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Are you talking to me?

With increasing need to step out of your comfort zone and to convey brand messages to nurses, pharmacists and patients, is your existing proposition really what they require?

Liz RawlinsonYou are standing in a crowd when someone nearby starts chatting to you, but you have no idea what they are talking about. It feels like you have walked in halfway through a conversation between people who have experiences quite different from your own. Clearly you must be mistaken - they can't be talking to you after all...

Do some of the key influencers in your marketplace feel the same? As an industry we are well within our comfort zone when communicating with prescribing physicians. But today's market demands communication with a much wider group of influencers, whose experience and frame of reference is very different.

You may have created a favourable environment for your product within a hospital, PCT or GP practice; it may be their treatment of choice. But when it comes to the practicalities - initiating prescribing, adjusting or switching prescriptions - who will be key to your success? Will it be a practice or specialist nurse, a pharmacist, the patient themselves? And do you - and importantly does your agency - know how to talk to them?

Nurses are different from doctors. Pharmacists are different again and patients even more so. Your communication with them needs to be informed by their individual priorities and perceptions. And that takes more than just insight; it takes genuine empathy.

First, take the emerging role of nurses. In secondary care the role of the specialist nurse is well recognised. And nowadays in primary care there is an increasing appreciation that practice nurses are more closely involved than their GP colleagues in the practical day-to-day management of patients with chronic conditions. The regular reviews required to deliver quality and outcomes targets are usually delegated entirely to them. They may be independent nurse prescribers, or they may not, but the reality is that these practice nurses, not GPs, control your access to a sizeable section of the patient pool.

But nurses often have a perception of products - and a need for information - that differs markedly from that of doctors. Their concerns will certainly be more holistic. For example, a nurse may be resistant to a product not through doubts about its efficacy but because she is presented day after day with the consequences of its side effects, such as patients struggling with weight gain or nausea. Or perhaps initiating or switching to a product requires a complex dose titration. The doctor may be fully engaged with the product benefits, but the burden of changeover may fall entirely on the shoulders of the nurse. Without practical guidance alongside empowering and empathetic patient support these nurses - who can be powerful facilitators - will become equally powerful barriers.

So, faced with these challenges, will your GP detail aid help make the sale when your sales force calls on nurses? I don't think so.

As a second example of the impact of changing roles, in retail pharmacy the advent of prescribing pharmacists and the pharmacy contract - particularly the delivery of advanced and enhanced services - is steadily changing the role of pharmacists, making them a more influential partner in healthcare delivery. And, particularly in smaller independents, pharmacists' priorities extend beyond their role as healthcare professionals; they are business people, with an important commercial imperative you need to empathise with as well.

So does your promotion to pharmacists pack the same punch as promotion for cough medicine and condoms? It needs to because in the pharmacy it is these products and others like them (more than other prescription pharmaceuticals) that are your real competitors for share of voice.

More and more, the nurse and pharmacist are the interface between you and what is also an increasingly vocal and influential patient. And nowhere is empathy more important than in your communication with the patient.

Perceptive and supportive patient communication can deliver fantastic added value. It is one of the most powerful ways to achieve today's marketing 'Holy Grail', helping prescribers engage more emotionally with your brand and your company. But, rest assured, patients and those who care for them (particularly nurses) will see straight through information casually composed by those with neither insight into, nor empathy with, their situation.

So, look through your brand plan. Bringing it to fruition will undoubtedly require communication with groups beyond traditional medical prescribers. But do you have the insight you need to craft your key messages into communication which will show these influencers that you really know them?

And if you don't have a clear communication platform individualised for each group - and you don't have an agency with the skills to give that platform a voice - then take a good look through this directory, because I guarantee key members of your target audience currently think you must be talking to somebody else...

The Author
Liz Rawlingson is managing director at Halesway and can be contacted at or on +44 (0)1264 339955

2nd September 2008


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