Patient-centric healthcare marketing: an mdgroup white paper


Pharmaceutical advertising is currently the 7th largest ad category in the U.S and growing, with total spending reaching $6.4 billion last year – a 64% increase on five years ago.

This can be broken down into 56% spent on free samples, 25% on direct promotion to physicians, 12.5% on user advertising, 4% on detailing hospitals and 2% on journal ads.

Pharmaceutical advertisements and endorsements have the power to significantly enhance lives, and healthcare marketers have a responsibility to ensure their messaging reaches those who need it most - and to explain risks and benefits in a way that allows patients to make fully-informed decisions.

With America’s opioid crisis shedding light on overly-commercialised sales and marketing strategies, pharmaceutical companies across the globe are looking for a new standard of patient-centric marketing. While the FDA are reconsidering regulations, the world looks to pharmaceutical companies to revise marketing methodologies.


Pharmaceutical companies are looking for high return on investment and long-term brand success. As the industry shifts to prioritise the patient voice, typical sales methods are falling flat, and in some cases being exposed as harmful.

In the wake of America’s OxyContin addiction crisis, for example, The State of New Hampshire filed suit against the drug’s creators, stating, “The company allegedly maintained a state sales force of four to six representatives who were each given the goal by the company of seeing six to seven prescribers per day.”

In order to maintain a positive reputation as the pharma industry is called into question, biopharmaceutical marketers need to turn away from the traditional short-term tactic of deploying large numbers of reps to derive prescription, and instead reach out to patients and physicians with clear, concise information, involving them directly in the conversation around medication.

A patient-centric approach to medical marketing means adding value to the patient experience, rather than simply demonstrating safety and efficacy. For example, by creating informative content about managing a condition, a pharmaceutical brand can build trust and help patients take control over their own healthcare.

The industry needs to work toward patient outcomes and quality communications as key indicators of success.


We need to start shaping growth and marketing strategies around a holistic, qualitative assessment of patient needs, and how they’re being met. While the current competitive state of the market means we’re a long way off making that idea reality, we can work together to rebuild brand reputations around meeting patient priorities.

Listening is key when it comes to aligning brand goals with patient outcomes. As with any marketing strategy, effort needs to be put into thoroughly researching the audience, their needs, and their frustrations. Messaging needs to address how pharma products can enhance lives and add value, treating patients as clued-in consumers and offering them reliable information backed up by statistics to help them make their own informed choices.

As social media and online support play a significant role in amplifying the patient voice, the internet is an ideal place to start when it comes to ascertaining patients’ pain points.

Patients feel safe turning to online communities such as support forums and facebook groups to voice their true concerns, in a way they might not do in front of their physicians. By entering that conversation, companies can gather rich data about their target audience, and respond to their overarching questions with targeted campaigns.

Furthermore, joining the online patient support dialogue is effective marketing in itself, giving the industry a more human face and building trust by offering expert advice. This will ensure that your company will stick in patients’ minds as they conduct their own research.

More than 72% of internet users search for health information, inquiring about their conditions and potential treatments. While this doesn’t necessarily suggest that consulting with a physician has lost its value, it does show that patients are keen to back up their doctors’ recommendations with alternative opinions and reviews from fellow patients.

A recent study has shown that 55% of the patients now come to doctors’ appointments armed with their own research. 52% of the time, patients now initiate new treatment discussions, and about 70% of patients assist their physicians in choosing the right therapy.

This makes it all the more important for companies to get positive, patient-focussed messaging online, and optimise SEO and targeting to ensure that the right information is available to the right people at the right time.


One of the key concerns for basing pharmaceutical marketing on online discussion is that not everyone is able to join such dialogues. Elderly patients, patients who live in less connected countries and patients whose capacity to use the web is inhibited by their illness may be underrepresented.

This makes it all the more important for marketers to achieve a balance between exploring digital patient communities and referring to the recommendations of physicians and in-person patient support groups.

It’s also important to take a patient-centric approach to your marketing strategy from the very beginning, treating patients as consumers and developing personas accordingly before rolling out any messaging. This may mean overturning a long-standing brand-centric approach, which could cause friction with major stakeholders.

In this case, it’s important to explain the importance of garnering patient insights in order to identify strategic opportunities that directly meet patient needs. If your brand is seen to focus on overcoming barriers and forming partnerships, helping patients find the right solution for them, it will remain at the forefront of the patient-centric revolution.

While marketing via engagement with healthcare professionals oughtn’t be ruled out or ignored, the relationship between patients, HCPs and pharmaceutical companies needs to be reevaluated, placing greater value on the role played by patients in the relationship between pharma marketing and HCPs.

In this sense, resources that are traditionally created to educate HCPs about the benefits of products can be reworked into more widely educational resources on patient needs. This way, pharmaceutical companies can become trusted as thought leaders across the healthcare industry, representing patient needs and offering solid solutions.

Rather than simply promoting a product as the best available option, pharma can help physicians to contextualise medicines in view of patients’ needs and requirements, highlighting benefits while demonstrating an awareness of surrounding concerns.

This is also an opportunity to improve the image of the pharmaceutical industry as a whole by pioneering non-promotional, altruistic campaigns to raise awareness and understanding of the illnesses your medicines treat. This will not only improve awareness of the brand, but demonstrate a trust-building ethos of care.


Healthcare marketers need to position their products as part of an overarching solution, rather than giving an unrealistic idea of a ‘miracle cure’. It’s important to gain thorough insights into the lives of patients, in order to identify valuable opportunities to add extra value and gain their lasting trust.

While this is only the first step on the path to truly patient-centric marketing, it’s one that will build your brand’s reputation as a genuine advocate for patients in a world where pharmaceutical companies can quickly be seen as faceless commercial corporations.

This will not only lead to better patient health outcomes as they find the medications best suited to their needs, but will also ensure that patients are informed, supported and involved in the wider conversation regarding their condition.

Do you think healthcare marketers have a responsibility toward their patients? Join the debate on LinkedIn.