Certain cancer screening types, including mammograms and colonoscopies, are well-known among patients. But lung cancer screening isn’t one of them—and even high-risk patients aren’t getting the message.
More than half of current smokers—54%—know little or nothing about lung-cancer screening, according to recent data from Phreesia Life Sciences, which surveyed more than 14,000 current and former smokers as they checked in for doctors’ appointments. And only 28% of survey participants with any smoking history—many of whom also are considered high-risk—said they were aware of lung-cancer screening.
Early detection in lung cancer is key to better chances of survival, which makes the survey figures particularly alarming. Patients who are diagnosed when their cancer is still localized to the lungs have a five-year survival rate of 61.2%, according to data from the National Cancer Institute. But that rate nosedives to just 7% for patients whose cancer has spread to other parts of their body before it’s detected.
So what can pharma marketers do to help? For starters, getting the word out about who should be screened—to both patients and doctors—is critical. Just last year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force expanded screening recommendations to include adults ages 50 to 80 who have a 20 pack-year smoking history and either currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.
Now, “doctors just don’t know about it. They don’t talk about it,” Heather Kun, CEO of nonprofit Fuck Cancer, says. And on top of that, “the criteria for being screened is beyond complicated,” she notes, pointing to the pack year count.
Patients need more education around the screening itself, too, explains Nancy Ibach, associate vice president of U.S. Oncology at Merck. Screenings consist of low-dose CT scans, and “people realizing that it is not an invasive procedure … could actually help us help others,” she says.
And he way pharma marketers communicate that information is important, Kun adds. “Make it funny, make it lighter,” she suggests. “This isn’t a big deal—you’re getting your picture taken!”
But boosting awareness alone won’t solve the problem, Phreesia survey data shows. Of the 28% of current or former smokers who said they were aware of screening, just 5% have been screened for lung cancer in the past 12 months, and only 11% plan to be screened in the next 12 months. Those stats suggest there are other hurdles to screening that marketers must address.
For one, smokers and former smokers may experience feelings of guilt or shame that stop them from getting screened. “There’s a lot of guilt, if you will, a lot of, ‘I did this to myself,’ and sometimes that can impact their ability to even undergo the screening,” Ibach says.
In some cases, those feelings may stop them from even sharing their smoking history with their doctors, Kun adds. Destigmatizing the conversation around smoking can help ensure that patients and providers can have open, honest conversations. “It’s super important to get people out of the dark to say, “‘I’m owning my risk factors,’” she says.
Patients in underserved communities may also face additional barriers, leading to later diagnoses and worse fatality rates. Currently, screening isn’t accessible enough for all patients, says Kun, who suggests expanding the technology to a certain number of community health centers per zip code.
Patients in these communities can also be less trusting of physicians, Ibach says. “We have to get into the community with the message, and we have to partner with people who can get into the community and deliver this message from a trusted source who can help them understand the details of it,” she notes.
While the challenge of upping screening rates is a big one, it’s one that comes with the opportunity to save patients’ lives, Ibach says.
“We’ve got a lot of education to do, but I do think if we as an industry within the pharma space can create more awareness, we can really change health outcomes within this particular diagnosis.”
Pharma companies don’t typically market directly to caregivers of patients with chronic conditions. But they might want to consider it, new data from Phreesia Life Sciences suggests.
More than half of chronically ill patients rely on their caregivers to make healthcare decisions for them, according to a nationwide survey of more than 2,000 caregivers conducted while they checked in for doctors’ appointments, either for themselves or for their patients. In addition, another 30% of patients always discuss their treatment options with their caregivers before making a decision.
In fact, a combined 92% of caregivers say they typically take a leading or active role in doctor-patient discussions, and nearly 9 in 10 (87%) are involved in those discussions all or most of the time.
These statistics point to a largely unexplored avenue for pharma marketers: directly engaging caregivers. The pharma industry’s current messaging and imagery overwhelmingly focus on patients and their experience, but with so many caregivers so deeply involved in their patients’ treatment planning, drugmakers may find success targeting communications specifically to this group—especially in disease areas where patients rely heavily on their caregivers.
So what should those communications look like? If pharma wants to connect meaningfully with caregivers, it’s important to understand the caregiver experience and the many struggles they face.
For starters, 75% of caregivers report moderate-to-extreme stress related to their caregiving duties—no surprise, considering the myriad tasks they juggle, often without pay and/or on top of another job. In addition to accompanying patients to appointments and discussing their care with their providers, many caregivers also are responsible for monitoring their patients’ health symptoms (70%), coordinating appointments (73%), making pharmacy trips (69%), managing medications (64%) and more.
Caregivers also grapple with feeling ill-equipped for their responsibilities. In fact, 2 out of 5 caregivers (40%) say they don’t have the resources they need to provide optimal care for their patients, even after many years in the role—65% of those surveyed had been providing patient care for three years or more.
To broaden their medical knowledge, caregivers frequently turn to the web, piling up hours of research on top of their long list of duties. Indeed, 69% of caregivers say the internet is the first place they go to look for information that can help them provide better care, followed by their patient’s doctor (53%) and the doctor’s office staff (43%). Overall, 73% of caregivers go online for health-condition-specific information at least once a month, and 20% search online a few times a week.
Pharma marketers need to take this timely data under consideration and create messaging that specifically engages caregivers in authentic, empathetic ways. Reaching caregivers where they’re already searching for information—online and at the point of care—with educational materials, training, medication information and other resources can go a long way toward easing their many burdens, ultimately better supporting both caregivers and the patients they serve.
