Are Pharmaceutical Marketing and Sales Targeting Pharmacists?

In an earlier post we discussed the role of the clinical pharmacist in the evolving new healthcare market.  Medication therapy management as required by CMS as a part of Medicare Part D plans is a good example of where and how pharmacists can and are expected to help improve adherence and therefore clinical outcomes while potentially lowering overall healthcare costs.  Given the healthcare failure statistics we  previously discussed it’s hard to imagine that medication therapy management really gets all that much attention from pharmacists or pharmaceutical marketers.

A recent featured article in Health Benefit News highlights the success WellPoint has experienced in a pilot program to enlist and pay pharmacists for more attentive “medication therapy management.”  They were able to demonstrate increases in adherence which not surprisingly translated to better control of disease symptoms for hypertension,  hyperlipidemia, and diabetes mellitus.   While pharmacy costs went up they also “saw a great reduction in hospitalizations.”  Overall, in the one year study, they saw cost neutral results, but concluded “it’s going to take more than a one-year time frame to see dramatic changes in cost.”

The healthcare market (with pressure from government, payers and insurers) is getting more aggressive about delivering better clinical outcomes as one way to help increase quality and lower the cost of care.  So whether it is through Accountable Care Organizations, Integrated Healthcare Systems, or just enhancing outcomes from solo or group practice settings, I believe pharmacists will play an increasingly important role in medication therapy management, especially adherence-enhancing programs.   Pharmaceutical marketers who view the retail or hospital pharmacist as merely a dispenser of medications and cursory counseling will be putting their products at risk of competitive erosion and never meeting their full commercial potential in the evolving new healthcare market.

So what’s a pharmaceutical marketer to do?

Well, how many pharmaceutical marketers have assessed (not just mentally speculated) how their product might perform in this type of a trial or study?  How many have commissioned similar types of studies?  How many marketers have partnered with healthcare provider systems to determine the adherence value (clinical outcome differences) between adherent and non-adherent patients and what the value proposition could be?  How many marketers have actually met with pharmacists about their evolving role? How many have started to work with pharmacists on developing educational programs and materials for their products?  How many have pharmacist training programs for their patient education programs?  More importantly, how many pharmacists are considered high priority calls for your sales representatives?

I think I just heard somebody say…”of course we are doing all this.”

Great.  Now, are you doing it as  just another marketing tactic?

I might suggest that if you are doing it to genuinely help patients, pharmacists, and healthcare provider systems achieve their goals, you will find a much more receptive audience, ready to embrace your efforts and make meaningful contributions to your product success without feeling compromised.

5 Pharma Tweeters worth Following

The internet and it’s applications like Twitter have created a seemingly endless source of timely information.   Sorting through the noise however to get to tweets that can help and get you the information you really need can be a real challenge.  This is especially true in the world of pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and healthcare.   In a previous post I listed my top 10 internet sources but only mentioned a couple of helpful Tweeters.   While I follow only a small number and I’m sure there are plenty of other good tweeters,  those who seem to have consistently delivered content or links that have been helpful in keeping me current include (no particular order):







Who do you follow that is really helpful in keeping you current?




Healthcare Failure Statistics can Identify ACO Opportunities for Pharmaceutical Marketing

When I first read through the 65 performance metrics outlined in the ACO draft proposal from CMS (Table 1, pages 174-194) it was easy to imagine how drug treatment could help healthcare providers in an ACO meet or exceed some of their performance expectations.  Based on studies that have already been done, including regulatory clinical trials, it is clear that making sure patients are getting the right drug, in the right dose with supportive patient education and adherence programs could have a dramatic impact on improving clinical outcomes while reducing overall healthcare costs.  But pharmaceutical marketers will want to look beyond just matching and aligning their products’ regulatory claims with these performance metrics to find the hidden opportunities to deliver maximum value and patient benefits.

Healthcare failure statistics (e.g., hospital related infections, treated but uncontrolled diseases, lack of responsiveness to treatment, complications of multi-drug treatment, and patient non-adherence to treatment) while disconcerting, have often been ignored or just taken for granted.  But, these types of numbers can give clues as to where prescription drug treatment could help healthcare providers in ACOs (or other healthcare provider systems) improve the quality of care and clinical outcomes in cost effective ways.

