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The Sad Truth: How Big Pharma Maintains Compliance, Brand Loyalty & Market Share

What can pharmaceutical companies do when their target audience cannot or will not comply with their prescribed medication recommendation? They target the caregiver, of course. For some patients, especially the mentally ill or the elderly, compliance is an issue.

And Big Pharma does not want patients to miss a single dose of their medication. Compliance techniques are very sophisticated, however, and a caregiver, rebranded as a “Partner in Care,” becomes a Partner in Profit.

Patient education is big business for pharma. One missed dose of hypertension medicine is not life-threatening but pharma has many medications that require regular doses to keep patients on the hook and on schedule.

There are numerous websites that are disguised to look like they are created by patient advocacy groups and legitimate healthcare organizations for caregivers of relatives with diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease, cardiovascular disease, autism, Down Syndrome, Parkinson’s Disease, etcetera. By creating an organization and/or an online community, they are able to get large groups of people to buy into and share the marketing messages as they are fed by pharma.

Often, a patient suffering from symptoms is treated with medication as first line therapy as opposed to behavior modification, lifestyle changes, or alternative drugless therapies. Once they are on the first line therapy, it’s easy to get a patient to take another medication to deal with the side effects of the first medication. This is how a patient can end up on a dozen or more drugs daily.

Once medications become layered onto a patient’s itinerary, and they become dependent on them, it becomes difficult for the treating physician to tease out which medication is causing problems and which are actually helping the patient. That’s where the caregiver provides value to pharma. They help the patient to keep their schedule of drugs straight and to even help administer them on time.

What makes pharma-created patient and caregiver education so insidious is the implied tone of ‘supporting the caregiver’ by providing coping skills. What it’s really about is winning their buy-in on the drug treatment regimen. A quick Google search will yield hundreds of patient education sites, many of them aimed at caregivers.

Look to see who sponsors the site. Even if it’s a nationally recognized organization, like the American Heart Association (AHA), know that all of these organizations accept large donations from pharma and are therefore subsidized by a pro drug agenda. Therefore all content is shaped and managed by pharma to reinforce drug messaging.

Just before the launch of any new drug, pharma companies lobby for top sponsorship roles with major health organizations who hold annual events and have regular publications. While these major health organizations are supposed to be fair and balanced, this becomes impossible when the same Advisory Board of doctors is paid by pharma to sit on the board of health organizations.

Caregiver education is also a big focus for pharma because partners and/or caregivers are often at the doctor’s appointment with the patient. They may ask questions, take notes, or read the pharma-supplied brochures in the waiting room. These take-home education materials talk about the disease, but with marketing messages that reinforce the drug regimen interlaced throughout.

Patient compliance and caregiver reinforcement strategies are created before the drug is launched to complement the medical education provided to the prescription writers. Pharma designs these programs to get the target patients on their meds. A separate but integrated plan is created for spouses and/or caregivers to be sure medications are administered as prescribed — often called “Partners In Care” programs.

By building advocacy with caregivers, Pharma companies ensure compliance, further build their business by introducing new drugs to the patient regimen, and ensure profits by having an in-home sales person.


Laurie Powell
Laurie Powell joined Focus for Health in February 2016 as Director, Health & Wellness Advocacy. With a background in Marketing Communications serving the Pharmaceutical Industry, Laurie developed largescale Medical Education programs for healthcare professionals and Patient Education programs in support of blockbuster drug brands. Disillusioned with the pharmaceutical approach to healthcare, Laurie became an activist for healthy and sustainable living. As an advocate of alternative healthcare modalities, such as Functional Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Integrative Nutrition, Laurie brings her expertise in brand strategy, wellness coaching, and holistic nutrition to Focus for Health with the goal of empowering consumers to make informed healthcare decisions.

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