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Did we miss something that will have a major impact on pharma marketing this year? We asked our respondents to write their own questions and answer them.

By Joshua Slatko • [email protected] 

What does it mean to be truly patient-centric in 2023?

Over the course of 2023, media plans will have a heightened focus on measuring against and optimizing toward real patient outcomes. This includes not only brand conversion but all sorts of metrics, such as diagnoses, screenings, and retention. 

With this will come an increased expectation of media and creative agencies to have a solid understanding of the clinical journey that patients experience, and apply that knowledge to create strategies that resonate with the patient based on what they’re going through and thinking during each step of their healthcare journey.   – Jason Celestino


How will personalization of content become more scalable in 2023?

Personalization of content using AI at scale remained a challenge in 2022. A common barrier to using AI for content optimization is figuring out how to tag content consistently across all channels. With the amount of investment in modular, multi-platform content in 2022, a necessary focus in 2023 will be on streamlining content tagging. Approaches such as pre-processing raw content for analytic readiness, algorithmic and AI-Assisted tagging, and natural language processing feature enrichment will be key advancements in content tagging.

This investment in enriching and tagging content as normalized data then allows for AI to make predictions like HCP affinity with topics and content, and to understand outcome changes to inform future decisions. However, AI predictions made will be limited to the exact “copy” previously used, unless technology to automatically craft new potential messaging is used. Technology like GPT3 (the language model on which the now trending ChatGPT is based) can be helpful in generating new hyper-personalized content in a scalable way. Although compliance considerations will prevent using this sort of auto-generated content from being used directly with HCPs and patients for years to come, it can also be used to generate content to be tested using “what if” algorithms. This can help scalably recommend new content for marketing teams to consider developing and approving as part of existing workflows in 2023. – Derek Choy


Considering climate change in pharma ad campaigns.

A big trend in 2023 in health care, advertising, and society, will be growing interest in addressing climate change and environmental concerns with an expectation that businesses will act more sustainably. Pharma marketing and brands will need to adopt this mindset as not only does climate change have an enormous impact on human health, but pharma advertising and data use has a large carbon footprint as well. The Financial Times estimates that the carbon footprint from digital activities alone could reach as high as 21 percent of global CO2 emissions by 2030, and Statista estimates that by 2035 over 2,000 zettabytes (1 zettabyte = 1 trillion gigabytes) of data will have been generated, which would take over 840 billions trees to offset and the growth in healthcare data is a significant contributor, too.  In 2019 the average U.S. citizen saw around 55 banner ads a day, which – when factoring in the electricity and data costs needed to download the ads – accounted for over $20 a year per person, indicating a significant burden on consumers and the environment from ads (source: World Wide Waste).  In the Edelman 2022 Trust Barometer report, 52 percent of consumers said businesses were not doing enough to address climate change – the biggest gap of any societal issue and a significant obstacle to consumer trust. The truth is that pharma advertising, just like advertising in any other category, is contributing to unsustainable consumption and needs to reduce its carbon footprint if brands and agencies are going to create trust, meet their global sustainability goals, and thrive in the long-term.

Fortunately, many pharma brands are developing more robust sustainability plans as they seek to meet their 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will require significant carbon emission reductions in advertising over the coming years. Greater technology and dedicated regenerative media services within ad agencies are evolving, which will make providing emissions and environment impact reporting easier for brands, agencies and publishers alike, and create more transparent understandings across the marketplace of the true environmental cost of ads.  For example, CMI Media Group is exploring dedicated green media products which will align media buys with sites that meet a low emission threshold and is working directly with vendors to reduce and offset carbon emissions on the publisher end. Additionally, both emergent and established ad-tech companies are experimenting and expanding their suite of environmentally sustainable offerings so brands can reduce their physical and digital carbon footprint while reaching the right consumers at scale, creating a win-win-win scenario for businesses, individuals, and the planet.  In the coming years sustainability and media innovation will become increasingly aligned to the point where launching environmentally responsible advertising campaigns will become a qualifier for marketplace activation and new ad-tech products will tout their sustainability bona fides to brands to earn market share.

