By Ruth Whittington ([email protected])

One of the issues most frequently mentioned when we surveyed you was the seemingly unbridgeable gap between how health economists think, and how marketing and sales people think.

As a communications agency that specialises in strategy for health economics we see this time and time again. Passive resistance, or incomprehension at best, on the part of the marketeers, sales people and clinical/preclinical personnel is frustrating. And worse, it may ultimately lead to your exclusion from important decision-making.

Some clinical scientists may feel that all the assumptions that you put into health economics modelling and research mean that the information that you come out with is pure fantasy. Some medical writers agree. I’ve overheard comments such as: “Basically, you can say whatever you like, it’s all fiction anyway”; and “Pharmacoeconomics takes creative accounting to new levels of disbelief.” Such cynicism is rife, and helps keep firewalls firmly in place.

Of course there are assumptions made in health economics. There have to be. The types of real data collection that would be required to show the cost-effectiveness of a drug, in every therapeutic use and in every country, are too enormous to contemplate; but just because assumptions abound, it doesn’t mean that the actual data that come from the studies aren’t valuable in decision-making. The growing influence of health economic studies on approval and reimbursement is demonstrating this only too well.

So, how do you break down the firewall between health economics, marketing and sales? And should we? There are some in the industry who feel this firewall is a good thing (see our next issue). And, of course, there are advantages in having a barrier for you, too. While few people truly understand what it is that you do, you have far less accountability. If they don’t understand it, how can they critique it? And in many companies, budgets are indeed completely separate. However, with the plethora of government and reimbursement authorities placing a great deal of importance on the information you produce, your colleagues are being reluctantly thrust into a more cooperative and collegial approach. And while this may mean your colleagues have to make an effort to understand you, the onus is still on you to help them over the information barrier.

There are four main ways to do this:

* Market yourself and your work – it’s a sad fact that nothing works as well as self-publicity. It’s amazing how little information people get by telepathy! You can will them to understand health economics all you like, but without any practical help to guide them, they’ll be none the wiser. So how do you market yourself effectively? Here are a few ideas – and if you need help with them, call us!

•  Develop a few slides that simply and plainly explain health economics and the value it can add to the product that you’re working on.  Make these simple, interesting and professional, and you’ll soon find your colleagues wanting to use them in their own presentations.

•  At every opportunity, show your colleagues what it is that you’re doing on the product, and how it’s going to affect the marketing and sales of that product. Perhaps add a strapline to your emails:  “John Smith  – providing  the  value for globodrug.” This might be going too far for ex-academics – but a constant reminder that you are there to assist not inhibit your colleagues’ efforts for your product will eventually sink in.

•  Create (and most importantly, disseminate) a booklet on the key issues that you see from a health economics perspective. Make it simple to understand, and use examples of previous successes. Case studies and stories reinforce your point much better than raw data.

•  Try indirect advertising. Posters on the wall can be very useful when they show the top-line strategy and how health economics contributes to the overall picture. Put these in a main thoroughfare and let the information be absorbed by osmosis…

* Get your views heard – if the health economics and outcomes group has a strong company presence, a consistent and clear message from all members of the team, and a vocal and enthusiastic spokesperson in the higher echelons, you have a fighting chance of getting your views heard. However, it can’t be left to a single spokesperson; everyone in the department needs to buy into “shouting out the message” about health economics.  Ways to do this:

•  Set up an internal department subgroup who is tasked with internal communication. Demand that they come up with an idea a quarter

• Challenge your head of department to ensure that he or she is lobbying effectively. Make sure your group is mentioned (preferably favourably) at large company assemblies

• Help your spokesperson  represent you effectively by sending them ideas and telling them your successes.

* Attend those meetings – it’s very easy to miss out on important strategic developments which may affect what you do, and the usefulness of the information you provide, by not attending the meetings. You have to be physically present to actually express that value.

* Add the “So What” factor to everything you do – this is where your agency should be particularly helpful, so get somebody onboard who has a clear understanding of marketing, and are not just marketing themselves. Of course, you might need t o publish some of  your information for academic journals, and for health economic audiences. However, you should make sure that 80–90% of your work is aimed at clinical and marketing audiences, and that it contains a clear message about how this affects the use of the product. It is very easy to get carried away with science for science’s sake and forget that this information must be useable by people who may not understand the means by which you obtained it.