The pharma connection: How to foster patient-physician collaboration

Andrew Tolve reports on how the pharma industry can enhance and improve the most important relationship of allthat between patients and doctors

Studies show that the stronger the patient-physician bond, the more successful the treatment.

Patients are happier and, importantly for the pharma industry, more adherent.

Unfortunately, patient-physician collaboration is struggling these days.

Doctors are short on time, with more patients to see and more paperwork to file; breaking out of the assembly-line mentality can be difficult.

Likewise, the Internet is brimming with hubs of medical information, leading patients to question physician opinions and modify prescribed treatment.

The pharma industry, therefore, has an opportunityindeed, a responsibilityto step in and foster healthier patient-physician collaboration.

In the past five years, the industry has woken up to the value of collaboration in R&D, supporting academic partnerships and scientific transparency. (For more on this topic, see Forecasting for pipeline products.)
Likewise, the industry has embraced KAM and adopted collaborative approaches in clinical research.

Only in collaboration can we do our best, says Christine Pierre, president and CEO of RxTrials and founder of the Site Solutions Summit, which celebrates collaboration in the clinical research process.

We all benefit from adhering to the highest standards as we conduct studies and bring medical advancements to benefit patients."

Its time for pharma to bring this same mentality to patients and physicians.

Pharma firms can alleviate the time crunch on physicians through less intrusive presentations, by providing apps that make physicians jobs easier and more effective, and creating websites that strengthen the bond between patients and the doctors who care for them.

New selling methods

Physicians lead time-pressured lives.

A few seconds can mean the difference between life and death in an operating room and a few minutes can be the difference between learning about a problematic symptom or having to cut an annual check-up short.

Pharma sales forces can help save seconds for physicians by adopting new solutions and selling methods.

The iPad, for instance, allows sales reps to shorten presentations and to follow up with apps that elaborate on key points.

Those apps can then be passed on from physicians to patients. (For more on the iPad, see Will the iPad kickstart a pharma sales and marketing revolution?)

Similarly, eDetailing can help sales reps reach out to physicians at convenient times, making it easier for both parties to connect.

We need to make it as convenient as possible for physicians to get information they need on demand on an absolutely personalized basis, says Mark Gleason, senior vice president of corporate development at Aptilon.

Aptilon has developed an online recruiting channel called ReachNet that connects physicians to clinically relevant content.

If physicians are interested, one click of a mouse and theyre speaking with a live rep at a call center. (For more on Aptilon and other new sales models, see New sales force models: Get ready for the hybrid reps.)

Pharma companies can also create apps that help physicians save time in the workplace.

Novonordisk, for example, recently launched Novodose, which allows doctors to calculate insulin dosages from their iPhones.

The app can save time for primary care physicians and hospitalists, says Anup Kumar Sabharwal, an endocrinologist in Miami.

This is where modern medicine is headed.

Becoming connectors

For years, pharma has put physicians on a pedastal, catering to them with marketing and courting them with pizza lunches and weekend retreats.

Its time to explode this blinkered mentality. KAM has proven that key accounts reach well beyond prescribers.

Besides, the general public has grown wary of pharma and physicians sharing cozy relationships; a recent Consumer Reports health poll showed that two-thirds of Americans believe drug makers have too much sway over doctors.

Gene Guselli, CEO of InfoMedics, says the Consumer Reports health poll should be a motivating force to replace promotional marketing with patient communication and engagementchannels that connect patients and doctors while theyre on therapy.

The key, he believes, is for pharma marketers to shift from the role of influencers to connectors.

There are numerous ways to connect patients to physicians.

Personalized disease forums, for instance, provide patients with an online space to voice concerns, questions, and ideas.

They also allow physicians to broadcast condition management techniques and other general information to a large audience.

Doctors waste valuable time distributing similar advice to common disease group sufferers.

If day-to-day health maintenance issues can be addressed in online forums, doctor-patient visits can focus on the specific nuances of patients particular conditions.

Creating unbranded websites for patient education and interaction is another solution.

These sites can feature physician guest bloggers who answer questions and offer advice.

They can also stream news and updates about a particular disease area and link to videos and dynamic online content. (For more on unbranded websites, see How to get marketing through unbranded websites right.)

An unbranded approach tends to be more humanizing than a product approach, says Maureen Malloy, a healthcare marketing analyst with Manhattan Research.

Youre connecting with patients in a less salesy way. Ultimately, its more personal and condition-focused.

And ultimately, thats what patients need.

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