Healthcare Marketing Targets: Who Are They?


To state the obvious, healthcare—and healthcare marketing—in the U.S. is changing. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been the catalyst for much of this change, and healthcare marketers now have to pay attention to Congress in addition to the FDA, state laws, and corporate legal and regulatory departments. And in a presidential election year healthcare once again becomes a political football, inviting even more intense scrutiny of our efforts.

In this highly volatile environment, a healthcare exhibit house is still charged with developing an exhibit program that addresses critical issues. As we try to drown out all the craziness around us, a major question emerges: Who is our target?

From product focus to patient focus

For decades, the healthcare exhibit was product focused. Huge amounts of money were once spent on launches at major conventions–before all the information about new therapies was available to anyone who cared to search. Another scenario: If a company had a franchise in a particular therapeutic area, the products were all displayed proudly in a single exhibit, trumpeting leadership in that category. And lest we forget: the corporate exhibit which displayed products under the corporate umbrella, alerting analysts to the strength of the enterprise.

The relevance of these types of exhibits has sharply declined as HCPs have almost unlimited access to online product information. The shift in emphasis for the exhibit has gone from the product to the patient.

To quote Michael W. Young, Klick Health, speaking at the 2016 HCEA Marketing Summit: Exhibits are now the intersection between promotion and education.

How do we target HCPs?

HCPs today have to be ready to serve not only the needs of patients but also to practice outcome-based medicine. Many of these professionals work in an environment that rewards prescribing generics over branded drugs and that tracks the number of patients seen, not the quality of the visit. Care is measured against cost savings, and HCPs have to be prepared with product knowledge and the ability to impart a degree of healthcare literacy to their patients. They are responsible for developing the optimal solution for patients and for having the knowledge to do this in the office or hospital setting.

The new convention plan must answer the questions:·

  • What does the patient need?
  • What does the HCP need?
  • What do both groups need to know about payors’ requirements?

Knowledge: anytime, anywhere

In spite of the AMA’s attempts to ban direct to consumer (DTC) advertising, studies have repeatedly shown that DTC ads are valuable to the patient population and transmit a certain degree of knowledge, if not power. Perhaps these ads prompt patients to do some deeper digging and to be more proactive in taking charge of their health. The fact that DTC ads are subject to FDA scrutiny as well as legal and regulatory review translates into product information for the masses.

These ads are also conversation starters. Physicians are no longer seen as all-wise and all-knowing but as partners in wellness. The conversation between HCPs and patients must be on-going—and the engagement possible in the convention exhibit provides an opportunity to give HCPs the tools to make these conversations meaningful, to go beyond DTC information. The bottom line is that patients want information—and they want value. The exhibit can provide a repository of information for HCPs to share with their patients in an informed conversation.

Practice improvement or patient improvement?

The term “practice improvement” was au courant several years ago when HCPs were encouraged to adopt technology for practice management. While practice improvement has moved to a new level of sophistication, “patient improvement” is the new mandate. Patients insist on value and on exploring treatment options. If they do not receive value from HCPs, they seek help online. If HCPs do not sufficiently educate patients about treatment, patients might question the necessity of adherence. No matter what guidance the FDA sets down for the use of social media, patients know how to use resources and will continue to question until the answers are satisfactory.

Cost of care vs. value

HCPs are now in a position where understanding the allocations of costs is not optional; it is mandatory. The exhibit can provide education for HCPs to have a cost conversation about a given therapy with their patients. What will payors reimburse? And as more payors send representatives to medical conventions, the savvy exhibitor will ensure that there are resources available for this group and that medical affairs and R & D evangelists are on hand to talk to them as well as to HCPs.

The value conversation needs to include the divergent definitions held by HCPs, patients, and payors. Pharmaceutical Executive recently published “Defining Value: The Payer Perspective” by Susan Abedi, IMS Consulting Group. She notes:

  • Across markets, payers are defining product value as incremental benefits in relation to cost of product.
  • Turn the process on its head: Develop a payer, physician, and patient value story pre-Phase III.
  • Assess product benefits in relation to costs early in the development cycle.
  • Always include clinical development and commercial teams in early-stage discussions.

Moreover, she writes:

We will never move to one definition of value, and it is unlikely that we want to. But can we do a better job of understanding other stakeholders’ definitions to prepare us for smoother engagements? And particularly in the US, where there are no officially sanctioned assessments of “value” for pharmaceuticals, and where the debate is moving more and more quickly as healthcare costs escalate, can we use a broader understanding of stakeholders’ definitions to support new commercial engagement approaches? The answer is Yes.

Finally, she has thoughts on the patient experience: HCPs need to communicate outcomes to their patients, including quality of life discussions, areas of uncertainty, and existing evidence. This aspect of the patient experience is certainly one that can be part of the conversation with HCPs in the healthcare exhibit.

Embracing change and opportunity

The function of the healthcare exhibit has changed dramatically over the past decade, and rather mourn the changes, healthcare convention marketers can seize the opportunity to provide the framework for meeting the needs of payors, HCPs, and patients.


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