As a society we are only beginning to feel the large-scale impacts of climate change and the same can be said for healthcare, media, and pharma advertising as whole, and so we are still in the nascent stages of how it will force brands to adapt.  What we can know for sure though, is that adaption will require significant new business approaches and that the healthcare-oriented companies that are most successful at developing these new strategies will succeed the best in the long term and will be rewarded with consumer loyalty. – Kristofer Doerfler


Will health data remain a leading signal for pharma advertisers moving forward?

Connecting HCPs and patients to essential and timely education has long been the aim of pharma marketers. But reaching the right targets with the right message at the right time has been a challenge. Traditional marketing tactics have relied heavily on health data that, while valuable, creates a lagging signal. The use of prescription or diagnostic data, for example, means that opportunities to engage patients early in their healthcare journey have already passed.

Marketing trigger data will change this paradigm by connecting anonymized, aggregated data on patient visits to pages to follow-up HCP visits. Companies like Bayer are already using this type of patient engagement data to inform and enrich conversations with providers. And for rare diseases with small patient populations, this type of data can connect patients and HCPs more quickly, with tremendous upside.

As new triggers are developed, marketing data generated by patients will become an increasingly important signal for pharma marketers, in combination with traditional health data. By capturing engagement data at critical moments in a patient’s healthcare journey, trigger data will connect patients and HCPs with improved speed, relevance, and timeliness. – Asaf Evenhaim, CEO, Veeva Crossix


The looming recession

You might have missed the looming recession, which will no doubt impact pharma marketing this year! Although lifesciences and pharmaceutical companies tend to be immune to market oscillations across the broader economy, the reality of inflation and the perception of recession will continue to put a damper on spending, potentially impeding commercialization acceleration from the inside, out. Reduced marketing budgets impact a brand team’s ability to optimally coordinate and integrate the various disciplines necessary to increase performance and growth. 

Hopefully the anticipated recession will be less severe than anticipated, and pharma companies will recognize the vital importance of partnering with agencies able to orchestrate the complex dance between clinical science, marketing and sales, and technology channels and platforms. Let’s see what the new year has in store for the economy overall, and pharma brand teams’ abilities to maximize the acceleration of commercialization for therapeutics that advance public health. Almost certainly, it will accelerate the trend that is already underway to deliver more surgical, personalized, and optimized marketing to get the most out of every dollar in the marketing budget.  – Bob Harrell


How does the increasingly dynamic nature of the healthcare landscape impact patient support in the coming year?

Supporting patients through their treatment experiences is a key factor impacting the adherence to treatment necessary to achieving better patient outcomes. Yet, the ever-shifting dynamics of the healthcare system can make this extremely difficult. The increasing importance of specialized medications and therapies for rare and orphan diseases in industry portfolios brings its own set of challenges, as these populations are much smaller and often hard to reach. Despite the pharma industry’s slow adoption of new technologies, it is becoming increasingly apparent that patients are demanding more. Indeed, many patients have now adapted to digital communication with their physician and pharmacist and, in some instances, prefer it for convenience. We don’t see this changing, and indeed, when you consider some of the new COVID and other virus variants emerging, patients may very well resist live face-to-face interactions.

So, what does this mean for industry sponsored patient support programs moving forward?  We absolutely need to leverage technology to provide patients with the support and educational information they need in a user-friendly format that meets them where they are in both mindset and channel. We learned during the pandemic that digital interactions worked far better than we expected, and that shift is only increasing.  Patients are using digital interfaces on a daily basis with their banks and many retail experiences. They now expect the same in terms of their healthcare, but still only to a certain extent.  At some point in patients’ or care partners’ treatment experience, they do want to speak to an empathetic “human” who understands their challenges and can support them in their coming weeks, months, and possibly years on treatment. This may initially involve video chats, online chat rooms and social media, brand portals, and SMS, then once trust is established – progress to in-person visits. The important factor here is building trust – through reliable, accurate, unbiased information that is deeply rooted in what is best for the patient. 

 Therefore, from the onset of support program design, we need to recognize that the patients we hope to reach have their own unique cultural, behavioral and psychological needs and means of learning that need to incorporate social determinants of health (SDOC) and motivational interviewing/goal setting. The support programs we design should define these patients’ needs and those of their care partners and HCPs, and align them with collective capabilities within the organization. In developing this “single source of truth” we will be in the best position to deliver the enhanced treatment experience that ultimately will achieve desired patient outcomes. 

