With the domestic pharma industry on the threshold of a significant upheaval in the countdown to 2005 - when WTO regulations come into effect - Lowe Lintas Healthcare has pioneered a study on attitudes and perceptions towards healthcare in India. Lintas Healthcare claims that this syndicated report - titled 'Health-itude' - is the country's first and only in-depth study on the changing attitudes of doctors, patients and chemists towards the existing healthcare system. Health-itude is apparently the product of an extensive research conducted by Lintas' MR agency Pathfinders in the cities of Mumbai and Chennai, covering consumers (patients), doctors and the trade (pharmacists) alike.
Speaking about the genesis of the study, Lynn De Souza, director - integrated marketing communication, Lowe Lintas & Partners, said, "There is a lot of knowledge among pharma companies when it comes to understanding the doctor's behaviour. But we feel that consumer perceptions have not being adequately taken into account, and that there are many preconceived notions. The Indian consumer is awakening to healthcare, and many mainline marketers have already based their business strategies on the health platform, LG and Pepsodent being two prime examples. And even cosmetics manufacturers are going beyond beauty… into the area of health. Our reasoning was, is you can sell durables on health, why not medicine. Also, we feel that nothing has been done to understand the evolving doctor-patient relationship."
For instance, some of the views that the study has brought to light include intriguing paradoxes such as: 'Younger doctors are better qualified, but their diagnosis is not as good as our old family doctor's,' and 'The doctor knows what is best for me. If he prescribes an expensive medicine, it must be because it's better.'
De Souza reveals that the research is built on eight focus group discussions (FGDs) with both male and female patients in the 35-to-54-year age group, from SEC A and B households. "We ensured that the people interviewed were either themselves patients, or were near kin of people who had serious or chronic ailments," says De Souza. "We made sure that those interviewed had been associated with illness in the last one year." One hundred and fifty interviews with doctors, and 100 interviews with retail chemists constituted the 'supply end' of the spectrum.
Questions that the study seeks to answer include the different perceptions pertaining to healthcare, determining value perceptions and patient behaviour, the consumer's approach to healthcare in the larger scheme of her life, approaches to treatment, criteria for prescription, the chemist's role in medication and, most critically, concerns regarding healthcare and the role of branding in the prescription and consumption of medicines.
Specific to the role of branding, De Souza says that the study revealed that while a proactive approach by manufacturers builds goodwill among consumers, the doctor largely remains indifferent to the brand. "Any one-on-one activity on the part of manufacturers is welcomed by the consumer, but the manufacturer is not an important part of the doctor's prescription process," she says. "The things doctors are most concerned about while prescribing medicine is efficacy and affordability."
Which, in a way, is ironical, as many consumers believe that the doctor is actually more interested in making a nice little pile for himself. "Patients have even referred to a money-making nexus between doctors and pathological labs," De Souza says. In fact, one of the concerns that patients have voiced is their total dependence on the doctor. "Patients are actually saying they want to know more about healthcare so that they know what they are being put through," De Souza points out. And strangely, the study reveals that even doctors want better health education for consumers, as this will build trust and make the doctor-patient relationship happier in the long-term.
"What we have logically inferred from this is that it is for the pharma companies to educate patients - who else can do this?" asks De Souza. "Spending 60 per cent of the promotional outlay on clocks, suitcases and other knick-knacks for doctors who don't really care for your brand is quite pointless. And while patient camps are good for fostering one-on-one contact, for quick impact, drug manufacturers have to use mass-media."
De Souza is quite pleased with the manner in which the study has been received. "The response has been very good. I think the industry is happy that somebody went out and did this. I'm sure both manufacturers and agencies can see the value in this."
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