S&R Blog

Will medical education help to fill the credibility gap in pharma?

David H. Recht of North State Resources Inc. and Kelli Soare and Ed Leon of S+R Medical Communications discuss how credible, needs-based branded medical education can help to make the pharmaceutical industry a trusted resource for physicians once again.

Source: Med Ad News

Recognizing the erosion of trust physicians have in the information they receive from the pharmaceutical industry, the healthcare advertising agency S&R Communications Group has recently re-engineered into two specialized companies, S+R Medical Communications and Friday Morning. Friday Morning will provide insight on a project basis into what physicians will and will not respond to as promotion. Meanwhile, S+R Medical Communications will provide educational vehicles that brands need to rebuild trust and help physicians and patients make better, more informed choices in healthcare.

To learn more about the need for credible branded medical education, Med Ad News spoke with Dave Recht, CEO of North State Resources – the holding company for S+R Medical Communications and Friday Morning– along with Kelli Soare, senior program supervisor, and Ed Leon, senior program director, both of S+R Medical Communications.

Dave Recht: The trust issue has crossed the boarders of promotional strategies in a pretty pervasive way. It’s not just the advertising. It’s not just the sales rep, but there’s also the trust issue in the whole area of medical education. Part of that stems from the fact that there are cases in which physicians look at any of the information that’s coming from the pharmaceutical industry and they’re very skeptical about it.

I’ll also say, immediately 180 degrees to the opposite, that one of the areas that continue to be described, at least to us, and other reports we’ve seen is that they do want education.

If you start out with the mission that pharmaceutical companies, aside from their discovery and development and marketing component, have an obligation to educate their physician and patient audiences. If you accept that as a basic plank of responsibility for the pharmaceutical industry, what that demands is the physicians are saying, we give you that you guys have the most knowledge and the most insight and the most information about the products that you’re marketing, there’s not a dispute that we don’t think those products can be valuable, but we need to know the information that you have and that we need to know to make informed decisions about which of those products are right for which patients.

If you take that perspective, physicians really do want to be educated. But I think they want to be educated now in a way that they can take that information along with information that they’re getting from a number of other sources – Internet, their colleagues, symposia, publications – and use their brains to filter through what are the best opportunities to treat their patients.

There clearly is a demand and a need for branded medical education.

Med Ad News: Is there a problem with the way branded medical education is being presented? Are they getting what they need?

Dave Recht: There’s some things that need to change. We’ve always taken the perspective on the branded side, or the medical information side, within labeling, that education has a set point, and that is to deliver information that helps somebody better understand and better make treatment decisions. Whether it’s certified education or whether it’s educational information within labeling, we really don’t distinguish that in the sense of one type of education being better than the other type. It is education across the board.

So, if you take that premise and you say to yourself, okay, the first thing about education is it has to be need-based. To go into a speaker bureau or some other educational program in which you’re talking about cough cold products, unless there’s a new revelation and high-powered product, nobody is going to pay attention. So, it has to be based on the educational needs of the doctor in terms of helping he or she make their treatment decisions.

Then, if you base it on need, the second thing that has to happen is it has to be credible. What are the hallmarks of credibility? It’s people whom you choose to associate with in developing the educational material, so your thought leaders and KOLs. They’re respected. They’re well grounded. They have good clinical application and perspective on how a product should be used. Not just the theory of it.

Then the information needs to be transparent. There needs to be a way in which physicians can look at the data that is provided as support for the particular product, and physicians need to be able to see the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That’s another plank of what good education is about. And unfortunately, it isn’t getting delivered as frequently as we might like it to be in today’s world.

Then to me the final point of it is how do you present that information? What is it you choose to do in terms of the different types of mediums? The graphic design. The language you use.

And by the way, when we develop our educational programs, we always look at key principles of adult learning. What are some of those key principles and how do we apply those to the educational process and the programs we’re putting together for an audience?

So, the end of this whole thing becomes a process by which physicians who get an educational event from us … that education should be meaningful, worthy, credible, applicable from a clinical perspective, and it needs to be presented in a way that the physician receiver can easily understand the information and gain knowledge very quickly.

Ed Leon: A lot of clients probably don’t accept the reality that the way doctors get information has changed quite a bit, and it’s changing rapidly. Just like consumers and patients, doctors are active seekers of information much more than they were 10 or 20 years ago. They’re not just passive recipients. You have to meet the doctors where they are, where they’re seeking information. It’s very rare that a doctor is going to sit in his office and just wait for a sales rep to come in and get his first piece of information about a therapeutic area or a product.

Read the rest of the interview here.


Creative Medical Advertising—Who’s the Oxymoron?

Okay, I have a confession to make. Two, actually. The first is that, in the spirit of recycling, this post is an adaptation of an article I wrote for Talent Zoo late last year. The second is that despite having been a copywriter for fifteen years and a creative director for ten more—running my own eponymous and award-winning agency for five of those years and for the rest working at some pretty well-regarded agencies (by my industry’s standard, at least) in five countries—some ad types reading this might say that I’ve never quite fully managed to actually get into advertising, really.

You see, the fact is that those twenty-five years were spent in medical advertising. And not in the making of those boomer-disorder TV spots that everyone loves to hate—there’s still some fame (or infamy) in that. No, they’ve been spent devising the printed sales aids and journal ads and patient education leaflets through which the pharma industry seeks to persuade your physician to prescribe its products as the cure for what ails you, at any given time.

Now, while medical advertising used to be a fabulous generator of income (days long gone, by the way), it has never been regarded by the ad industry as a generator of high-profile creative executions.

