Payer Value Messages: Is Pharma Getting it Right in the Digital World?

Recently, I recorded a Podcast entitled “Don’t Forget the Payer in Your Digital Strategy: What Payers Need and Want from Pharma”, and this Podcast was a follow-up to a Webinar of the same title (download Archived Webinar and Slides here).  The Podcast addressed some critical questions that continue to plague the pharmaceutical industry as they communicate with Payers to address clinical, educational, and economic information needs while optimizing product access.  Is Pharma getting it right with Payers?  This question has been discussed for almost three decades, or as I jokingly say, “since the Carter Administration”.  But what hasn’t been discussed is how Pharma is leveraging the digital medium to get this information from Point A (Pharma corporate headquarters) to Point B (Payer corporate headquarters).  Oddly, the pharmaceutical industry has skipped right over Point B and gone right to Point C (the providers/prescribers) and to some extent, Point D (the patient) – digitally speaking, that is.  Didn’t we learn how well ignoring the Payer worked back in the early 90s?  It brings to mind Glenn Close’s dictum to Michael Douglas in the movie, Fatal Attraction, “I’m not gonna be ignored!”.  No, I’m not advocating phasing out communication with physicians and patients, but it is essential to include Payers in your digital marketing mix.  You can’t just ignore them, or your proverbial bunny might get cooked (you really must watch Fatal Attraction).  Let’s learn from the past so that we don’t let history repeat itself.

Sure, Pharma has well-established Managed Markets, National Accounts, Health Outcomes Liaisons, and Medical Communications Departments barraging the health insurers and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) with complicated non-transparent budget impact models, product dossiers containing only studies that meet package insert labeling criteria, and academically rigorous economic analyses published in peer-reviewed journals and disseminated as reprints upon request.  They’ve got a lot of “feet on the ground”, so to speak, pounding on doors.  Pharma is still  paying lots of money to printers and CD-makers to send out things that don’t get used.  They are paying out enormous compensation and incentive packages to Sales Departments based on achieving market access in areas where product formulary attainment would likely occur even without their sales rep sweet incentive deals, and they are overpaying in areas where there isn’t high managed care influence.  In this latter case, pharma is trying to drive Mohammed to the mountain when the mountain isn’t very tall.  But, across most of the United States, the mountains of market access are Rocky Mountain High, and the Payer is King of the Mountain.

Yet, Pharma is doing precious little to have a dialogue with Payers on what Payers need and want in the digital space.  And it’s no longer acceptable to claim that the legal/regulatory issues stop you, or that your organization doesn’t understand digital communication.  That worked in 2007.  But it’s 2013.   Perhaps even more astonishing, within most of the shining Pharma World Headquarters glass and steel buildings, the Managed Markets team doesn’t even have a seat at the table with the eMarketing or Digital team, so they can begin to craft a cohesive strategy that talks to the single most important group in health care controlling product market access.  Pshaw, you say?   I’ve attended two industry Digital Marketing meetings in the past 6 months, and in both, I asked the question to packed rooms containing a total of 700+ attendees: “What is your company or communication agency doing to craft a digital strategy for Payers who control the bulk of product market access?”  After some stumbling and eye-blinking, coupled with a few mix-ups saying “that ‘HERO’ (aka, HEOR) group does that kind of stuff”, these digital marketing gurus jotted down a note to go back to headquarters and “find out”.  If you download my Archived Webinar and Slides here, you’ll see what I found out:  there are but a handful of examples of digital marketing for Payers.


Never the Twain shall meet.

How should we proceed?  First, there must be some internal communication at Pharma between the major internal stakeholders.  Right now, this stakeholder communication process resembles a situation characterized by the Japanese idiom, offered with a sigh and a shake of the head, “they are on parallel tracks”, meaning that Never the Twain Shall Meet.  It’s surprisingly close to the rationale underlying the Urban Dictionary’s definition of this phrase, jesting that Mark Twain and Shania Twain have never met, and indeed will never meet, because the author of Tom Sawyer died some 55 years before the Canadian country pop singer-songwriter was born.  In fact, we’d all be better off if this Silo Mentality would die allowing Digital Marketing and Managed Markets to come together in a room, and while they are there, please invite the HEOR team (who provides the data underlying Market Access) and Marketing (who controls the purse strings).

