The perils of empowered patients

8-2POST SUMMARY: Not only do patients have to worry about which drug company paid their physician, they need to determine if their generic drug is the same as the branded equivalent and if their insurance company will allow their doctor to write for a specific medication.  What is pharma doing to help patients navigate the complex world of empowered patient choices?

Much has been made about the payments to doctors from drug companies and medical device manufacturers but the data comes with a warning.  An analysis of a government database released Tuesday, which disclosed some $3.5 billion in industry payments to physicians in the last five months of 2013, revealed that several doctors who no longer practice medicine earned large sums for serving on corporate boards or writing software used in laser-surgery machines.


According to the Wall Street Journal; several doctors listed in the database complained the figures were inaccurate, or lacked context. Some also grumbled that the Open Payments website the government set up to publish the data was clumsy to use, and prone to freezing.

The database lists James Vanderlugt of Kalamazoo, Mich., as one of the top-paid doctors in the nation in a category called “nonconsulting compensation,” with roughly $570,000 in payments from Roxane Laboratories Inc. for the five-month period. But Dr. Vanderlugt’s boss at Jasper Clinical Research & Development Inc. said the sum represented all the money the firm got for conducting three clinical studies for Roxane last year.

Dr. Vanderlugt, who helps lead clinical research as medical director of Jasper Clinical, “would be delighted if he got that!” said Dean Knuth, the company’s chief executive. “That’s what the business was paid for conducting those studies.”

Pharma seems to sitting this one out and I have yet to see a pharma website that helps take the confusion out of patient choices and the complexity of making healthcare decisions.  The rule for patients seems to be “here is the information on our drug, it’s up to you to determine if it’s best for you”.


What is needed is a comprehensive strategy to engage patients and help them sort out the complexity of today’s healthcare environment.  It means a content strategy based on continuous input from research and the patient experience team, but does pharma have the money to really invest in digital marketing beyond using iPads for details?