Learn what HCPs & Consumers Expect from Pharma

In a World of Escalating
Health Information & Misinformation


Written by Karen StraussKaren Strauss is Chief Marketing Officer for M Booth Health and believes the best health outcomes occur when physicians, patients, and Pharma share the responsibility for exchanging only science-based health information and choices.


Written by Mark WestallMark Westall leads Innovation and Insights for M Booth Health and believes that an increase in awareness and knowledge around pharmaceutical brands post-pandemic presents a unique opportunity for pharma to better engage with patients for the long term.

The Pharma Brandemic is an epidemic of heightened awareness and interest in pharmaceutical company brands – a direct consequence of COVID-19 vaccine brand news and conversation. In this study, we reveal how patient and HCP engagement with pharmaceutical brands has radically shifted post-pandemic and outline what pharmaceutical companies must do next in order to maintain relevance, trust and affinity.


Listen to the Reuters Pharma keynote


Read the transcribed Reuters keynote here

Pharma Brandemic: How COVID Vaccine Brand Awareness Turbo-Charged Patient Engagement

Mark Westall:

One billion. That’s how many engagements there were online in just six months following the availability of Pfizer, J&J, Moderna, and AstraZeneca vaccines last year. And those are all on social media. So things like #TeamPfizer, #TeamModerna. Never before had pharma brands been thrust into the cultural limelight in this way.

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It wasn’t just the nature and the volume of the discussion, but it was how people were talking about pharma brands. And it was a moment in time, and it was one that we felt we had to investigate. Because was this just around those pharma brands that had come up with a vaccine, or did this have larger implications? And so we conducted a study of 1,000 Americans to see to what extent this had changed how people thought about pharma brands. And this is what we found. In 2021, 60% of Americans said that they were more aware of pharma companies and brands overall, not just those COVID vaccine brands, but pharma brands altogether. Moreover, 51%, so the majority of Americans, said that they felt they knew what the differences and unique values were of those different pharma brands. And lastly, we saw this then trickling down into a sense of brand preference in the real world. 21%, so more than one in five, said the company that made their drug was now an important factor for them when considering which treatment they were going to take.

Now, as marketers, of course, we had to give that a name and it was revealed at the beginning, the pharma brandemic, which we defined as an epidemic of heightened awareness and interest in pharmaceutical company brands overall, a direct consequence of COVID vaccine brand news and that online conversation that we just saw. And when we saw this phenomenon, we kind of made a vow to ourselves. We’ve got to track how this shifts over time. Is this just a flash in a pan, crazy moment that’s been brought about because of the pandemic? And so we said, let’s revisit this a year from now. Well, that time is now. And these are the results that we got back just two weeks ago. And pharma brand awareness has only continued to grow, and that preference piece is skyrocketing too. 80% now say they’re more aware of pharma companies and brands overall. 73% say they’re more aware of the differences that made them unique.

And now the majority of Americans say that when selecting a drug or asking for advice from their doctor, the company that makes it is a really important factor for them. And those numbers, you can see, the leap year over year is huge. And of particularly importance, and keep this in mind as we go through our findings today, those attitudes and behaviors all over index among patients of color. And we’re going to go into a little bit more detail as to why that’s a positive thing a little bit later on. But perhaps the most interesting thing that’s happened here, as that awareness has gone up and that preference has maybe begun to seep through, expectations of those pharma brands has also gone up, too, how they expect you to operate, how they expect to communicate with you. And there’s one stat which really kind of brings this to life, and that’s this.

More than one in half of Americans now say that they see pharma brands akin to lifestyle brands like Nike, Amazon, Google, because they’re seeing it in their social feeds at the same time, too, and it’s part of that dialogue. And what that really means is, is that they expect you to communicate and interact with them in the same way that those brands do. That’s where their head is at now. And again, that rises to 60% among people of color. So not only is this a huge sea change in terms of awareness and engagement, but it’s a fundamental shift in how they see these brands overall.

Karen Strauss:

Thank you, Mark. So you will not be a bit surprised to learn, with this sizeable uptick in interest in pharma brands, knowledge of pharma brands, curiosity about pharma brands, we are seeing considerable differences in how patients are behaving in their interactions with HCPs via telemedicine visits and in person. That’s a build. We’re talking in this room about empowerment. Well, these patients feel powerful, truly powerful. 66% told us that they’re conscious of shifting from a more passive stance in the management of their health to a very active approach to managing their health, which includes making deliberate choices about their pharmaceutical brands. 65% of our consumer respondents said they feel very confident about pushing back on certain brand choices and requesting other brand choices. So what we are seeing is the emergence of a new patient typology. A lot of you in this room are patient engagement experts, and no doubt you’ve used the term challenger patient before in your segmentation. Well, we are dubbing this new patient type the super challenger patient.

