Friday, March 7, 2008

Strategies for 'symptomless diseases'

The greatest challenge for society (healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies, and patients themselves) is management of what may be called 'symptomless diseases'. For eg., consider GLAUCOMA, DIABETES, HYPERTENSION, END STAGE RENAL DISEASE (ESRD), CANCER AND OSTEOPOROSIS - these diseases, at the start, do not cause typical and powerful symptoms that motivate individuals to consult doctors or healthcare providers. Nomally, pain, fatigue, giddiness, disfigurement, and discomfort are the reasons for individuals to seek medical consultation. But what do you do when certain diseases at the early stage do not cause important symptoms that will motivate individuals to seek medical advice?

6.3.2008 was observed as WORLD GLAUCOMA DAY. There are some chilling statistics about glaucoma as reported in The Times of India, dated 7.3.2008, Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness after cataract. 90% of those affected are unaware that they have glaucoma, since it is a painless disease, which spreads fast. By the time patients are aware, they lose up to 70% of vision. Nearly 2.5% to 5% of people aged 40 and above are vulnerable to glaucoma.
Around 67 million people worldwide suffer glaucoma (12% are in India).

OSTEOPOROSIS is popular as the "silent thief". This insidious disease silently makes the bones weak, brittle, and they break easily (resulting in fractures). In fact, in the aged, even severe coughing or sneezing can cause fractures particularly in the vertebrae. Often, the first signs of osteoporosis are low back pain and gum disease (leading to tooth-fall in the aged). It is only when the dip in bone mineral density has crossed a certain threshold level, that osteoporosis becomes apparent physically (such as stooped gait).

Similarly, hypertension is well known as the silent killer. High blood pressure does not always cause clear symptoms.

Diabetes and renal disease are also diagnosed many a times when the diseases have advanced.

In marketing the AIDA (attention, interest, desire, and action) is a very important sequence that is used to engage prospects and customers. Marketing communication efforts always engage the target audience with the above sequence. The idea is to gain attention of the target audience, kindle interest, and stimulate desire, and finally ensure the desired action.
Creating tension is vital in the AIDA sequence. Tension leads to information search behavior and thus, by achieving the required higher level of involvement in the target audience, desired outcomes are obtained.
Let us imagine, the case of Glaucoma. The target audience is obviously the 40 plus age group, particularly diabetics, myopics, and persons on steroids for a long time (like asthmatics, skin allergy patients ...). After identifying the target audience, evolution of marketing messages and choice of media is relevant. To engage the target audience, SOCIAL MARKETING is a good vehicle for brand marketers. This will not only serve the cause of category expansion for the focus brands, it will also subserve the national cause of positive health. The brand engagement strategy should be to educate the target audience and kindle in them the tension for information search behavior and also seek diagnostic help as a preventive strategy. When brand engagement strategies are chalked out through the doctor, brand engagement through opinion builders too is achieved. It is important for social marketing messages to go through opinion builders and also strengthen word-of-mouth in the target audience, about the targeted condition.
THE FORGOTTON PHARMACIST FRONTIER. The pharmacist - medical retailer community is a very strong one and well dispersed in the country. The Indian pharma market is also a strong OTX one. The estimated no. is 5,00,000. Engaging in marketing communication with prospects through pharmacists is a viable strategy for both commercial and noncommercial healthcare marketers. With the development of retail chains, the prospect to exploit the pharmacist medium is better.
It is challenging for healthcare authorities, and pharma marketers to "market" 'consciousness' about "symptomless diseases". It is similar to marketing of preventive care products. It is the next level of challenge to Pharma marketers and healthcare authorities as the market begins to mature in India, and there is an explosion of media power in India. I GOT THE GLAUCOMA IMAGE ABOVE FROM HERE.

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