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Pharma firms rethink marketing strategies under the Sunshine Act

Pharma makes cautious shift to connect with stakeholders

With penalties to pharma companies for violating the Physician Payments Sunshine Act potentially ranging into the millions of dollars, adhering to the act is a priority. But when it comes to marketing materials, achieving compliance is not simple, resulting in tentative strategies.

Healthcare and pharmaceutical marketing agency Traffik Health created a tip sheet for its pharmaceutical clients, said Shane Kimsey, director of accounts. The California-based company recommended its clients create a central reporting database to ensure a uniform reporting structure that allows for appropriate monitoring; the establishment of quarterly audits; and providing training to staff so they understand the rules of the act – a simple thing to do that is crucial for marketing to be compliant yet effective.

[See also: Partly cloudy for Sunshine Act start]

“The burden to make sure that all your marketing communications with your customers, your prospects, your brokers, your members, is compliant is increasing for everybody and at the same time you still want to make sure it’s an effective communication that’s going out,” said David Lowndes, director of product marketing, marketing production and fulfillment services at Iron Mountain, a global storage and information management company.

The days of “owning” a doctor’s office by plastering it with marketing materials are over, said Craig Baker, executive vice president of Noble, a Florida-based product development and marketing company. “(The mindset) has shifted to quality of programs versus the quantity,” he said.

This need to balance compliance with effectiveness forces pharmaceutical marketing teams to have to re-think how they communicate with their stakeholders, Baker and Lowndes said.

While pharmaceutical marketing teams are still trying to figure out how to be in compliance and be effective, some ideas are bubbling up, Lowndes and Baker said.

Because of some of the gray areas in the act regarding whether something is reportable or not, Iron Mountain advises its pharmaceutical clients to be cautious and to collect information on some of the gray areas in addition to what is required in case it’s needed, Lowndes said. Iron Mountain offers its clients a tracking tool to aid in being able to report on marketing materials that fall under the auspices of the act and those that may or may not.

Some of Noble’s clients are discussing the value of using patient education – an area considered exempt under the Sunshine Act – as a way to get time with healthcare providers and patients, said Baker.

“This paradigm shift of less access translates into ‘well, let’s make sure that our message is that compelling. Let’s have longer conversations. Let’s have more meaningful conversations,’” he said.

Instead of plastering a doctor’s office with logoed materials, the patient education strategy helps teach patients to correctly use a medical device, for example, Baker said, changing a marketing message into something meaningful that impacts the end user.

While strategies are being discussed and tested out now, it won’t be until next fall – after stakeholders see how the data is reported and used – before the pharmaceutical industry gets a real indication of how they should move forward with marketing, Baker said.

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