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Outcomes Data in Brand Messaging: The New Frontier for DTC?

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This is a two-part series on how we, as marketers, need to begin thinking about the ways proliferating outcomes data can be used in our work. In this piece, we look at how outcomes data should begin to be considered for DTC. In its counterpoint, we talk about exactly where this data comes from and why it’s so important.

The Affordable Care Act is making outcomes data more important to healthcare than ever before. Previously, data on how well prescriptions worked in the real world were sometimes considered a Platonic ideal —excellent data to have, but not always a possibility due to infrastructure, budget or time.

Now, however — though what “meaningful use” of electronic health records specifically entails is still being defined — the recommendations include everything from logging the educational material a patient received to their advanced directive and everything in between. While they do not yet aim to document cause-and-effect relationships between a treatment and an outcome, it’s a logical leap that this will, in future, be the goal.

When legislation like this creates mandates, practicalities get figured out much more rapidly. Today, managed care decisions, drug approvals and many other choices are made based on increasing quantities of data.

There’s one realm that hasn’t seen it yet, though: direct-to-consumer advertising. While only two countries in the world permit it (the U.S. and New Zealand), it’s big business. Americans alone consumed nearly $5 billion in DTC advertising last year. But statistics about how well a drug works in the real world aren’t usually included.

It’s not because the idea never occurred to anyone. A decade ago, researchers tested a “prescription drug benefit box,” modeled after the nutrition facts the FDA requires on food packaging. The goal was to investigate how consumers would react to DTC ads that included outcomes data.

They found that consumers appreciated, understood and preferred DTC ads with the benefit box. They also found that consumers’ perceptions of the drug’s efficacy went down as compared to ads without any outcomes data.

However, one of the drugs the researchers used in their DTC mock-ups was Vioxx, which was infamously withdrawn later that year for its tendency to increase heart attack and stroke in long-term users — data which didn’t appear in the researchers’ benefit box. Perhaps this coincidence allows us insight into why the benefit box never caught on. It highlighted certain data and excluded others, a setup that implied conclusions about the relative importance of information. Regulators dislike these implications.

Certainly, both from industry and regulatory points of view, the process of determining which data to include in brand messaging is fraught with concerns, but does that mean it’s not doable?

As the data available to us becomes more complex, our conclusions must mature also. Many in the industry, including our friends at Crossix, have been proselytizing for years about the vital importance of data in making marketing and advertising choices — and they’re right. The more we know, the better we can do. It’s only logical that that same truth would extend to our patients. It’s incumbent upon us to help them make the best decisions concerning their health, so notwithstanding some very real concerns, it’s an area that at least deserves greater inquiry.

While 10 years ago the concept was limited to a callout box in a print ad, there are many more digital options that data-focused DTC could take and far greater abilities to target them, thanks to all that data.

The question is: Can we be informative without being invasive? Can we be actionable in new ways? Consider a patient waiting for a checkup who gets a text of the results of a peer-reviewed publication comparing real-world results of popular treatments for her condition. Or a patient whose monthly refill reminders are accompanied by study data reinforcing his drug’s efficacy in a patient cohort similar to him. Some patients might find this beneficial; others might be shaken by it.

It’s a tricky balance. Better-informed patients are the ideal, but patients who feel their privacy has been compromised are not a price worth paying. The search to gain the former without the latter is one we pursue every day. Now that data is increasingly able to help us understand how our medications fare in the real world, we owe it to patients to begin to bring that information to them. As marketers, we can begin to discuss this with our clients, with researchers and even with peer-reviewed publications to determine how best to begin to bring this important information to the patients and caregivers who need it.



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