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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

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