Marketing vital to health care

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The philosophical conundrum that asks, "if a tree falls in a forest and no hears it, does it make a sound?" can be applied to pharmaceutical marketing. If a new medicine is developed but no one knows about it, can it have any benefit? Not according to the Food and Drug Administration, the American Medical Association, patient groups and patients.

Marketing plays a vital role in the success of any product or service. But marketing prescription medicines goes beyond what it does for Pfizer and the pharmaceutical industry. Done well, it can help patients get and stay healthy, it can help physicians practice the most current medicine and it can improve our health-care system. These benefits are what make pharmaceutical marketing so energizing to those who do it and at the same time, why it's a real challenge.

First, our communications objective isn't to sell a product. It's to start a conversation between a doctor and patient, a conversation that may or may not result in use of the product. Consumers cannot buy prescription medicines like they buy toothpaste, hot dogs and cars. They need a prescription from their doctor.

Second, to start that conversation we have to communicate with two different but complementary audiences: trained physicians and information-hungry consumers.

Third, because all medicines have some risks, our communications must be balanced in speaking to both the risks and benefits of our products. This balance is an essential part of the conversation as sometimes our medicine isn't right for a particular patient.

Fourth and presenting the biggest challenge, is that many people just don't want to take medicine. They don't want to be sick or learn they have a medical condition. Their views about disease and medicine are shaped by cultural experiences, emotional barriers and values that are hard for others to understand.

So with all these challenges, why do we do it? We do it because the results of successful marketing are measured by much more than just the corporate bottom line. Modern medicines literally work miracles by saving and improving the quality of lives. And marketing is the work that enables broad-based benefit from those miracles.

How does this happen? Marketing communications help create "aha" moments in the physicians' office. This is the moment where the patient seeks treatment, has a conversation with their physician, is diagnosed, given appropriate treatment and commits to their treatment.

The ever-changing health-care environment makes facilitating the "aha" moment more important than ever. More medicines are being discovered and we can treat conditions we didn't know about 20 years ago. Living longer can depend on early diagnosis and staying on treatment. Moreover, gone are the days when patients simply awaited and followed doctors' orders. In a recent survey, 80% of adults told the Yankelovich Monitor they need to be more active in managing their health care.

a fundamental role

Pharmaceutical marketing has played a fundamental role in supporting this change. Today, physicians face pressures with less time and more patients, not to mention more information about new products and treatment guidelines. Pharmaceutical marketing to physicians-including detailing and educational conferences-helps educate doctors about new medicines and studies and provides them with needed resources to address patient concerns and expectations.

For patients, the industry's direct-to-consumer communications have empowered millions of consumers with health information. This includes disease-awareness PR campaigns like the "Go Red" campaign Pfizer launched in partnership with the American Heart Association and Sana La Rana, a Hispanic health-information campaign that helps Hispanics take charge of their health. Screening drives, direct mail and Web sites-all marketing efforts-are geared to help create that moment of truth between patient and doctor.

And we can't forget the numerous advertisements in publications and on TVs nationwide. Like a successful public-health campaign, these ads have prompted more than 60 million Americans to speak to a doctor each year about an advertised medicine or medical condition. Of these, 25 million Americans spoke to their doctor for the first time.

Take for example Shirlene from Maryland, who told us about an anxiety disorder she had suffered from for many years. Unsure of what to say to her doctor, Shirlene never did anything about it until an ad on TV helped her relate to her symptoms. The ad gave her needed information to discuss her symptoms with her doctor. This discussion led to the "a-ha" moment and Shirlene's doctor prescribed an appropriate medication that significantly improved her life.

We've learned a great deal about how effective marketing communications can promote public health, but we also know there is more work to do.

focus on clarity

The National Institutes of Health recommends that nearly three times as many people should treat their high-cholesterol with exercise, dietary changes and, if necessary, cholesterol-lowering statins. High blood pressure, diabetes, chronic pain and many other conditions are also under diagnosed and under treated in millions of people. The reasons for this are many: unawareness of conditions or treatment options; inaccessible quality health care; unproductive patient/physician conversations; limited patient understanding of health information; and, emotional and societal barriers that prevent people from seeking treatment. Pfizer sees all of them as challenges that can be overcome and we are determinedly working to do so.

To make sure as many consumers as possible understand our health information, we create all of our consumer materials in accordance with Principles for Clear Health Communication. As a result, our health information is now understandable by 110 million more people.

We're also working to make our medicines more affordable. Pfizer recently launched an initiative, Pfizer Helpful Answers, offering America's 45 million uninsured, regardless of age or income, access to Pfizer medicines for free or at significant savings.

While we've been successful, further challenges lie ahead. We must understand our targets even better and gain deeper insights into what they need to create millions more "aha" moments that lead to better health outcomes.

For doctors, we need to continue to create innovative tools and resources that help them better serve their patients. This includes looking at how we can tailor clinical-study data to their practice area and how we can help them learn information they need in an increasingly compressed schedule.

For consumers, this means working harder to understand how we can motivate them to get more involved in their health care, how we can encourage them to stay on the medicine their doctor prescribes, and, perhaps most challenging, how we can help them overcome roadblocks to care.

Getting you to take charge of your health and enabling your doctor to help identify the best course of treatment for you to stay healthy is our marketing challenge-and it is a difficult one. It's what drives us to think out of the box and push the envelope. But, it's a challenge we gladly face every day because it matters to our company and, more importantly, it matters to the public's health.

Pat Kelly is president of Pfizer U.S. Pharmaceuticals, VP of Pfizer Inc. and a member of the Pfizer Leadership Council.

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