3 ways to become radically patient focused

Learning from “Orange is the New Black.”

This is the fourth blog post in a twelve part series that transforms ideas from the marketing world at large into practical plans for pharmaceutical marketing in the time of health care reform. 

Who knew binge watching “Orange is the New Black” could illuminate a central issue distorting pharmaceutical marketing?

Let me back up a bit and connect a few dots.

Adam Davidson wrote an incredibly perceptive piece for the New York Times entitled, “Orange Is the New Green.” His recent binge watching of “Orange Is the New Black” sparked a key economic insight about the“3rd party decider economy” where “the person selecting a product or service is not the person who will actually use it.”  Sounds a lot like pharmaceutical marketing to me and a prime candidate for the 3 e’s of extro-analogs: exploring, extrapolating and exporting.

Davidson’s insight was inspired by a plot line where the protagonist, Piper Chapman, is frustrated by the inability of the prison commissary to provide the shower shoes she has ordered. In an economically rational world, prison commissaries would try to maximize sales to inmates. But the prison wasn’t taking what would be the rational economic path towards revenue maximization. No shower shoes for Piper!

After extensive research, Davidson concluded that the prison system wasn’t focused on meeting the prisoner’s needs, but rather the prison’s needs. And it was this focus on the 3rd party rather than the end user that was thwarting rational economic behavior. In fact, Aramark, a company trying to transform the prison commissary industry “by focusing on what the end-users, the prisoners, want,” was actually suffering in the marketplace.

Healthcare, particularly pharmaceutical marketing, has long suffered from this “3rd party decider economy.” However, there are movements afoot that put more focus on meeting patient, rather than practitioner or payer needs, including:

  • Affordable Care Act with its focus on linking patient experience and outcomes to reimbursement
  • Patient focused drug development initiative by the FDA that includes meetings with patients to help infuse patient reported outcomes (PRO) into the drug development and approval process

While there is certainly a strong rationale for the learned intermediary in pharmaceutical sales (both practical and legal), the 3rd party decider model does cause distortions. Consider the disproportionate investment in physician versus patient communication.

The key concept in the story for extrapolation is the need to maintain a strong focus on the end user, the patient. So what if you took a “radically patient focused” approach to your budget and communications? Here are some thought starters for getting there:

  1. Use the patient journey to guide investment decisions in HCP and payer marketing. The patient journey is the key tool patient marketers use to prioritize patient marketing investments. The tool could also guide physician and payer investments by asking questions such as, “what are the key things HCPs have to communicate about the disease and medication to inspire the patient to continue treatment? What are the barriers to treatment the HCP is uniquely suited to address?
  2. Examine your past HCP and payer initiatives for their potential to benefit the patient. How could your physician and payer programs improve patient experience, compliance and/or outcomes? What would you stop/start/continue if you took a radically patient focused approach?
  3. Determine your internal barriers to communicating with patients. Patients are increasingly using mobile devices and online video to learn about healthcare options. Is your brand adequately represented in these channels? If not, what is holding you back?

Certainly a lot of what pharmaceutical marketers invest in physician and payer marketing is critically important. But it bears examining whether what has been done in the past will still continue to move the needle in this increasingly patient focused healthcare world.

Check back on Thursday for the fifth post in the twelve part series, Three ways to supersize your patient KOL strategy Pepsi-style!” In this post I explore how using an “arts patronage approach” can build important relationships with key patient advocacy groups. 

Thanks for letting us share!