This is a tremendously huge missed opportunity by Pharma.  While you haven’t been looking, Payers are developing customer-centric health portals for their patients and providers to focus on improving outcomes, delivering education, reducing costs, and improving the value of the insurer to these two groups.  Doesn’t that sound like something Pharma wants to get a piece of?

HealthEconomics.Com conducted a poll within the recent Webinar, and found that of the 67 attendees responding to the poll, 32% said they indeed do have a digital marketing strategy for Payers, while 68% said they had no road map to guide them in communicating with this key market access customer group.  In fact, a 2010 Cegedim survey found that the biggest pain point of pharma CEOs was the “evolving business model, particularly the increased focus on market access”.  We have a ways to go on both fronts: addressing the pain point, and using the digital medium as part of the First Aid package.  My recent webinar included a poll with attendees, assessing how confident the attendee was that their organization understands the DIGITAL informational, educational, and evidence evaluation needs of Payers revealed the following, where 1=Extremely Confident and 5=Not Confident at All.  As shown below, 51% rated themselves in the “Not Confident” range, while only 16% were in the “Confident” rating range.


All of this costs money, and my suggestion is that Pharma doesn’t sit down at the table and craft a “Digital Strategy” but rather, they consider a “Communication Strategy” for Payers, and give serious consideration for how they can use digital to be better and more efficient at market access achievement.  What proportion of your digital marketing strategy budget do you think should be allocated payers?  I asked this of the Webinar attendees, and found that 48% of respondents wanted 11-25% of the marketing budget to be used for the Payer audience, while 30% thought at least ¼ to ½ of the budget should be used with this important customer access group.  More than 1 out of 10 (12%, to be exact) thought that most of it (51-75%) should go to this important group, and only 9% thought it should be ten percent or less.  John Mack, a well-connected insider, publisher of the always useful Pharma Marketing News, and pharma digital marketing trendwatcher marketing spend toward Payers is about 2% (source=personal communication).  Let me say that again:  2% of the digital marketing budget of Pharma is allocated toward Payers.

don't-forget-the-payer-podcast-adSo, take a listen to my Podcast.  See what’s going on in the industry now, and see if you agree with me about the key stakeholders, information priorities, and methods to optimize market access and reimbursement success by letting digital help.  Let’s get started together on a roadmap.  If you want to help with a Survey I’m developing to better understand Pharma and Payer needs as it relates to digital information, let me know by contacting me at patti@blogsite.healtheconomics.com.

Continue the conversation with me, Dr. Patti Peeples, in person at ePharma Summit West this September 16-18. I will participate in a panel discussion alongside other digital marketing professionals:

Tuesday, September 17

The Evolution of New Care Delivery Models & Their Effects on Pharma Marketing

  • Jeff Landau, Director Strategic Marketing & Corporate Development, Threshold Pharmaceuticals
  • Mike Strong, Health Systems Manager, Novo Nordisk
  • Patti Peeples, RPh, PhD, CEO and Founder, HealthEconomics.Com

Register now at epharmawest.com and SAVE 25% off your Platinum Pass.
Be sure to use Priority Code: XP1856HEPOD.

See you in downtown San Francisco this September. And, drop me a comment on this blog.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Patti Peeples, R.Ph., Ph.D.

Dr. Patti Peeples is a respected health economist, pharmacist, and entrepreneur with more than 25 years of experience in the pharma and healthcare communications industries. She writes. A lot. And she likes to start new things. The author of over 200 publications and creator of two successful business, Dr. Peeples was at the forefront of the health outcomes and market access movement in the United States. She is considered a pioneer in using the internet and digital media for communication and marketing in the health economics field.

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