Time to think like a patient, not a marketer

KEY TAKEAWAY: A two minute story on the evening news about a new cancer drug doesn’t answer enough questions for people who may want to know more before meeting with their doctor.  Biopharma companies need to set realistic expectations when it comes to new drugs and they need to be a credible source of medical information for patients, but all too often their websites are a billboard that says “ask your doctor about me”.

Patients and families are bombarded with the news that the country is winning the war against cancer. The news media hypes research results to attract readers. Drug companies promise “a chance to live longer” to boost sales. Hospitals woo paying customers with ads that appeal to patients’ fears and hopes.  However, the headlines and promotional messages may not be true.

The consequences are real — and they can be deadly. Patients and their families have bought into treatments that either don’t work, cost a fortune or cause life-threatening side effects.

The U.S. spent nearly $88 billion treating cancer in 2014, with patients paying nearly $4 billion out-of-pocket, according to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. Spending on cancer, a disease that most afflicts the aging, is predicted to soar as people live longer.  But what is the cost of living 3-4 months and do they want to pay it?

Research has shown that the most important of any treatment, to prolong life, is “what will my quality of life be?” and “will I be a burden on my family?”.  The promise of some drugs may be overreaching, but on the upside, it can lead a good conversation with a patient’s doctor about treatment options.  On the downside, it can set unreal expectations that drain bank accounts.

Not too long ago we did an an analysis of some oncology websites (pharma) and found that very few had updated information or set realistic expectations unless the website visitor read the label (they usually don’t).  Marketing 101 teaches us that brands have to set realistic expectations with their target audience.  Pharma’s realistic expectations are in the fair balance at the bottom of the website.

Most pharma companies have access to some of the best doctors in the world.  Why they wouldn’t ask them to talk to patients, via content, on their website is puzzling.  It’s credible information from an industry thought leader that is sure to gain traction from website visitors.

There is a real opportunity for pharma to help patients and impact their business, but first they need to take off their sales hat and take an empathetic approach that can’t be communicated via research.  Today’s healthcare system is complicated and patients are empowered because they have to be to get the best treatments.  Time to think like a patient.