Pharmaceutical companies invest billions of dollars annually to generate new prescriptions for their products. Yet, for many brands, building sales is a process akin to pouring water into a leaky bucket. That’s because most patients starting a medication don’t take it properly, and that means lost sales. Savvy brand managers are finding that compliance marketing – one-to-one communications to increase patient retention – may be their best strategy for keeping sales growth healthy.
How much is at stake? The National Pharmaceutical Council estimates that the industry loses $15 billion to $20 billion in sales annually because of noncompliance. Worse yet, noncompliance is estimated to cost society more than $100 billion each year because of increased hospitalization, nursing home and doctor visits, and lost productivity. With such powerful incentives – to help society lower healthcare costs, to help patients achieve better outcomes and to increase sales – why haven’t drug companies put more effort into retaining the patients in which they have so heavily invested to obtain?
The answer is that noncompliance is a tough problem to solve. Noncompliance behavior is complex and has many underlying causes. In addition, changing patient behavior requires reaching the right patients at the right time with the right message. For most brands, reaching a large percentage of their patients has been difficult, if not impossible, making compliance marketing an impractical, while attractive strategy for growth. While noncompliance behavior is a complex phenomenon – involving the psychological, lifestyle and financial profile of each patient – research has shown there are common issues among patients. In broad terms, patients often:
• Forget to take medicine, either because they are unable to remember or, due to a busy schedule, they simply forget.
• Feel better, so they stop taking medicine they “don’t need anymore.”
• Have a condition that is asymptomatic, so any drug side effects are perceived as making them worse, not better.
• Worry about side effects, even if none are experienced.
• Feel they know what is best and simply don’t want to follow doctors’ orders.
• Cannot afford all the therapy prescribed, so they compromise by taking less than directed or stop some medications altogether.
An effective compliance marketing campaign begins with assessing the relative importance of these factors to a brand’s patient population. Clearly there will be differences between individuals, but addressing the most important themes allows for the creation of broadly useful communications materials. The resulting campaign should have three primary strategies:
• Education. Patients need to be sold on the importance of treating their disease, the important role of their drug in treating their disease, and the importance of taking the drug as prescribed to achieve the benefits.
• Reminders. Many patients benefit from reminders that refills are due or overdue.
• Financial assistance. Some patients need help with the cost of the prescribed therapy.
Crafting compliance communications is only the beginning. The toughest challenge has been reaching sufficient numbers of patients at the right time in their prescription cycle in order to make a difference. However, much progress has been made in this area recently. For example, many drug retailers have realized they can play a key role in facilitating compliance communications, and some firms have built large networks of such retailers to achieve significant patient reach. Such networks are powerful distribution channels for compliance marketing messages offering:
• Access to patients in thousands of stores.
• Precision targeting by NDC code, due date of refill, age, gender, etc.
• The protection of patient privacy through control of information by the retail pharmacy.
• Credibility for the compliance message as it is delivered by a patient’s pharmacist.
• Convenience of high patient reach with a single business relationship.
Compliance marketing is an exciting new trend in direct-to-consumer advertising. While still in the early stages of growth, more experience will lead to better understanding of noncompliance behaviors, thus more effective communication strategies and even greater success for these programs. Familiarity and success will lead to greater funding and more programs.
More drug retailers will invest in compliance marketing capabilities and even more patients will become accessible to compliance marketing programs. The convergence of all these forces will result in better outcomes for patients, lower healthcare costs for society, and greater sales for brands that reach patients through compliance marketing. n