparisons between different sources of health information.

First, the action patients take regarding different information channels doesn't necessarily correlate with perceived trustworthiness. For example, pharmacists are seen as far more trustworthy than the Internet, and yet the Internet drives a greater proportion of patients to ask for a specific drug.

Second, there are missed opportunities for marketers among some of these information channels. Take "other healthcare professionals"; Four out of every five patients who talked with "a nurse or somebody else" were motivated to have a conversation with their doctor--but only 17% of these asked their doctor for a specific drug. Given that this source has a reasonably high reach--almost one in three respondents had talked with "other healthcare professionals"--there is a glaring lack of brand-specific information being passed to the patient.

Perhaps more glaring still is the effect of in-person support groups: A staggering 94% of patients who attended a patient support meeting subsequently discussed the content with their doctor--and yet only 4% requested a specific drug. Unlike the previous example, the reach of this channel is just 4%, but given the motivational power of such meetings, there is surely a huge opportunity to expand the number of events and to inject more brand information.

Of course, patients view these meetings as highly trustworthy because of their independence, informative and supportive content, so there is a very real danger of eroding credibility with too much branding.

MRxHealth's Jo Anne Jensen suggests taking a leaf out of the medical education playbook, namely peer group dinner meetings. "Pharma companies guide the meetings, but they don't lead them," she notes. "Presenting data as appropriate, they get doctors to prescribe more of the product. But the doctors are talking to each other, so it's fair and balanced information. The same format would be extremely successful among patients." Food for thought.

The message to marketers in clear: Be careful what your audience wishes for...because there's a good chance they'll get it.

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