Patient marketers and industry commentators talk an awful lot about the “empowered” consumer. They are, of course, referring to the way that the digital transformation of the media landscape has equipped consumers with the tools to drive the healthcare dialogue, undertake their own investigations and make their own, informed choices. It seems the patient is the one that “will see you now.”
Empowered? Yes, certainly. But not necessarily educated.
The problem with navigating today’s media landscape is that there is just so much noise to contend with. To make the transition from “empowered” to “educated,” healthcare consumers must become adept at a few fundamental instincts: the ability to red-flag political agendas, question mainstream hyperbola and disregard swathes of misinformation.
There have been some interesting additions to that noise, recently. First up, a study by researchers at Harvard and the University of Alberta, published online by the British Medical Journal, cast doubts over the effectiveness of DTC. The study tested the effect of commercials for Zelnorm, Enbrel and Nasonex on Canadian viewers, via the US TV channels they received. 
One of its researchers, Stephen Soumerai, embellished the findings, telling the Wall Street Journal that DTC is “a lousy way to influence prescribing.” 
And the media just loves stories that knock drug ads. “The maddening thing about this study and the amazing amount of press coverage it received—with virtually no editorial challenge—is the fact that the study design is so irrelevant, it is laughable,” wrote Frank Hone in a comment to the WSJ Health Blog. “How does a comparison of two Canadian provinces that happen to get some US TV programming spillover relate to the effectiveness of DTC in the US? I’m sure the folks at Harvard do great things for healthcare in the US, but this Quebec quackery is not one of them.” Quite.
Much more honorable additions to the health information din included separate efforts by the FDA and by Pfizer to educate consumers on drug risks. The FDA began posting to its website a list of drugs whose safety is under investigation—carefully pointing out that being on the list does not necessarily make a drug unsafe. “The risk is that people will read more into this than what it is,” said Paul Seligman of the agency’s CDER, about the first 20 drugs named. I might add that some manufacturers are likely freaking out more than those patients.
Pfizer, for its part, unveiled a range of interactive tools and tutorials to educate consumers about drug safety and help them make better decisions about treatment options—garnering praise from patient safety advocates.
For pharma marketers, the challenge is to somehow rise above the noise, good and bad, with a credible voice. They must find these people, right where (and when) they are looking, engage them, offer them value, information and tools—perhaps even help them to overcome a stigma—and eventually help them to make a behavioral change, or at the very least a visit to the doctor, which will ultimately benefit both their well-being and the brand. You can read about some of these tactics in the Patient Marketing Report on page 38.
Before you receive your next issue, both the MM&M Awards and the presidential election will be over. I hope you are happy with the results. More importantly, I hope you make it through both of those nights.