“Who’s Making My Medicine Now?”


Newspapers and TV reports are filled with talk about the big pharmaceutical company mergers currently taking place. With each merger, consumers hear that the new company is going to become the largest or the second largest in the world. News reports place great emphasis on the billion-dollar value of the merger and how the new conglomerate will increase its prescription drug sales significantly during the next few years. At the same time, companies use DTC ads and collateral materials to build consumer trust and confidence in both the product and its manufacturer. The ads have proven to be very successful, and consumers are learning to identify a particular prescription product with its manufacturer.

How many consumers will be confused the next time they read a DTC ad about one of their prescription medicines or receive DTC collateral material in the mail? Consumers who are familiar with the manufacturer that usually sends them health information will very likely have concerns about mailings from the new company:

  • Who’s making my medicine now?
  • I don’t know anything about that new company. How reliable is it? Are its medicines any better than those I use from the other company?
  • I really liked the newsletters and videos that my old company sent me. How do I get back on its mailing list?
  • How did the new company get my name? I thought the mailing list was supposed to be confidential, and that my name would not be sold to other companies.
  • Are two different companies now selling my medicine?
  • Is another company manufacturing my medicine because it’s gone generic? Maybe it will be cheaper now.
  • Why did the original company sell my medicine to another company? Is there something wrong with the product?
  • Has the chemical makeup of the medicine changed with the new company? Which one is best?
Consumers Shortchanged

Pharmaceutical companies typically fail to address those concerns when they merge. The focus is always on getting bigger and better. Yet, bigger and better means very little to someone who is ill and needs medication to restore some quality of life. Consumers who search for ways to invest their trust fail to receive the messages they need to hear. Instead, newspapers are filled with startling statistics designed for investors, not patients.

On January 23, 2000, a Washington Post article titled, “Prescription for Trouble? As Drug Firms Consolidate, Fears Grow that Consumers May be Shortchanged,” certainly didn’t inspire much confidence in consumers. The article reports that “consumers are shortchanged because the merging companies focus their attention–sometimes obsessively–on boosting profits and keeping investors happy, with little thought of passing savings along.”

Consumers need to hear that pharmaceutical companies care about them. The best avenue to reach consumers right now is through DTC ads, collateral materials that provide information–not coupons–and patient counseling tools from health professionals. A company’s success will be short-lived if it only “sells” a product through DTC ads. The secret to success is for companies to offer a carefully planned program that provides consumers with information that meets their needs.

Every disease and every medicine has different marketing and clinical requirements that must be considered. After consumers make an appointment with their physicians, the next step is to help the health professionals provide continuous and integrated pharmaceutical facts. Product managers should ensure that potential patients receive practical information, so that over time, they learn that “Product X” is safe and effective, and that its manufacturer is using some of the profits to make patients feel like “part of the team.”

Dr. Dorothy L. Smith is a consumer education expert and president of Consumer Health Information Corporation. The full-service company specializes in patient labeling, program development, and strategic planning for DTC campaigns.

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Published in Pharmaceutical Executive, March 2000. Copyrighted material; All rights reserved.