Since May 2018, several calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) inhibitors have entered the migraine field, with no fewer than seven gaining U.S. Food & Drug Administration approval for acute migraine treatment and/or prevention. Thanks to this influx of new prescription therapies, the global migraine market is expanding, with some analysts expecting to see its value soar as high as $13 billion by 2027. But if drugmakers want to realize the market’s full potential, they’re going to have to double down on raising public and provider awareness, new data shows.
Only about half of migraine sufferers (52%) have tried acute therapy, and only 37% have used preventive therapy, according to research from Phreesia Life Sciences, which surveyed more than 4,000 migraine patients when they checked in for their doctors’ appointments. What’s more, many patients aren’t even talking to their doctors about new migraine drugs: Among patients who have discussed migraine with their doctor, 36% have not discussed acute migraine medications, and 46% have not discussed preventive treatment options.
Those numbers point to a need for more provider education—particularly for primary care providers, many of whom may not be up to speed on the many new treatment options. Since migraine patients far outnumber headache specialists in the U.S.—in 2020, there were just 700 specialists for 39 million migraine sufferers, according to the Migraine Research Foundation—that’s an audience pharma needs to take into greater consideration.
But pharma marketers also need to get the word out and improve brand recognition among patients. Nearly half (47%) of surveyed patients couldn’t recall a single brand name in the preventive migraine category, and the only brand that came to mind for more than 10% of patients was Topamax, an older drug that gained approval for migraine back in 2004.
So what can CGRP drugmakers do to convert more patients to brand? For starters, they can strengthen their messaging aimed at prescription-naïve patients, many of whom don’t think their condition is serious enough to warrant prescription treatment—and, in some cases, to even discuss with their doctors. Nearly one-fifth of surveyed patients (19%) said they had never talked to their doctors about their migraine symptoms, and among those who hadn’t brought up migraine with their doctors in the past year, 45% said their headaches weren’t serious enough to discuss, and 38% said they were using over-the-counter medications to control their symptoms.
Pharma also can supply the tools and resources that migraine patients want and need to make treatment decisions. When asked what types of information would increase their interest in a new preventive migraine medication, 36% of patients said they wanted information about its side effects, and 28% requested cost information. Separately, when asked what migraine-care resources would be helpful to them, 36% of patients said they could use more information about how a medication works, and 25% said they would find doctor discussion guides helpful.
Drugmakers who can successfully help migraine patients understand that they don’t need to suffer through their symptoms, encourage doctor-patient conversations and empower patients to actively participate in their migraine treatment will benefit as the CGRP market grows increasingly crowded.
Right now, the U.S public health officials, vaccine makers and other groups are striving to educate the public – and combat misinformation – about COVID-19 vaccines in a drive to improve vaccination rates and end the pandemic. But as new data show, it’s not just COVID-19 shots that patients need to learn more about.
A pair of recent Phreesia surveys, given to a combined total of nearly 345,000 patients when they checked in for doctors’ appointments, found that although patients largely recognize the importance of vaccines, many have concerns around safety and side effects -even when it comes to older, more established products. And that’s where pharma marketers need to step in.
In the first of the two surveys, taken by nearly 10,000 parents of adolescents between Nov. 30 and Dec. 10, 2020, respondents generally believed that childhood vaccines were effective, with 62.5% strongly agreeing and 28.6% agreeing. Caregivers concurred in similar percentages that childhood vaccines were important for their children’s health and that getting vaccines was a good way to protect children from disease.
But the survey also yielded worrying results for vaccine makers and public health officials. Close to 16% of parents either agreed or strongly agreed that their children didn’t need vaccines for diseases that are no longer common, and 25% didn’t have an opinion either way about such vaccinations.
Combined, those figures indicate that more than 40% of parents aren’t sure they need to vaccinate their children for diseases that aren’t currently prevalent – even though the rarity of those diseases hinges on vaccines and the herd immunity they confer. In recent years, outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and mumps have shown that even small pockets of unvaccinated people can drive significant spread of contagious disease among both vaccinated and unvaccinated populations. That’s why it’s critical that healthcare professionals and vaccine makers continue to stress the importance of childhood vaccination.
Another troubling statistic in an era of unparalleled vaccine hesitancy: Nearly 46% of surveyed parents said they were concerned about vaccines’ side effects, with another 28.2% expressing no opinion about side effects either way. Together, those figures showed that 74% of parents were either worried or uncertain about the side effects of vaccines – despite an overabundance of evidence that vaccines are safe and rarely cause serious adverse reactions.
Finally, perhaps in reference to the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA COVID-19 vaccines that were making their way toward widespread adoption at the time, 27.1% of surveyed parents either agreed or strongly agreed that new vaccines carried more risks than older vaccines – and a whopping 47.6% neither agreed nor disagreed with that statement.
Those stats mirror results from a second, ongoing Phreesia survey, which has been taken by more than 335,000 adult patients since March 2021. Among those who answered, slightly more than half of polled patients (51%) said they were concerned about the safety and long-term side effects of COVID-19 vaccines, and 23.5% did not agree that it was important to receive all recommended vaccines.
The results clearly illustrate that pharma marketers have their work cut out for them, not only to convince patients to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but also to make sure the vaccine hesitancy the country is currently seeing doesn’t spill over further to impact the rate of childhood vaccinations. While patients may be generally aware of vaccines’ role in staving off disease, it’s up to marketers to ease patients’ fears about vaccine safety and side effects and to highlight the continued importance of vaccination, no matter the disease area.