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Redefining scope of patient communications in pharma business

Dr. R. B. Smarta
Wednesday, October 8, 2008, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

As demographics of India are creating a very powerful force for growth of every industry, pharma is not an exception. Healthy population as well as sick population is continuously getting updated on medical issues through Internet. However, there are two basic classes of population from the point of pharmaceuticals view. The attitude of these two classes is so divergent that the behaviour which they display towards consumption of medicine is very different.

These two classes are sufferers and non-sufferers. Sufferers tend to become hypochondriac and they ensure that they comply with the medicines while non-sufferers believe that nothing is wrong with them and perhaps will go wrong to their health till they cross the border of sufferers.

Out of almost 41 million people who are supposed to be diabetics in India, you will observe that hardly 4 million patients are taking adequate care of themselves through medicines while others might be taking care of their health through alternate medicines or other traditional methods. Having such vast gap between what can accrue through pharma industry what is not really creating in the market for the industry needs to be noticed by all marketers. What should my mind matters is intense and exhausted patient education. It's possible through patient communication.

Now the population who consumes medicine whether it pharma or nutraceutical consists of both sick and healthy patients. They exhibit their behaviour of exhibiting their choice in selection of medicines. Coupled with Internet education and their awareness, they feel, they are making the right choice even in high involvement and high-risk products. As a result, they have created a new class of medical consumers.

If you look at medicines, they are healthcare from products. In fact, it's a composite healthcare which cannot be completed at the cusp of delivery mechanism unless medicines are included in his delivery mechanism. In order to grasp the vastness of healthcare and core of pharmaceuticals and medicines, it's important how marketer should look at this new light group of medical consumers? How should they communicate with these educated medical consumers?

DTC advertising and communication
One of the ways pharma industry has tackled this issue all over the world is through DTC advertising and communication. In fact there are regulations which absent at the moment in India, are very crucial to ensure that the new medium i.e. DTC advertising and communication becomes effective, safe and scalable.

Other parameters are as follows:

" Quality of product
" Safety of product even at higher dosages
" Continuous availability of information about the product
" Continuous promotion of the product
" Continuous credibility creation and continuous improvement of the product

Consumer looks into packaging, clear directions on label, safety instructions, warnings and
other regulatory instructions. He also looks at price and competitive products. Besides, this he may look at bulk pack as one of his convenience if it's day-to-day purchase and

In order to develop specific action plan marketer needs to carry out following survey:

Awareness, understanding existing use of any substitute or a competitor (may not be from the same category), buying patterns, usage and attitude patterns, trends of markets, regions, logistics and capacity to stock these products for different outlets.

" Usage, attitude preference.

" Influencing characters of a particular product.

Marketer will increase the cognitive process as well as response time for the brand through DTC (Direct-to-Consumer) advertising, interactive digital media, seminars, symposia and other events. Similarly, it will also be heavily skewed towards point of purchase media so that every time the customer is reminded.

DTC advertising has its own limitations from the point of view of high involvement and high risk conditions of medical consumer like patient. It is just not possible for a patient to understand drug interactions, dosage interactions and other pharmacokinetic and dynamic repercussions which may or may not adversely affect the patient enough till it is communicated.

In DTC advertising, what you are really creating is a word of mouth so that beyond DTC medium, word of mouth medium is more powerful. It is a double-edged weapon. Ideal format for DTC advertising should be intense, interactive, purchase or action oriented and also for low involvement as well as low risk products.

PR & marketing
PR has been very widely used to evoke right set of customers, power of PR in branding is
unique and that needs to be exploited.

Yes, pharmaceutical companies should have communication strategy besides main strategy.

Strategic direction
In my opinion, strategic direction to a brand needs to be first given on the basis of position
which the brand wants to acquire in a category space, by developing growth drivers and
barriers with a specific quantification and then the feedback mechanism will make this
direction more relevant as you progress towards success or towards failure of a brand.

Outcome is usually not possible to figure out and hence we call it as a direction, over the
position of a brand gets strengthen and brand occupies critical mass during its positioning, the strategy then works out better and needs less corrective actions unless there is once again a turmoil in the market.


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