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Report: Pharma companies need to increase personalized communication if they want to survive

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If pharmaceutical companies expect to retain loyalty, they need to develop more personalized communication with their customers, an increasingly picky group armed with more information tools than prior generations, according to a new report.

PwC's Health Research Institute, a part of global accounting and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC, says traditional communication channels between drug makers and patients, such as direct adverting and focus groups, are no longer adequate.

Life science companies need more sophisticated strategies that take full advantage of modern communication tools similar to how competing industries have adopted, PwC said. The report cited banking, which has moved from solely brick-and-mortar locations open during business hours to constant mobile and online presence.

PwC said explosive growth in social media, search engine capabilities, mobile apps and popular websites such as WebMd, have empowered many consumers yet to be fully engaged by the life sciences sector, a big industry in New Jersey.

"If their expectations are met, they're more likely to follow the proper course of treatment and remain engaged customers far longer," Karla Anderson, principal at PwC, said in a statement.

PwC's report, titled Customer Experience in the Pharmaceutical Sector: Getting Closer to the Patient, includes survey results from more than 700 U.S. consumers about their preferences in drug selection and use.

Among key findings:

- Pharmaceutical consumers seek the same convenience they find in other settings. In general, consumers are willing to pay 19 percent more for a "no wait time" prescription. Baby boomers with multiple chronic conditions are willing to pay 21 percent more for home-delivered medications.

- Treatment costs are the top reason people stop taking medications. About $213 billion is lost each year in the U.S. due to wasteful or unnecessary treatment linked to lack of adherence and medication mismanagement.

- Baby boomers with multiple chronic conditions have less medication adherence than average but want to do something about it. Some 41 percent want do-it-yourself pharmacy health screening stations and 37 percent want a mobile app to monitor vitals and provide contextual understanding of their prescriptions.

- Almost all respondents said that pharmaceutical companies did not play a role in their diagnosis and treatment decisions, suggesting that current pharmaceutical education and communication has had limited impact.

The PwC report says certain pharmaceutical and health care technology companies have begun to show progress. More direct consumer engagement has proven effective, PwC said. For instance, McKesson, a health technology service and drug distributor, uses call centers to keep in touch with patients and nudge them stick to their medication schedules.

Consumers also expect more convenience and on-demand options. Pfizer Inc. launched a website this year allowing consumers to purchase Viagra directly from the company, a move PwC said simultaneously addressed problems of male reluctance to purchase the medication in public and a rampant online counterfeit marketplace for the drug.

Customers are also looking for more do-it-your options. Apps in the retail, investing and personal finance world already address this. PwC said the health care industry could benefit by appealing to patients who want to exert more control in managing their conditions, which can result in fewer unnecessary medical appointments.

The report also stresses that younger patients have more appetite for personalized information, instant feedback, and active participation in treatment. The report cited a Novartis ad campaign focusing on the early diagnosis of multiple sclerosis of younger patients, a campaign conducted mostly on the Internet and social media.

Novartis' product, Gilenya, was the first oral therapy available for the condition. The ad campaign featured actors and actual patients. Several patients posted YouTube videos describing their experience with Gilenya.

"Understanding consumer behavior isn't a one-time event. Rather it should cover the full lifecycle of a drug," said Paul D'Alessandro, PwC Principal and Customer Leader,Health Industries. "As empowered customers take on more responsibility in their health care, drug makers must find ways to create meaningful experiences and relationships with them."

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