It’s Complicated: Physician Perspectives on DTC Ads – and the Takeaways for Pharma Brands

In 2023, pharma became the second-largest industry for ad spending in the US, with top brands spending millions each month on T.V. commercials alone. And that’s before considering the spend on other DTC channels or substantial HCP marketing budgets.

But what impact does the deluge of DTC ads and brand information have on patients, and how do physicians feel about the proliferation of DTC marketing? Does it support or hinder patients’ ability to have informed conversations with their healthcare providers – and start on the right therapy, sooner?

To explore this question, OptimizeRx engaged an independent research firm in March 2024 to survey over 170 physicians across seven specialty areas. The results suggest that DTC advertising and other patient-sourced information can both help and complicate treatment discussions. There is also a significant opportunity to better align DTC and HCP communications. Here are three key findings from the survey – and our take on the implications for pharma marketers.

Key Finding #1: 64% of physicians surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that patient-sourced information complicates care discussions.

Patients encounter brand and treatment information across a number of sources or channels – from manufacturer-sponsored ads, to social media, to family and friends’ experiences and opinions. However, physicians reported that less than half of their patients are at least “moderately” informed about their condition, and a majority rated the quality of the information patients reference during visits as fair-to-poor quality.

Key Finding #2: 61% of physicians surveyed believe DTC marketing impacts patient perceptions and expectations, but just under half believe that impact is positive.

While a substantial percentage (47%) of physicians reported they believe DTC advertising is generally beneficial, just 17% believe there is a significant benefit for patients – including increasing patient understanding of their condition and raising general disease awareness. For those that felt the impact was harmful, the most common concerns were unrealistic patient expectations and patient requests for inappropriate, expensive, or off-formulary medications. Physicians also viewed general disease awareness marketing more favorably than brand-specific advertising.

Key Finding #3: 70% of physicians surveyed agreed that when patient-sourced information aligns with the content HCPs get from pharma brands, it streamlines care – but just 13% think there is strong current alignment.

While patient-sourced information can complicate care discussions due to medical “click bait,” misinterpretation, unsuitable medication requests, or resistance to treatment recommendations, there is a clear opportunity available to enhance care conversations through better HCP-patient information alignment. Clearly, not all health information available to patients comes directly from life science brands, but the opportunity for brand teams to embrace emerging methods to break DTC and HCP marketing silos could start to address the current lack of coordination.

The Implications – and Opportunities – for Pharma Marketers

The findings above – as well as additional insights from the survey – suggest that physicians have mixed feelings about DTC advertising and how it impacts patient care. And patients themselves can be overwhelmed by the volume of information available, not all of which is reliable. But the results also indicate a pressing need to increase the targeting  of brand information so both patients and HCPs are coming to care conversations with relevant information. We believe this alignment of HCP and DTC marketing is best accomplished through a shared, patient-centric targeting approach – creating sustained, positive interactions and impact for patients and physicians.

By rooting audience targeting in a clinically-specific, dynamic methodology that identifies patients at or approaching brand eligibility, pharma brands can prioritize marketing to those patients and their treating HCPs, so both audiences are seeing correct, consistent, and personalized information during key care or visit windows. As a result:

  • Patients are more likely to encounter accurate, reliable information while they are experiencing symptoms, disease progression, or therapy failure.
  • Patients are more likely to request medications that are appropriate for their condition / disease state.
  • Physicians are less likely to feel visit time is being wasted counteracting inaccurate health information or frustrated by patient requests for inappropriate therapies.
  • Physicians are more likely to be up-to-date on treatment eligibility, costs/coverage, and onboarding requirements, streamlining therapy selection.

And as a bonus? Pharma brands are better able to prioritize, plan, and direct their marketing to focus on the physician and patient audiences most likely to act on brand information – increasing marketing ROI and script lift through more efficient and impactful use of marketing budgets.

Interested in more results from OptimizeRx’s physician survey? Request a copy of the white paper when it becomes available later this month.

The editorial staff had no role in this post's creation.