Did you remember to take your meds?

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When Tommy Thompson, the former secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, addressed the DTC National Conference last month, he implored pharmaceutical companies and agency executives to create more ads that would remind patients to stay on their medications.

But the idea of so-called compliance advertising becoming a new avenue for pharmaceutical direct-to-consumer marketing is even closer than he thinks.

Mr. Thompson said that 75%-80% of the $2 trillion health-care cost in the U.S. is directly related to chronic illnesses, and suggested that these type of DTC ads would help reduce that cost if patients who suffered from diabetes, obesity and other such ailments were to follow their prescriptions, including renewing at the proper time.

"We have to find a way to get people to take their prescriptions," he said. "We have to go from a curative health-care system to a preventative system. ... So many people don't take their medication. Can you imagine how much we can save by managing the disease? You are the leaders. You have the ability to change this."

Some drugmakers have already begun mapping out strategies for new DTC campaigns that revolve around compliance, and several medical technology companies are doing so as well. New York-based SynaPharma just completed a market test in March with several ad agencies, including Ogilvy Healthworld, Grey Healthcare, Sudler & Hennessy and BBDO, among others, in an effort to connect the dots between patients and physicians.

The technology platform by SynaPharma hopes to effect patient behavior by reminding them to take their medications. Called e-prescribing, both the patient and the physician would have to opt in first. After they do, SynaPharma's technology allows the consumer to be called on a home phone or cellphone, receive a text message on the cell or get an e-mail.

Mike Guarini, director of WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather Healthcare, said he believes the technology will work. "The reason I like it is, the day of catching the primary consumer at home watching a soap opera is long gone," he said. "Cellphones, PDAs, the Internet ... all these kinds of things are where you have to reach people now."

Whether the pharma companies embrace it, however, remains to be seen. "We feel it's going to have to be funded by pharma or federal money, said John Atanasio, senior VP, SynaPharma. "It would be tremendous industry goodwill."
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