To achieve this optimum engagement with patients, we need to work with a fully integrated technology platform fueled with data from their treatment experience – information such as medication fulfillment data, visits to specialists or unscheduled appointments including urgent care, data from wearable/bluetooth technology, and communication interactions. When able to compile this data in one place, we are better able to develop the needed insights and next best actions to improve adherence and persistence. We can react faster to patients’ evolving needs as well as quickly respond to patient drop-off.

In addition, we need to continue tapping different measurement functions to provide us with significant insight to how patients want and need to be engaged. We have started using natural language processing which leverages AI to take conversations through an analytical platform and search for tone, tenor, feelings, and emotions. In discovering these attributes, we can empathize with how the patient is actually feeling and respond accordingly. In a recent pilot with this platform, we discovered far too much time was being spent educating the patient on the risks involved with the medication rather than providing fair balance. This led to a re-evaluation of the call guide and our team participating in trainings on active listening and motivational interviewing. These steps resulted in much better patient experiences in subsequent calls. The second measurement we are putting in place taps a real-time survey platform delivering the survey via text message right after the call, generating high participation rates. We are able to learn immediately what we are doing right and what needs to be improved, enabling us to be more pro-active than reactive when addressing patients’ needs. 

Despite the promise technology offers, we need to be very careful in making sure that we maintain a proper balance between technology and human-guided support by taking the whole patient into account. We should address how much information is really needed to alleviate anxiety when we engage. For example, patients suffering with rare and orphan diseases often have had a long journey to diagnosis and may face even more difficulties getting on treatment. It is important to work with these patients immediately upon diagnosis to allay their fears and support them through obtaining and using their therapies. However, this can get complicated. We have seen some patients requesting a portal that shows a daily update on their medication delivery. When our clinical educators have already told the patient that the treatment won’t start for many weeks, does giving a daily update serve a good purpose, or does it only increase frustration and anxiety? A better course of action might be for pharma to work within the delivery chain to have faster availability and for clinical educators to be diligent in working to reduce patient anxiety while they wait. When dealing with cell and gene therapy, where the product is the patient’s cells, patients want to know what is going on. If something happens to the original draw and more cells need to be drawn for treatment, are these conversations that pharma should get involved in versus the treatment center who is responsible? This is a fine line involving many repercussions. 

The increasing complexities we will continue to face in the coming years within our healthcare delivery models requires us to seriously address not only how to best implement technology in patient support, but how to continue to address the patient’s clinical and functional needs related to the disease as well as the behavioral and psychosocial factors potentially leading to non-adherence. – Nareda Mills, global president, Patient Solutions, Ashfield Engage, an Inizio company


Will retailers continue to expand their role in primary care this year?

All indicators are that major retail pharmacies like Walmart, Amazon, CVS, and Walgreens will continue to drive greater vertical integration by expanding their role in primary care. Walmart is projected to be the largest provider of primary care services this year. 

This change will necessitate pharma rethink how they market to retailers and what kind of presence they establish in those retail locations. It may also impact marketing to individual primary care physicians, as marketing resources are shifted against these larger entities. This change will also put more pressure on specialty pharmacies and smaller retail pharmacies as these larger ones will also continue to expand into specialty distribution and the rapid delivery of discounted prescriptions to patients.

The large retailers are all tech-savvy, customer-centric, and well positioned for providing omnichannel healthcare experiences to patients, and do an excellent job managing customer relationships, while increasing medication adherence. They also have very loyal retail customer followings with potential for higher patient volumes in the pharmaceutical area.

The continued commoditization of primary care will put price pressure on smaller practices and make it difficult for them to compete. Some of these alternative pharmacy options deliver timely and convenient healthcare and offer a one-stop shopping experience, from the provider visit through Rx delivery. This may be another reason smaller practices maintain or increase their telehealth offerings to meet their patients’ needs on their own terms.

It’s not yet clear who will be the big winner. The great unknown is whether the level of care retailers can provide will be comparable to what patients are accustomed to receiving from their primary care doctor. For many conditions, people are just looking for a fast solution to their problem and this newer source of primary care may be well positioned to fill that role. – Jim Ruiz


Josh Slatko, Med Ad News Josh Slatko is contributing editor of Med Ad News and