Why? What’s the data to prove that these are super challenger patients? Well, nearly half of the total respondents said they’re confident rejecting doctor’s orders. So pause on that. Nearly half feels so confident about what they know about pharmaceutical brands that they’re willing to challenge their HCP. And those numbers rise up among African American and Latinx patients, which we as consumer marketers regard as a huge positive. A population that has long felt disenfranchised now feels more confident in their knowledge and in their ability to challenge the HCP. How else do we know that this challenger patient is here to stay? The vast majority of HCPs told us that the typology of patient they’re seeing most frequently is this challenger. So this is a moment to reckon with. Let’s dig a little deeper into the behaviors of what it means to be a challenger patient, because we asked quite a few questions about patient behavior, and we summarized into two behavior types, oftentimes overlapping. One is the citizen scientist, our words we should say, and one is the pharma brand hunter. And let’s take a look at what demonstrates these two typologies. 65% of these patients are conducting their own research before they ever make a phone call or consult with an HCP. That’s reading clinical trial data. That’s studying up on side effects. And frankly, the next stat is so interesting, which is they’re not giving the research a cursory glance. They’re telling us they’re learning the science. As to their mastery, that’s another matter. And that obviously affects the dynamic between patient and HCP.

As to pharma brand hunting behavior, apropos the pharma brandemic that we identified a year ago, which is going strong, this research fielded in February told us that one in three patients have requested a specific pharmaceutical brand by name. And just a sort of side comment, as somebody who’s been in marketing communications in pharma for several decades, we’ve worked so hard to get consumers to pay attention to pharmaceutical brand reputations and brand names, and here we have it as a result of this pandemic. They’re paying attention, they know a lot more. But the stat that really stopped us dead in our tracks is this one, 32% of patients told us that in the past six months they have rejected doctor’s orders. That’s an old-fashioned term, doctor’s orders, but indeed they have rejected the recommendation of their HCP. So with this obvious tension emerging between the HCP and the patient, you may be wondering, where does this leave us? And I’m going to turn things over to Mark to solve everything. Watch him.

Mark Westall:

Okay, no pressure. Yeah, so where does this leave the HC-patient relationship? Well, we asked doctors this, and they said it’s a bit of a mixed bag. When we put to them patient empowerment, do you see it as a positive, do you see it as a negative? What’s your view? Only 20% of doctors say that patient empowerment is a completely positive thing. And when we unpack that further, we begin to see also a little bit of a gloomy picture. One in three say it’s a mix of positive, there’s some good, but also negative too. And one in 10 say it’s a completely negative thing. But in isolation, that data is like womp womp, right? Like it feels bad, but it’s it doesn’t tell the full story. And there is a significant ray of hope, and I’m sure this is a word you’ve been hearing a lot over the last two days, and that is collaboration. Both HCPs and patients do want to collaborate. Patients say that collaborative HCPs are their number one most preferred style of doctor. That’s a big shift, by the way, from having just a doctor that tells you what to do and wanting that authoritarian style, if you will. That’s a big shift. HCPs, on the other side, say that collaborative patients are the number one type of patient that they’re able to treat most successfully. And so there is this unified desire here to collaborate.

So what gives? Why is that collaboration not taking place? Why is there that negative association with patient empowerment among doctors? Well, one major issue stood out more than any other in our data, and that is this, misinformation. It is everywhere, all of the time. And to give you some numbers behind that, this is terrifying, 100% of doctors today say they experience patients sharing misinformation with them multiple times a week. And when we put that to everyday Americans, how often are you coming across healthcare misinformation, one in three say that they’re coming across it almost every single day. And so you begin to see where some of that negativity might be stemming from. Because when you take that super challenger patient, and all the good that comes with that, with feeling empowered and speaking up, and you match that with that volume of misinformation, you’re going to begin to see some of those fractures appear. And that is having a profound impact on how HCPs feel, not just emotionally, but in the real world too. 51% of doctors say that patients are doubting their recommendations more often. That’s leaving HCPs feeling distrusted. 45% say that patients are less likely to be happy now with the treatment that they’re given. That’s leading to dissatisfaction on the patient’s side, and of course, then, on the HCP side. Then you have this feeling of anxiety among doctors. And this one, for me, is perhaps the most alarming, that doctors have less confidence that their patients are going to comply with their recommendation. And then where all of this lands is this feeling of overwhelming frustration.

