“Medical communication is the heart of pharmaceutical marketing because it can lead to actions by healthcare professionals impacting lives of patients.”
The pharmaceutical industry is a regulated industry. Marketing is one of the very important and demanding functions in this industry. Pharmaceutical marketing is commonly known as “medico-marketing” because of the involvement of both (medical and marketing) the functions in this activity. As the first half of the term “medico-marketing” suggests, medical function plays a crucial role in pharmaceutical promotional communication.
Medico-marketing is an art of communicating scientific messages in effective way which would help the healthcare professional in his/her clinical practice for a better management of patients.
First challenge faced by the medico-marketing function today is the differentiation of messages in the light of strong competition between various companies and their brands.
The generic dominated nature of the market leaves limited scope to discuss newer advances/clinical trial data, thus, posing as a challenge to the medico-marketing function.
Next challenge is the limited time available for discussion with physician along with increased knowledge of the physician.
These challenges make the job of marketing and sales team tougher compared to other industries.
Components for Effective Medico-Marketing:
The successful medico-marketing needs to be an effective blend of strategies, execution and outcome measurement (figure 1).
Figure 1: Three components of pharmaceutical promotion
Strategy: The medico-marketing team should focus on the physicians’ needs. For example, the communication should be targeted to provide solutions to the challenges that a physician faces during his practice. The principle of “Know the needs of your customer” applies equally to pharmaceutical marketing as to other industries.
Execution: The factors that make a medical representative standout over the others are a) communication skills and b) training. Periodic training, both in science and soft skills of medical representatives are very crucial.
Outcome Measurement: An increase in sales is an indirect indicator of effective medico-marketing which might be confounded by other factors (e.g.an increase in number of patients due to an epidemic). Interviewing healthcare professionals is one direct method to understand the effectiveness, recall and usefulness/relevance of communication in routine clinical practice. Subjective response is a limitation of survey. In the absence of any validated method of outcome measurement, combined analysis would be more appropriate and may yield more reliable data.
First two processes are rigorously followed by most pharmaceutical companies; however many lack focus in the last activity i.e. outcome measurement.
Guidelines for Medical Communication & Promotion:
The communication should be accurate, fair, balanced, updated, unbiased, accurate, and complete. The communication should be supported by the evidence and importantly, it should be restricted to the approved indication by the regulatory authorities.
The information provided should be up to date; the guidelines/recommendations referred should be latest and relevant for the disease under discussion.
In addition to an individual company’s promotional policy, there are different guideline documents for understanding principles of pharmaceutical marketing and promotion. The two important documents are:
- Organization of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI) Code of Pharmaceutical Practices.
- The Uniform Code ofPharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP) is also issued by the Department of Pharmaceuticals, Govt. of India.
PICO Principle for Medico Marketing
At times there are chances of bias in pharmaceutical promotion, especially overestimation of efficacy and underestimation of the safety, while narrating the clinical trial results.
Describing results of a clinical study with “PICO” elements might be useful to give better overview of the trial.
Population: Under the population, describe the characteristics of the study subjects (e.g. healthy volunteers/patients, type and stage of the disease, gender, age group – the demographic characteristics) are described.
Intervention: The study design (randomized/non-randomized, blinded/open label, parallel/crossover, duration of study, dose of medicine) is communicated. It is possible that the dose used in the study is not as per approved label of your product. In such a case, it is necessary to specify it.
Comparison: Whether the study was placebo controlled or only active controlled needs to be mentioned here.
Outcome: Efficacy as well as safety outcomes need to be carefully noted. While describing the efficacy outcomes, it is important to communicate the outcome of primary efficacy parameters rather than discussing favorable results from secondary efficacy or other parameters.
- In the highly regulated pharmaceutical industry medico-marketing function plays an important role in dissiminating scientific information to healthcare professionals.
- The relevant communication should be unbiased and based on latest supporting proven evidence
- The principle “PICO” is very useful while describing clinical trial results in the promotional materials.