Improving the Patient-Provider Relationship with Advertising That’s Actually Relevant

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By Jen Werther, Chief Strategy Officer, DeepIntent

Annual spending on digital advertising by healthcare and pharmaceutical companies continues to break estimates, recently topping $10 billion a year, making it the fastest-growing industry after computing products and consumer electronics. Yet millions of those dollars are wasted annually on poorly targeted ads that too often annoy rather than engage or enlighten. 

People crave relevant information to guide informed decision-making about their care, but studies show that they are not getting it. Only 35% of patients in a recent survey said they consider the pharmaceutical advertising they see to be relevant to them, and nearly one in three patients do not feel well-informed about prescription drug options before talking with a medical professional. However, patients are more likely to take a recommendation from a doctor if they have previously seen an ad about the treatment.

So, what’s the short of it? Relevant ads matter when it comes to improving patient-provider relationships, and patients need more, not less, targeted advertising to support substantive conversations. 

That said, there’s a large opportunity for pharma marketers to improve the way they’re reaching patients, resulting in what providers and marketers alike know they can achieve – better outcomes. 

How healthcare marketers can improve the patient-provider relationship

Strong patient-provider relationships are at the core of the patient experience and have been shown to lead to improved outcomes. However, how these two groups connect has greatly shifted as a result of COVID-19.

In-person visits became scarce during the first year of the pandemic with telehealth and digital communication becoming increasingly important. And there’s research to suggest that in-person visits are no longer as warm and welcoming as they used to be, making it difficult to forge long-lasting, trusting relationships. A report published at the end of 2020 revealed that social distancing measures, mask mandates, and consultation time limits may be straining the patient-provider relationship, making it all the more critical that patients feel comfortable and confident in discussing their treatment options.

Unfortunately, nearly 1 in 3 patients report not feeling well-informed about prescription drug options before talking with medical professionals. Healthcare marketers have their work cut out for them, and understanding their target audiences and key demographics can address this problem. Fortunately, the availability of data and modern technology has enabled more accurate targeting to relevant audiences at an increased rate. 

2020 study from The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine found that 76% of respondents were likely to ask their healthcare providers about a drug they saw in a direct-to-consumer (DTC) ad – and 26% reported that they already had done so. Furthermore, of this 26%, 16% said their knowledge from the DTC ad had caused them to question their provider’s advice. Overall, the results suggested that DTC advertising is driving patients to proactively engage in bidirectional conversations with healthcare providers about their prescriptions. 

Relevant ads allow patients to be proactive players and take their individual wellness journeys into their own hands. Picture an example: Someone living with celiac disease is at home watching a show on Hulu when they see a few recurring ads for a new drug on the market. The drug curbs some of the more intense side effects of their condition – in a way that feels new. Now that their interest is piqued, this consumer spends some time thoroughly researching the drug, its side effects, testimonials, and use cases online. Armed with this new knowledge, during their next appointment with their healthcare provider, they discuss this drug further and confirm it is a viable treatment option for their individual condition. 

Of course, in this example, the provider is likely already aware of the new treatment option. But the advanced awareness and proactive research done by the patient allows them to ask more substantial questions to help compare and contrast versus their current approach, easing potential concerns and supporting a healthier patient-provider relationship. All of this is driven in part by targeted, relevant advertising earlier in the patient’s journey. 

Ultimately, advertising should be used as a tool to improve how aware patients are before stepping in front of providers and equipping them with the most relevant information possible. There must be a shift in focus on the part of healthcare marketers to be purposeful in their efforts to reach audiences, with the overarching goal to achieve more positive patient outcomes by improving the patient-provider relationship. 

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Author Bio: Jen Werther is Chief Strategy Officer at DeepIntent. Prior to taking on this role, Jen served as VP of Data and Product. Before joining the company, she was Director of Digital Strategy at Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide, and Strategic Development Director at PlaceIQ.

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