Pharma DTC ads drive consumers to seek info—and arms them for doc visits, study finds

While stuck at home during the pandemic, people saw more pharma ads than ever. Not just on TV sets, but on computers and mobile devices.

The result? More informed consumers taking their concerns to physicians.

That’s a win for pharma and could herald better outcomes for patients. But there’s a catch. Consumers watching ads and searching health information online now almost equally weigh their own knowledge with physician suggestions.

While more than half (53%) consider their provider’s suggested treatment as a top source of information, 45% believe the web is an important source too, according to research by digital healthcare marketing platform DeepIntent.

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“The information that’s online and available to patients has almost equal weight to the information that your healthcare provider is providing,” said Chris Paquette, CEO of DeepIntent, adding “It’s not as simple anymore as the provider or prescriber recommending the drug. We really need to surround the patient with reinforcing messages that the drug works.”

DeepIntent fielded the study to determine the influence of DTC advertising on awareness, education and provider interaction. In general, consumers are open to pharma ads, the firm found; about 50% of people said they find it helpful to see ads for a medical condition they've experienced.

Another finding pointed up the sometimes scattershot approach of pharma advertising.

Half of Americans say the pharma advertising they see is not relevant to them at all. Yet many more appreciate the value of ads in making patients more informed—75% said better education for patients will lead to better outcomes.

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“There’s a large opportunity for pharma to improve the way they’re doing targeting, resulting in what many people believe are better outcomes,” Paquette said.

One of the opportunities is in coordinated messaging with professional marketing to physicians and consumer marketing to patients. Outside of the current study, DeepIntent case study research shows that synchronized campaigns—reaching patients and HCPs around the same time before visits—result in prescription lifts of up to 35%.

“Focusing on that patient-provider relationship—reinforcing that relationship—should be the goal objective. Advertising should be used as a tool to improve how aware patients are before stepping in front of providers,” Paquette said.