Remember Pla-Doh? More, specifically, do you remember the little machine that you used on it? You would put a hunk of the stuff in the hopper at the top, then put pressure on it with a lever — kind of like a garlic press. Under pressure, the Pla-Doh would be extruded through holes in all kinds of fun shapes — star, squares, and so on. That seems like an excellent metaphor for what's going on in pharma advertising.
First, the pressure. It is looking more and more like the next Congress is going to do some serious regulation of DTC pharma advertising. Led by Representative Henry Waxman. Last week, the DTC Prespectives blog reported in a post that:
Henry Waxman is not making a secret of his desires
to restrict DTC. Long a critic, Mr. Waxman will now have a friendly
Congress and White House behind him. In a speech to the Prescription
Project on 12/8, a group looking to restrict marketing to physicians
and consumers, the Congressman told the attendees he wants to restrict
DTC for new some new products for up to two years.
The idea of a moratorium on advertising for new
products has been discussed for several years. The drug companies and
advertisers successfully prevented it from happening in the current
Congress. The new Congress will have much stronger majorities for
anti-DTC forces and Waxman will have support to pass something more
restrictive. Currently a few drug companies have agreed on voluntary
delays in DTC up to one year but Congress wants more.
Now, the interesting extruded shapes. Restriction on DTC is only one part of a gradually tightening system that is putting all kinds of pressures on everyone involved in healthcare. Physicians have less time to spend with patients. Patients have less money to spend on drugs. And so on. And one of the results of all this is the gradual development of all kinds of interesting methodologies for patients, using technology, to take control of their own healthcare, in a way they couldn't before.
About the same time, Microsoft's Bill Crounse, in the HealthBlog, wrote a fascinating post about a whole set of online, patient-directed health sites that are coming on line.
Further evidence for how e-Health is transforming healthcare delivery is provided in my newest House Calls for Healthcare Professionals audio-cast. In this program, Expert Medical Advice Just a Click or Phone Call Away, the CEO of TelaDoc
shares information about his company’s phenomenal growth; a company
that has provided more than one million telephone-based, e-health
consultations to patients across America. Grad Conn from Microsoft’s Health Solutions Group joins the program to discuss how TelaDoc’s partnership with HealthVault will add value to the company’s services.
Strategically, this is a place where pharma marketers have got to begin to play. The mass media approach of DTC is heading off a cliff, it seems, or at least is going to be a shadow of what it was. And patients, more and more, are seeking information. They have always done this, of course, but they are beginning to seek information in the context of actual interactions with clinicians, just in a differnt setting — online instead of in-office, if you will.
This is not too far afield from some of the techniques that are already being used for patient support in certain circumstances. It is premature to try to guess what interesting shapes things are going to take in the upcoming year, but given the forces that are at work here, and that are gathering momentum, pharma needs to participate and have a voice in the patient's conversations.