CINCINNATI — One of retail pharmacists’ greatest strengths is their ability to connect with patients through face-to-face interaction. Reaching consumers outside the store is, however, a more daunting prospect.
Healthy Advice Networks is ready to help pharmacy operators meet that challenge. The health information company, which communicates with patients and health care providers via media placed inside physicians’ offices, is in the process of expanding its messaging to include issues central to community pharmacy.
“We think that there’s a real opportunity for pharmacies to get incremental store traffic and incremental prescriptions by engaging with patients while they’re still in the physician’s office and focused on health care,” comments Deborah Schnell, president of sales and strategic planning. “As an ancillary benefit, that incremental traffic flow should, and typically does, result in increased front-end sales.”
That Healthy Advice Networks model has worked well for the privately held firm’s clients, a group that Schnell says includes nine of the top 10 prescription drug makers and eight major consumer products companies. The information that they want to convey to patients is delivered via customizable digital flash animation screens in physicians’ waiting rooms as well as anatomical illustrations and printed material for patients in examination rooms. (Healthy Advice Networks also uses digital animation to provide news updates to health care professionals.)
Sponsors’ messages on the Healthy Advice Primary Care Network, which comprises 27- to 32-inch LCD flat-screens in waiting rooms, are limited to 30 to 60 seconds and appear between related consumer education content relevant to a given physician’s practice. The material is presented in 25- to 30-minute loops; at least 70% of each loop is devoted to informing and educating the patient.
“Our programming is geared toward where our systems are located and what the sponsors want to get across,” Schnell explains. “If we have a diabetes brand that’s being promoted on our network, for example, we create education content that talks about what diabetes means to the patient, some of the effects it has on their overall well-being, and the importance of controlling blood glucose levels — so when patients see the ad for that product, it has real meaning.”
The company can back up that assertion. With respected third-party market research firms Wolters Kluwer, NielsenHealth and Consumer Insight Surveys tracking results, Health Advice Networks quantifies its impact.
“We represent many of the top prescription medications on the market,” says Schnell. “That’s one of the reasons that our networks should have such attraction to pharmacy chains. When we look at the biggest chronic disease states, including cardiovascular disease, acid reflux disease and diabetes, physicians in our networks account for as much as 25% of the U.S. prescribing volume in those categories.”
Healthy Advice Networks goes beyond ethical medications. Makers of over-the-counter drugs and other health-related products are increasingly turning to the company.
“There’s been a real shift in the last three years toward understanding that consumer health and wellness suppliers want to reach patients directly,” she notes. “We now have leading fiber products and a leading aspirin product, as well as a number of other consumer brands. Because people today are taking a more active role in their health, suppliers want to reach them when they’re thinking about it, and can impact their lives.”
Schnell says that the Healthy Advice Networks paradigm has direct applicability to retail pharmacy.
“We would utilize the same approach if a pharmacy were promoting its services on our network,” she points out. “We would create education content around such issues as medication compliance and why it’s important to stay on therapy.
“Nonadherence contributes to a lot of potentially serious health problems. It also represents a significant amount of lost revenue for pharmacies.”
Retailers making use of Healthy Advice Networks will be able to reinforce community pharmacy’s claim to a bigger role in an evolving health care system and highlight the full range of offerings — which at many chains now include medication therapy management, specialty pharmacy services, health screenings and immunizations — available at their stores. In addition, they can call attention to such perks as in-store specials, product samples, coupons and rebates throughout the store.
Healthy Advice Networks, whose products now include mobile messaging capabilities and Healthy Advice magazine, provides an established conduit to a huge number of patients. The company will touch almost 400 million patient visits this year, or about 25% of the total in the United States, as well as reaching over 50,000 primary care and specialty physicians, according to Schnell.
Executives at big pharmacy chains might argue that, with the technology available to them today, retailers could do as good a job communicating directly with customers in their stores. Schnell says that experience shows otherwise.
“There is some educational programming that is available on a limited basis in some pharmacies, but it doesn’t work all that well in that setting,” she notes. “In order to get it to pay out for pharmacies, they have to have relatively long dwell times for people to be able to absorb the information, retain the information and act upon it.
“When people go to the pharmacy, they frequently drop off their script and go walk the aisles. They don’t stand there at the prescription counter. The average wait time in a physician’s office is anywhere from 26 to 30 minutes. Patients in that situation are very receptive to what we have to say to them.”