The immediate future of DTC

As we look forward to 2021 DTC marketers should be noting the changes in consumer attitudes and the way they request new treatments. Much has changed but a lot is also the same.

Business magazines are writing about the “digital future” of healthcare but are consumers ready? Some are, but most aren’t. First, let’s dispel a recent topic: telehealth. Yes, telehealth has grown substantially, but that’s because patients are afraid of going into doctor’s offices. Once vaccination levels reach critical mass, people will once again return to their physician’s offices. However, that being said, patients will use telehealth for tasks “they feel” don’t require an in-person visit.

TV is still a great channel to generate awareness but running too many TV ads with audience over-reach is a huge waste of money. DTC marketers need to fall out of love with TV and think about how they translate awareness into brand objectives. Having just a website is not enough. It needs to be a total digital marketing integrated effort that considers social media and third party websites like patients like me.

Let’s be clear about pharma product websites. In a click-stream analysis earlier this year, I found that over 90% of online health seekers used other health websites to research treatments. In short, online health seekers aren’t finding compelling reasons to ask for your product on your website.

One of the questions DTC marketers then need to ask is, “can patients request our product via telehealth, and what do they need to know before asking about/for it?”. Some products are simply substituting product A for Product B, and telehealth may be the perfect platform to do that but are patients educated about the differences?

I’ve been keeping a pulse on telehealth with a broad range of thought leaders. Most are OK with telehealth but don’t want patients using telehealth to ask for new prescriptions. HCP’s want to ensure they are aware of the risks and possible side effects of new therapies.

Perhaps the biggest question I get from clients is “how much should we spend on DTC and how should the budget be allocated?”. There is no one right answer to that question. It largely depends on how big your market is and where they get their health information. To me advertising cancer therapies on TV for an audience that consists of approximately 200,000 patients is a HUGE waste of money.

Another trend in the hype loop right now is digital health devices such as the Apple Watch. Sure more people might use these devices, but as a cardiologist told me, “I’m not going to trust any wearable to diagnose a patient.” He went on, “if it gets people into my office, then I’m OK with that, but if they self-diagnose and just want an Rx, there is going to be some issues.”

Finally, there is the dreaded EHRs. The EHR is fragmented, with providers often using different platforms. Too many patients still use EHRs to send emails or view test results, and when they are referred to a specialist, they often save to request their doctor send over their records.

Patients feel electronic health records belong to them and that they should be accessible by every doctor they see. I’m still waiting for some disruption in this market to put Athenahealth out of business.

EHRs offer unlimited opportunities to engage patients, but that engagement needs to be based on a value exchange of information. The potential to increase compliance and adherence is unlimited with EHR integration by pharma companies.

Changes are on the horizon for DTC marketing, and they will largely be driven by changing demographics. Millennials use digital health differently than Boomers. If I had to summarize it, I would say, “stop trying to sell and start trying to earn the trust of a very skeptical audience.”