Let’s admit it – the weight loss industry is a mammoth industry to reckon with, both in terms of revenues and absolute number of customers who are currently participating, tried it in the past, or with intentions to try it in their lifetimes. Market Data Enterprises estimated that the weight loss industry is estimated to be at $66 B in the United States alone in 2013. As an industry, it continues to attract market players with differentiated offerings, each armed with the latest studies that prove the programs’ effectiveness, which surprisingly attracts legions upon legions of advocates and followers. This is an enviable position that pharmaceutical marketers can learn from. So let’s tease out some of the parallels on adherence between the pharmaceutical and weight loss industries.
Ownership of treatment goals
First, there are end points and goals to accomplish. The difference is that for weight loss, it is specific, measurable and established by mostly by the customer. There is a sense of ownership at the onset. For most disease states, the goals, especially medical goals, are set by doctors and not necessarily by the patient. In managing primary or specialty diseases, the goals are mostly based on standards of care, immediately detaching the patient from the first important step – goal setting.
Clarity of treatment path
Second, in weight loss management, most programs present the weight loss path in explicit ways making adherence simpler and easier. For example, following the Low GI Diet, the message is simple: eat foods that have low Glycemic Index; promoters simply organize foods from low to high GI scores with specific suggestions on timing for consumption – a process that is easy for customers to understand and follow. In treating diseases, while physicians follow a standard of care and treatment algorithms, they are quickly translated to “scripts” with very limited opportunities for patients to comprehend the treatment approach hence leading to sub–optimal treatment adherence. Borrowing from Chip and Dan Heath’s bestseller Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, the presence of the “rider” (can be the physician) that leads the elephant (may be the patient or caregiver) by creating a simple and clear path towards a goal can help to motivate positive changes in behaviour to optimize health outcomes. Change happens when we know our destination and why it matters to us.
Presence of a support system
Third, weight loss programs are designed around systems, integrating other streams that will increase opportunities for successful adherence to program or help manage expectations, e.g. coach, partners, apps, etc. In drug treatments, patients are generally left on their own once they leave physician clinics, armed with a prescription, a 10 minute download of information and an order to come back for follow up visits. Meantime, patients are left on their own rushing to get home to secure second opinion or advice from their “invisible” coaches and partners in the online world.
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