According to new research from ZS Asso­ciates, drug company POC communications with patients are growing eight times faster than DTC ads and achieved some $400 million last year. This presents regulators at the FDA’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion a challenge it hadn’t faced before: how to keep up with the claims made by, and the “fair balance” required of, prescription drug marketers in a suddenly huge diversity of nationwide locations where the industry can communicate directly with patients.

The office, which has almost doubled its staff—to 70—in recent years, reports greater monitoring of Internet promotions due to the explosive growth of marketer activity there. 

With POC on the march, the FDA will have to stretch its monitoring efforts to cover new-era consumer-level communications tailored to physician offices, hospitals and clinic waiting rooms, pharmacies and other places housing health information kiosks.

Data included in the ZS Associates report indicate that the content of these communications will be more detailed and disease-explicit than in mass media advertising, produced by different providers that will need coordinating with existing providers. The three largest POC providers, it says, currently reach 30,000 waiting rooms, 23,000 health professionals’ practices, 750 hospitals and 30,000 pharmacies. 

While there has been significant consolidation in the POC provider industry, the report predicts an explosion in POC outlets, thanks to the Affordable Care Act and market expansion owing to more visits by newly insured patients, most of whom will be aging baby boomers. All those new contacts by drug marketers with patients will be much more measurable than other DTC marketing, producing 60% to 80% more conversions to prescriptions and patient adherence than traditional media ads, the report says.

“These factors add up,” it states. “Consumers and patients are more engaged at the point of care where they are a captive audience.”

The FDA’s monitoring job is going to get much more important—and more difficult.

James G. Dickinson is editor of Dickinson’s FDA Webview (