The role of pharma in the digital world of patients and doctors

The marketing landscape for pharma has changed dramatically over the past decade as baby boomers and millennials begin to demand more healthcare information, better access and more personalised care.

With doctors, pharma would traditionally recruit, train and send out thousands of sales reps across every market. It was their job it was to help increase prescribing of their company’s new drug by physically being in-front of primary care doctors, the majority of whom were male, middle-aged and career GPs.

Times, however, have changed – and this change has been nurtured by the advent of digital.

When talking to doctors today, pharma has had to completely re-evaluate its former sales model.

Digital marketing
While social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook allow more engagement with patients, the focus on communication in Europe remains firmly with doctors and healthcare professionals (HCPs).

When it comes to digital marketing, we are active like all others in the industry are; but of course, we are one of the most highly regulated industries in the world, so most of our interactions in Europe [where direct-to-consumer advertising is banned] are with healthcare professionals.

“Given the time constraints of doctors and the changing demographic, we now do a lot of work digitally with HCPs, because more and more they don’t want to see sales reps, but would rather see us, our content and information, at a time that suits them.

“So we have to make sure we have a website that is designed around them, or make sure that we do webcasts, rather than traditional meetings, as a way to get the information out.”

Patient support
Boulton says that patient engagement is still important, and while they will not advertise prescription medicines in Europe, he says AZ understands that today’s patient “craves information”.

He explains: “I think there is a lot you can do to support the patient and provide good information on a therapy area. For us, that would be going to a website after being diagnosed with diabetes [AZ markets type II oral medicines Forxiga, Byetta, Bydureon and Onglyza], and make sure that here, we can have a role to play as much as the patient groups do.”

A good example of this, Boulton says, is AZ’s ‘Talking type 2’ website, which is designed for newly diagnosed patients as a source of online information.

AstraZeneca works hard as a ‘holistic wrap-around’ that sees us work with doctors and help issues around diet and lifestyle, which is just as important as which drug you take, in helping with things such as blood sugar

Boulton is particularly proud of this site, and says: “When a patient is initiated on one of our medicines, we think it’s important that there is a support system out there; we are the experts on our drugs and so our website can help disseminate the information while also creating a patient support programme in place.”

In a therapy area like diabetes, Boulton says that getting patients to have the right blood sugar levels “is critical”.

He explains: “This is also where things have changed, as we now work very hard as a ‘holistic wrap-around’ that sees us work with doctors and help issues around diet and lifestyle, which is just as important as which drug you take, in helping with things such as blood sugar.

“And we understand that the time just after diagnosis is critical, and it’s critical for HCPs and pharma to be in front of the patient to help them.”

As an example of this, Boulton says that AZ is now looking to talk more with nurses, as well as doctors, in order to help patients more.

The company has a nurse team in the NHS that works with patients who have been prescribed a diabetes medicine from AZ.

“We can then allow the nurse to ask the patient whether they would like support on something like Bydureon, for example. But it is the nurses who decide how this works, and it only happens if the patient wants information from AZ, and that’s where they can be pointed toward our digital offering.

“And to be clear, our commercial teams are in no way involved in this discussion at all, but because of the constraints on the NHS, people appreciate that.”


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