Patients feel more frustrated with their patients more often, and patients of course are picking up on that frustration. And that’s why you’re getting that less than ideal collaboration. And that’s why we could do so, so much better. So where does this leave us? Frankly, it’s a bit of a critical crossroads. And what’s been born out of that crossroads, and what we want to share with you today, is what we believe is the new healthcare power dynamic. On one side, you have this newly empowered patient who is more confident, as Karen mentioned, than ever before. But on the other side of that, you now have HCPs who are feeling disempowered, maybe even disrespected, they’re not being listened to, because of the sheer volume of misinformation that is entering that dialogue. And as we referenced at the very beginning, now pharma has a brand-new, heightened role to play. These both sides are more aware of pharma brands, and they have a higher level of expectation and new ways in which they want pharma brands to engage. That’s the healthcare power dynamic today as we see it. This is our new reality. The issue is, is that with those two new things coming in, well, misinformation has been there, but it’s grown so, so much in the last few years. Those two things, the pharma brandemic and misinformation, are largely going unchecked right now. And the impact that that is having is that the relationship between a doctor and a patient is completely off-kilter. So how do we restore parity?

Karen Strauss:

So what does pharma need to do next? Well, at the risk of sounding self-serving, because we come from M Booth Health, which is a communications consultancy, the data bears out the fact that communications in a new way is going to have to rebalance this uneven dynamic. We heard from doctors, 77% of them expect as a consequence of COVID-19 and this pharma brandemic that pharma has responsibility to communicate with HCPs and patients in a new way. And this second stat also blows our mind, which is, read it, 58% of patients say how a pharmaceutical company communicates with them is equal in importance to the efficacy of your products, which really is a head scratcher. We had to check our data several times, because intuitively you would think it would be 100% believe the efficacy of your products dominate the belief that communications matters so much.

But communications matters in a very big way. And you may be wondering, so how must you change the way in which you communicate? Well, in the words of the lyrical genius Montell Jordan, don’t laugh, I mean it, this is how you do it. This is how you do it. All right, so the first pharma imperative is to stand up and stand in as the information broker between patients and HCPs. This paradigm that Mark reviewed with you is unprecedented. And the data shows that there is an expectation for pharma to provide the tools, the tips, and the techniques that allow for a more even flow between the HCP and the patient, reminding HCPs they have to listen to this more knowledgeable, empowered patient, reminding patients that they need to respect the expertise and acumen of their doctors, right?

The second reality in this new world order is the one we’re really delighted to see, which is the data bears out that there is an expectation on the part of pharma to communicate much more like a lifestyle brand. And as proxy, we’re featuring Nike here because they really are a paragon of communicating effectively with consumers. What the data told us is that patients of all backgrounds want to see themselves in communications. They want to feel included. Nike, by way of example, does a beautiful job in inclusivity. Study their work. They also do a terrific job empowering consumers, making consumers feel like they have the ultimate voice. That is important for us to sustain this spirit of empowerment. But there’s some other variables that we think are important to the way in which consumer brands communicate that pharma brands could potentially learn from.

Consumer brands are bold, they take chances, they’re creative, they break through, they connect. I heard a presentation yesterday about personalization and customization. Nike is a perfect example of doing that, And pharma has to begin to communicate in this way, take a page from lifestyle brand communications. The third reality is, given this misinfodemic, which is not going away any day soon with the proliferation of social media and influencers and the preponderance of misinformation, the data says there is an expectation for pharma to step in and play a role in partnership with media to correct misinformation dead in its tracks. Which may mean running campaigns that flag the prevalence of misinformation, to alert patients to be somewhat more suspect of everything they read, to stepping in on social and correcting inaccuracies when you spot them.

So where does that bring us? We want to leave on a high note. And so we’ll revisit this new power dynamic. There are two circles that we think are positives, that we hope will continue to grow. And based on our crystal ball, they will grow. The pharma brandemic is here to stay. Patients read up, they study the science, they’re brand hunters, they’re citizen scientists. And so that pharma brandemic will continue. Patients are empowered. In particular, we love the trend line of minority patients feeling more empowered, more confident. We as pharmaceutical companies and as communicators want to encourage empowerment. But where we need to step in, to rebalance that off-kilter dynamic, is we need to begin to correct misinformation in a very active way, not a passive way. And probably most importantly, we all play a role in re-empowering HCPs, beginning to restore that sense of authority and respect through information brokering, so that we can go from off-kilter to even-keeled. Because we believe that’s going to pave the way for better health outcomes for everyone. So that concludes our presentation.

We’re going to take questions, but we’re going to just give you a second to grab our web address, because a much fuller report of this study and the study we did a year ago will be available to all of you. That’s replete with lots and lots of stats, findings, and recommendations, and we hope you’ll visit us.

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Thank you for your interest in the M Booth Health Pharma Brandemic® 2022 Report. It will be e-mailed to you soon.

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