Notice I say executions and not ideas; I firmly believe that this arm of the business has been as fecund and fruitful a hothouse of great communication ideas as any other—just too often obscured by graphs and tables and complicated words in the headline. Nowadays, though, I’m no longer as sure of that as I used to be. Frankly, we’ve had the stuffing regulated out of us. Especially those of us who’ve been at it for a while.

It used to be that medical creatives could feel good about themselves, amongst themselves.

We had our own award shows that sorted the wheat from the chaff, and we could look smugly down our noses at simpletons selling soap powder and sugar water, knowing that we were helping to keep the smartest folks around properly informed about up-to-date ways of treating cancer, cardiac disease, and chronic whatever. We felt like the intelligentsia of advertising and our victories were accomplished through the crafting of ideas; through metaphor, storyline, and okay, admittedly, sometimes even hyperbole. Never mind that our more glamorous industry-mates might think we were dorks. We knew a good idea when we sold one. Masters of nuance, we could weave sophisticated arguments from raw clinical data and infer advantage despite a product presenting a Package Insert (upon which all claims must be based) of mind-numbing parity with its competitors. Well, we’ve had that bashed out of us and then some.

The very idea of an “idea” is now anathema to the FDA, and many big pharma companies have outsourced risk assessment to ex-FDA consultants whose job it is to say “no” to everything and strip value from their client’s communication efforts.

And get paid handsomely for doing so! Ironically, and luckily for the pharma industry, this comes at a time when the medical advertising creative workforce has never been so well trained, contextually experienced, adept at its craft, and simply dying to do something special.

As usual, it’s the young ‘uns that are leading the charge. A client once told me that there would come a time that “one’s experience counts against one.” I’ve been battling with that for a while, tilting at the abovementioned windmills, but I think I’m starting to see light at the end of the tunnel, or some other reassuring cliché. Heretical as it may seem, I’m starting to believe that everything old is new again. After all, if all the creatives and all the customers and all the clients are thirty-something or younger (at least, those with any sort of authority), then all the archetypes are up for grabs. If the medium is the message, then the message is new.

YouTube and URLs wash away the sins of the past. Everything’s a mashup, fresh, immediate, and potent as ever. Sample Aesop’s fables in Flash and voila, you’re golden. And why not? After all, our genes are millions of years in the making. Originality? Oh, please. As long as it sells, baby. As long as the client is happy and it sells. And who’s to say that each time an idea is revisited in this way it isn’t executed with more refinement and, conceptually speaking, more appropriately applied? I think that this is very often the case.

If my confession sounds disgraceful, let me offer this up in my defense: I have the privilege of presiding over a tremendously talented creative department full of enthusiastic, fresh-faced young copywriters and art directors who never fail to amaze me by the brilliance and breadth of ideas they put up on the wall for every assignment. Often, the most apt of these involves a metaphor, and occasionally I have seen similar ideas before, maybe twenty years before. But I’m sure I only thought they were original then because I was too young to know any better.

I think it was T.S. Elliot who said that everything’s been done, it’s only the combinations that change, (someone else probably said it before him, right?) and the older I get the more I concur. Change the combination, change the medium, change the culture even, and you change everything. I increasingly find that those metaphors steeped in cultural relevance, those “old” ideas, are the ones the clients like the most, that undeniably float to the top in market research and that the physicians relate to best. Faced with success like that, me casting aspersions on their vintage can seem like sour grapes. It can suck enthusiasm from the building. I’m really trying to stop doing that. So, if the current regulatory climate precludes developing narratives of cutting-edge novelty, we always have the classics, and thank goodness. I’ll settle for sales, and keep my ego out of it. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as they say.

-Bruce Nicoll

Key takeaways from recent medical conventions


Top 30 free medical iPhone apps
March 3, 2009, 7:15 pm
Filed under: physician, social media | Tags: , , , , , , ,

No longer considered a phone, but an easy-to-use mini computer, the iPhone has quietly become THE platform for physicians and patients to get access to useful information quickly. And since 3rd party developers have been allowed to create applications for the iPhone,  the iTunes App Store has more than 200 applications in the “medical” category.  The top 30 are listed below.

  1. Epocrates
  2. Skyscape Medical Resources
  3. EyeChart
  4. Taber’s Medical Dictionary
  5. MedCalc
  6. Davis’s Drug Guide
  7. Eponyms (for students)
  8. ShyBladder
  9. Cardio Calc
  11. PubMed On Tap Lite
  12. Opium
  13. Nursing Central
  14. Breastfeeding Management
  15. Merge Mobile™
  16. ABG
  17. GI Calc
  18. Heme Calc
  19. Neph Calc
  20. Doctor’s Digest
  21. MD Coder
  23. ICD-9 pcp
  24. QuantiaMD
  25. PubSearch
  26. ReachMD CME
  27. iICD9-v 2009
  28. iBaby BT
  29. Eczane
  30. NextBio

Top 30 paid medical iPhone apps:

  1. Eye Test
  2. Speed Brain
  3. The ECG Guide
  4. Medical Calculator
  6. Medical Spanish
  7. Instant ECG: An Electrocardiogram Guide
  8. Normal Lab Values
  9. Medical Terminology and Abbreviations
  10. ACLS
  11. Medical Drugs
  12. MedRef
  13. Netter’s Anatomy Flash Cards
  14. Registered Nurse
  15. US Military Handbook
  16. AcuPalm
  17. MedFacts
  18. MedAbbreviations
  19. Breathalyzer
  20. Acid Plus
  21. MCAT Exam
  22. Perfect OB Wheel
  23. Medical Abbreviations
  24. PALS
  25. Audiometry
  26. MediMath Medical Calculator
  27. Kaplan Medical Terms
  28. Saunders Q & A
  29. Med Card
  30. Netter’s Musculoskeleton