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Using the Internet: Can Pharmaceutical companies a

Posted on: 07 Apr 03
Using the Internet: Can Pharmaceutical companies a

Summary

The considerable investment and overheads required for the development of new drugs mean that pharmaceutical companies must establish brand loyalty throughout a product’s lifecycle in order to protect

The considerable investment and overheads required for the development of new drugs mean that pharmaceutical companies must establish brand loyalty throughout a product’s lifecycle in order to protect sales at patent expiry. While marketing has always been key to this, the advent of the Internet has meant that there are now a whole host of new opportunities for influencing market trends. In the brief Using the Internet at Patent Expiry: Creating Brand Loyalty Through Online Tools, Datamonitor examines the various options available to pharmaceutical companies for extending sales beyond patent expiry, concentrating on how the use of websites and online techniques like eDetailing and eSampling can educate and inform patients and physicians, so encouraging them to switch from an original product to a new formulation or follow-on-product. Direct-to-consumer websites Recent surveys have shown that consumers are increasingly using the Internet to access low-cost and trusted medical information. Thus, direct-to-consumer (DTC) product websites, containing a high level of interactive content and features, represent an effective means of attracting users and engendering word-of-mouth and viral marketing amongst consumers, and promoting brand awareness and loyalty during a product’s lifecycle. DTC websites can serve as a key online tool providing they are well designed and encourage repeated use. DTC websites have the advantage that they can be personalized to meet an individual’s needs, unlike print or television that only provide static information. Creating an effective online presence is not necessarily straightforward however. Any information on the site must be helpful and thorough, and yet pitched at a level that is comprehensible to its targeted audience. The ultimate goal is to create software applets and other online tools that will be used over time to deepen the relationship with the patient, leading to a continuation of therapy beyond patent expiry. Companies should aim to include some form of consumer-to-consumer marketing vehicle on their site. Such tools can be highly effective because the credibility of the content does not need to be created by the company from each consumer interaction. eDetail is everything Although regulations in Europe limit the use of DTC websites, companies can still raise disease and treatment awareness without directly promoting a drug. However, use of these sites is still low and pharmaceutical companies must use all possible means to generate traffic to their website, utilizing search engines and links from other independent sites. Interactivity is a key factor, along with disease management and compliance tools to encourage consumers to frequently return to the site. Pharmaceutical sales and marketing teams can also use the Internet to interact with their direct customer base, the healthcare profession. eDetailing is essentially the use of the Internet to promote, or detail, a product to a physician, providing them with comprehensive information on new drugs or products, including clinical trial data, prescribing information and marketing materials. Interactive websites are able to offer information detailing products in an engaging format that is available to physicians at any time. Handheld devices can be used to deliver information to physicians directly at the point of care, while scripted and video eDetailing can be used to communicate more complex messages to physicians. The advantages of eDetailing include reduced cost, continued availability and ease of access compared to traditional detailing, while studies have also shown a capacity to increase prescription rates. These attributes make eDetailing via interactive websites and devices an ideal way of raising physician awareness of new products and of increasing prescription rates. Financial benefit The availability of samples is another key factor in influencing a physician’s prescribing decision. Pharmaceutical companies have long distributed samples to physicians via their sales reps, but this can now be done via the Internet and eSampling. Pharma companies should offer electronic sample vouchers on all new product websites as they can increase the number of patients trying out a new medication. Providing vouchers on both physician and patient-facing websites is beneficial because patients can take them to the physician for an actual prescription. Offering the vouchers on websites that face both audiences increases the reach of eSampling campaigns beyond traditional sampling or detailing campaigns. An important benefit of sample vouchers is that the cost to the pharmaceutical company is minimal until the voucher is actually presented at the pharmacy. This contrasts with actual samples, where an investment is made in the distribution of a product. For these reasons, the provision of sample vouchers represents a useful tactic to increase the breadth of sampling campaigns with reduced financial risk. In addition to online initiatives aimed at consumers, pharmaceutical companies would do well to cater for physicians' unmet needs. According to Datamonitor's Physician Insight Survey, 82% of doctors use the Internet for work-related purposes, and a great proportion of these would like to expand their web use into functions that are currently unavailable. Thus, pharmaceutical companies can gain a competitive advantage at patent expiry by fulfilling these unmet needs while supporting their patent defense strategies. A competitive advantage By incorporating ePrescribing functions in handheld applications used for eDetailing, pharmaceutical companies can increase the use of these devices and therefore achieve a greater penetration of physicians. This is particularly relevant when providing simple information about the benefits of a new formulation over an original drug to encourage physicians to switch patients to the reformulation ahead of patent expiry. Significantly the Internet presents many opportunities for healthcare companies to promote and market their products. As consumers increasingly use the Internet as a source of health information, DTC websites and eSampling programs will become more and more important and effective means of reaching consumers and building brand relationships with them. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies should also direct their attention towards physicians, providing eDetailing and ePrescribing solutions that will save time and ease their workflow, in the process engendering product awareness. The method of eDetailing is also valuable for raising awareness of regulatory developments, creating brand loyalty and providing simple details of a follow-up product. By implementing such solutions early in a product's lifecycle, companies can safeguard product revenues as patent expiry nears, and even drive consumers and physicians to move to a different medication. The Internet has become such an effective tool for drug companies and the various aspects of their business that few organizations can now afford to ignore it. If you found this week's Expert View useful, you may be interested in Datamonitor's reports, all available from www.datamonitor.com/healthcare:

Michael Randle

Last updated on: 27/08/2010 11:40:18

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