Across healthcare, the list of failure statistics seems never ending from clinically inappropriate drugs or dosing being prescribed to adherence related issues, outright medication errors, and patient disappointment with the explanation about discharge medications.  Even a cursory internet search of product relevant disease states will yield a wealth of failure statistics that could potentially be improved, many simply with the appropriate use of  prescription drugs.

Don’t be discouraged by the variability of the statistics for any given problem.  The precision of specific numbers is not important because at this stage you are looking for clues for where you might be able to make an improvement.  You’ll get real world hard numbers from the healthcare provider sites you work with to develop your baseline data.

You should be able to put together a disease and treatment statistical profile for each of your products.  What I am suggesting is going beyond the global numbers of patients and market shares traditionally used for determining opportunities and driving forecasts.  You need to dig deeper to find the performance improvement opportunities, the types of patients or situations that represent less than satisfactory healthcare performance.   Here are a couple of examples:


There are plenty of safe and effective prescription drug treatments available, including generic drugs.  When you take a quick look at the overall average numbers there might not seem to be much of an opportunity for significant performance improvement.  After all, 68% of adult hypertensive patients are being treated with anti-hypertensives and 64% are achieving blood pressures less than 140/90mm Hg (controlled).   But a closer look reveals that the percentage of treated patients is much low in younger patients (age 18-59), especially men (47%) and Mexican Americans (50%).  The percentage of controlled hypertension is also lower in older patients (58%) than in younger patients (72%), in general.  Insurance coverage has also been identified as a factor with 71% of uninsured hypertensive non-elderly adults uncontrolled.  More striking is that 52% of those with private and 45% with public insurance remain uncontrolled.


Again, at first glance one might find it hard to suggest there is an opportunity for performance improvement when you read that over 60% of elderly patients receive pneumococcal vaccine.  But a closer look reveals that the percentage of adults aged 65 years and over who had ever received a pneumococcal vaccination was 39.8% for Hispanic persons, 64.9% for non-Hispanic white persons, and 44.5% for non-Hispanic black persons.  More importantly, despite vaccinations and effective antibiotics there are still 52,000 deaths related to pneumonia in the US every year.


While there may be considerable opportunities realized by encouraging more patients with signs and symptoms of depression to seek treatment, here are some statistics that would suggest there are even opportunities within the treated patient population.  Only 24% of depression patients recover following 16 weeks of drug or psychotherapy and remained well during 18 months of follow-up and  50% of depressed patients treated by medication relapse within two-years.

My intent here was not to provide an exhaustive statistical profile for these diseases but rather to demonstrate that previously ignored or taken for granted healthcare failure statistics, especially those related to treatment  failure may represent new ways to help healthcare providers achieve their quality and clinical outcome performance metrics.  It may take some investigation into the reasons behind some of these numbers but if they are patient selection, dosing, or adherence related, you could be onto something.

Developing a useful value proposition and supportive data will require identifying the specific failure-based  statistic opportunities and then determining with provider systems which improvements will make a difference for them and what data could be developed to demonstrate meaningful improvements.  Keep in mind, healthcare provider systems will now have electronic medical records to help track and follow interventions (e.g., education and adherence programs) and patient responses to treatment.

Again, this goes beyond marketing your regulatory claims for safety and efficacy.  It also takes some research beyond traditional market profiling in a marketing plan.  It will require creativity to interpret the ACO performance metrics in the context of how your products will be assessed and how your product might be able to improve some of the relevant healthcare failure statistics.  These healthcare system improvements in quality or clinical outcome performance metrics not only benefit patients but could have significant financial implications for healthcare providers.

Getting Accountable Care Organizations to Promote your Prescription Drugs

In the previous post we discussed the CMS proposed ACO concept for developing healthcare provider systems that engage individual healthcare providers with “shared savings” incentives to improve the quality of care delivery and clinical outcomes as defined by 65 performance metrics.

Some pharmaceutical industry executives, healthcare providers, and even patients may view these performance metrics as a biased, bureaucratic process for defining medical practice and imposing the “cheapest, least expensive” treatment options.

