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Targeting A Captive Audience: Marketing To Patients In The Waiting Room
UPDATE:  See this post for Phreesia's response to the controversey surrounding its service. 

An interesting article published late last week on the Hastings Center blog Bioethics Forum focuses on how pharmaceutical companies are marketing to patients in the waiting room.

The author of the article, Adriane Fugh-Berman, cites a number of firms that specialize in helping pharma companies reach this captive audience.  One major company in this space is Healthy Advice Networks, which has "installed at least 95,000 [television] screens in waiting rooms across the country."   On its Website the company promises that pharmaceutical company sponsors of its programming will see new drug prescriiptions increase by an average of 8 - 12 percent. 

For pharmaceutical companies, marketing  to patients in the waiting room makes a lot of sense.  They are guaranteed that they will have access to an interested and engaged audience. In addition, physicians may welcome the opportunity to provide their patients with important educational information about heart disease and other chronic and acute conditions.

In her article Berman says that marketing in the waiting room represents an "assault" on patients.  She also implies that it:

- May increase the odds that patients will request medications from doctors they don't need

- Helps pharmaceutical companies collect market research data from patients who are unaware they are providing (non-personalized) information to drug firms

From a personal perspective, having a pharmaceutical company market their products to me in the waiting room does not bother me that much.  I see lots of drug-related information when I visit the doctor anyway -- pens, posters, samples, brochures and magazine advertisements.  Viewing a commercial on a television screen -- especially if the sound is turned off -- is not a big deal.

Berman also says that drug firms are collecting market research data from patients via WebPads, which they use to provide physicians with information about why they are visiting the doctor's office.  I have never used a WebPad. However, I would be disturbed if I found out that I was providing data to a pharmaceutical company without my knowledge.  I assume that my medical information is used by the hospital, physician and managed care company -- not a drug firm.  If data from me was provided to a pharmaceutical company I'd want to know about it and have the right to opt out of the market research.

For me, waiting room marketing is fine, provided that I:

- Received balanced, accurate educational materials

- Get clear, in-depth information about the risk and benefits of advertised products

- Understand when and how I am participating in market research so that I know who is getting it, what it will be used for and how to opt out

6 Comments/Trackbacks

Berman's comments regarding Phreesia business model are false and unresearched. Phreesia does not share patient data with its sponsors. In fact, Phreesia does not keep any patient data. When patients use Phreesia they are also clearly informed if information is sponsored, there is no sponsorship during the interview process. All Sponsored information is also sent to participating practices for their approval prior to being put on the PhreesiaPads.
Should you have any questions or if you would be interested in learning more about how Phreesia can at no cost help you practice please go to

In September, General Electric launched the Patient Channel, which shows medical programming and drug ads to patients in hospitals and waiting rooms across the country. The shows and ads run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.The Patient Channel is essentially another marketing tool for the nation's pharmaceutical corporations. It was designed to give them access to this captive audience at a time of maximum vulnerability and emotional distress. In the studied euphemisms of the channel's marketing director, Kelly Peterson stated that the Patient Channel enables drug companies to “directly associate their products with a particular condition in a hospital setting.” This is one of the lowest ways to sell your product I've seen in years. Next thing you know they'll be advertising coffins at the hospital morgue...


Thanks for your comment. Just so you know, I've removed the link to WaspBarCode software. The link didn't have much to do with the comment or the post.

Fard - Great post. How about bringing a little 'social networking' into the waiting room? A computer set to the doc's blog would provide valuable information, give patients a sense of the doc (and staff)creating a comfort level and be more informative and entertaining than months out of date magazines!


Thanks for your comment. Having docs provide patients with their own content is a great idea. I'd know I'd love it if my doc had their own blog and let me read it. Even if they didn't use a computer, but simply printed out useful posts I'd appreciate it.

TVs provided by pharma companies in doctors' waiting rooms are customly designed as to what they program. In addition, they aid the sales force with thier efforts. With some pharma companies, a list of doctors and thier locations are provided to pharma reps, as a target list for quid pro quo, perhaps (hey doc, like that TV my company put in your waiting room?)

Not a good practice

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