Treat your patient support program like a drug

Candice O'Sullivan
March 7, 2014

One of the biggest mistakes I see clients make when launching a patient support program (PSP) is not to allocate an adequate promotional budget to properly market the new service offering.

Patient support programs

In many cases, this simply represents a budgetary oversight; a program’s set-up costs are thought of only in terms of logistics, consumables and administration. The need for promotion is simply forgotten or the budget falls short because third-party costs such as print have been overlooked.

The other scenario, of course, is when a brand team is afraid the program won’t be approved if the true cost of the program is revealed to senior management. They convince themselves that if they can just secure an initial investment, it will be easy to get more funds approved once ‘global sees what the program looks like’ (and presumably get so excited, they just start throwing money at it). And, yes, more often than not, additional funds do appear – but rarely enough to do the program justice or equate to what would have been available if these funds were allowed for upfront. And never without some degree of tension, either; budget blowouts never make anyone look good.

The lesson?

Include the cost of a promotional campaign in your program budget from Day 1. As a starting point, get your agency to develop an ‘if we lived in an ideal world’ communications plan, and estimate costs based on it. Why assume an ideal world? Because you don’t want conservative costs. You want room in your budget so you (and your agency) can afford to be opportunistic – if, say, you find out about a conference that conveniently coincides with the timing of your launch, then a satchel insert or similar won’t be out of your reach.

Get the right mix of active ingredients

For best return, integrate program messages into the promotional campaign for the drug product/s the program has been set up to serve. When PSPs are conceived and delivered well, they can represent an important source of differentiation for your drug. This is particularly true if prescribers currently perceive little difference between your drug and a competitor’s. In this situation, a well-run, well-resourced PSP – that genuinely serves an unmet patient need – can and will swing sales your way. In this case, you simply cannot afford to market your product alone; the product-service mix is now your point of difference.

But a winning campaign does not just rely on putting promotional materials out to market – it also relies on having a winning concept.

Many brand teams focus heavily on developing materials that explain how their program works. But successful promotion is more than just the supply of information. Your PSP represents an extension of your brand (the drug brand and the company brand). You need your audience to connect with – and like – this new brand. Information alone does not lead to likeability. How many times have you bought something simply because you liked it more, even though the alternative probably represented a much more rational purchase? Your agency’s strategic and creative thinking in this regard is worth paying for, and you need to budget for it appropriately. This includes concept testing.

If you truly value the role a PSP will play in supporting sales growth – and you have invested considerable time and money in developing a PSP that offers genuine value to patients and is not merely an ‘entry to the game’ initiative (i.e. grudge purchase) ­­– the best advice I can give you is to promote it like you would any new drug. You wouldn’t launch a drug into the market without a well-conceived brand communications plan or promotional support. Use that as your benchmark and you won’t go wrong.

This post was contributed by Candice O’Sullivan, Director and Head of Strategy at Wellmark. Candice tweets about pharma marketing and healthcare communications @wellmark_health. She is also a regular contributor to pharmaphorum, an online forum for thought leaders in the pharma industry. 

Wellmark designed and developed Australia’s first pharma-sponsored home infusion program for patients with chronic rheumatoid arthritis. Now in its eighth year, the program continues to represent an exemplar of best practice locally. Wellmark has since led the development of numerous patient support programs for some of Australia’s leading pharmaceutical brands. If you need help to design or run a patient support program, Wellmark can provide the strategic advice and practical assistance you need to support market access and day-to-day operations. Call Odette Havill on +61 3 9829 0088 to discuss your needs.

Further reading:

Photo credit: ‘Medicine drug pills on plate’ courtesy of epSos.de, available from Flickr Creative Commons under a CC BY-2.0 license.

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