Whether or not the ACO concept survives in its current form is not important, but rather, I believe it represents the next level of managing healthcare delivery that can not be ignored.   I believe the draft ACO concept also represents an important new context for how pharmaceutical companies need to be looking at developing, marketing, and selling their prescription drugs.  Here’s why…

For decades the pharmaceutical industry has boasted about cost savings, cost-effectiveness, and the pharmacoeconomic value of prescription drug treatment.  Professing that prescription drugs can reduce overall healthcare costs by avoiding the ancillary costs associated with chronic diseases, reducing office visits, keeping people out of the hospital, and most importantly, preventing and curing diseases.  And despite the industry’s best efforts, these claims and propositions have seemed to nebulous, lacking in credible data, and therefore mostly fell on deaf ears within traditional healthcare provider systems.

In an ACO-type healthcare delivery system, these value propositions have real meaning, especially as they relate to the defined performance metrics.  With electronic medical records, insurers, payors, and providers will now have more robust information systems to track and report performance of prescription drugs and validate the value propositions in their own healthcare system.  That means marketing and research must be aware of how their products will now be assessed against these performance metrics and design clinical trials that go well beyond establishing regulatory claims for efficacy and safety.

Getting your product identified as a “treatment of choice” in a performance metric would be the ideal and almost assure commercial success for a prescription drug in that healthcare system.  In fact, pharmaceutical companies who align their products and deliver data driven proof for improving healthcare delivery performance metrics as defined by ACOs will find healthcare provider systems more than willing to encourage the use of their products over other, less performance impacting therapeutic options.  Rather than trying to find ways to limit the use of seemingly expensive new products, this new perspective provides rationale for healthcare provider systems to proactively promote the use of prescription drugs that can help them meet or exceed their performance goals in a cost-effective way.

In the next post we’ll explore how healthcare statistics can provide an interesting platform for driving prescription drugs in this new performance metric, ACO-type healthcare provider market.

Pharmaceutical Industry Implications of Accountable Care Organization Performance Metrics

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has prompted CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) in the US to draft a proposal for establishing Accountable Care Organizations (ACO’s).  This draft proposal outlines a concept for enrolling patients into healthcare provider systems (local networks of hospitals, physicians, laboratories, etc) to coordinate a continuum of care to keep patients healthy and to better manage their diseases for improved clinical outcomes at lower cost.

Included in this proposal are 65 performance metrics (Table 1, pages 174-194); specific quality and clinical outcome measures of care delivery.  Healthcare providers in an ACO will be required to track, record, and report their performance against these metrics to qualify for what’s called “Shared Savings” …  financial rewards … or essentially bonuses for meeting or exceeding these performance metrics, but they’ll also be subject to financial penalties for delivering expensive care or under-performance against these metrics.

What kinds of metrics are we talking about?

Well … some are more general … like the use of survey results to capture for example;

  • The  level of satisfaction with physician – patient communications
  • patient feedback about their provider experiences
  • And whether or not the healthcare system has best practice processes in place like patient education, the extent of electronic medical records, and the use of e-prescibing

Other performance metrics are clinically oriented and much more quantitative, for example;

  • The number of readmissions following hospitalization
  • Healthcare acquired conditions (e.g., surgical or catheter related infections, pressure ulcers)
  • The percentage of patients vaccinated or being treated with specifically identified treatments of choice ( e.g., beta-blockers, ACE- inhibitors, or ARB therapy for heart failure patients with Left Ventricular Systolic Dysfunction, warfarin for patients with atrial fibrillation)
  • or the percentage of patients controlling their hypertension, blood glucose if they’re diabetics, or controlling their cholesterol levels

The ACO performance metrics go well beyond the tracking and reporting requirements hospitals now capture in their quality systems.   More importantly, these performance metrics are more likely to get the attention of healthcare system administrators and individual healthcare providers because they will be held financially accountable for delivering against these metrics.

While there is considerable debate about, and even resistance to,  the details of the draft proposal and uncertainty as to whether or not CMS can actually implement the ACO concept, this should not create a “wait and see” mentality for pharmaceutical marketing and sales.  The ACO draft proposal should be viewed as a feasible strawman proposal which will foster pilot programs at a few healthcare provider systems and will certainly elicit commentary and alternative proposals as to how to hold healthcare providers accountable for delivering higher quality care at lower cost.

In an earlier post we discussed the pharmaceutical sales and marketing challenges created by the complexity of ACO organizational structures and decision making processes. In our next post we’ll explore how this ACO concept and the 65 performance metrics could actually provide a platform to help drive revenues for pharmaceutical companies in this evolving new healthcare market.