Zed Williamson

Medical Device Direct-to-Patient Advertising: 4 Key Scenarios to Drive Results

Discover four key scenarios that medical device leaders can leverage to get results with direct-to-patient advertising.

While direct-to-patient advertising has been effective for some, it’s not foolproof. In fact, many medical device companies set themselves up for failure when entering direct-to-patient advertising, whether it’s trying to use blanket approach, or launching with minimal strategy or consideration for their unique situation.

So why does this happen?

It’s not intentional in most cases. Due to the nature of advertising, leaders may mistakenly think of direct-to-patient ads as having one of two settings – they’re either “on” or “off”.  However, this black and white thinking omits the ability to customize channels or scale and approach.

More importantly, patients are seeking information. If you are not running any direct-to-patient ads, you are leaving money on the table. You are allowing patients to make decisions without knowing your product or technology exists.

That said, before we dive into what that customization should look like, it’s important to address the elephant in the room: are you even ready to run direct-to-patient ads? It’s not a simple answer, requiring some strategic consideration. And a good hard look at your specific scenario.

How to tell if direct-to-patient ads are NOT for you

First thing’s first, let’s make sure it’s even worth your time to keep reading. Here are a couple reasons why direct-to-patient advertising might be a bad idea for your organization right now:

  • Is awareness the issue? If more patients knew how your solution might benefit them, would you actually sell more units? If the answer is no… don’t do DTC.
  • Siloed departments: If there are unhealthy silos between sales and marketing in your organization, with minimal information flow between them, you should not do DTC

If you’re still on board but hesitant to get started, let’s make sure you aren’t falling prey to some of the common misconceptions that prevent healthcare professionals from getting into direct advertising when they should be.

Common hesitations to launching direct-to-patient campaigns

When your team finds out a patient is dealing with the issue your product solves, how passionate are they at connecting someone who offers your solution? Why are you not doing this at scale?

When clients ask about direct-to-patient ads (otherwise known as direct-to-consumer or DTC ads), we hear a lot of the same hesitations:

  • They don’t think they’re ready. Oddly enough, it’s the companies who don't think they’re ready for DTC yet who tend to benefit the most.
  • Unsure how to start. You may be interested, but don’t know how to execute it successfully (or avoid burning cash only to have little to no return). A good partner can make this process incredibly easy on your end.
  • Budget constraints. It’s common to be hesitant due to budget, but this is a myth. Due to the customization of strategies, you don’t actually need a huge budget for an effective DTC campaign. Not to mention, the opportunity cost of foregoing DTC is enormous. Consider what you spend on a conference, compared to patient education. If more patients knew how your solution would help them, would you sell more units?
  • Concerns about compliance. Odds are, your lawyers love saying no. While you should always prioritize compliance, it’s easier than you think to run DTC ads and remain 100% in compliance with your legal team.
  • Beliefs about a long timeline: Afraid it may take too long to generate results? You’re not alone. There’s a common misconception about the amount of time that’s needed for this strategy, but with the right partner can get you started in a matter of weeks. It’s an accepted reality that a new sales rep may take 12-18 months to at least pay for themselves. Not only can DTC be launched in weeks…it will cut down on the time you’re waiting for reps to be successful.

Remember: if you don’t take control of speaking to patients about their pain, they won’t act. They will either choose to forego treatment, or will continue the path they were already on.

Every quarter that goes by and you don’t leverage a smart DTC strategy, you are merely hoping patients seek treatment, and they get referred to the surgeons who actually believe what you believe. Are you ok with that? Take a moment to consider your Customer Acquisition Cost from your Trade Show budget.

Regardless of your hesitations, it’s likely that your company is a better candidate for DTC ads than you might think. If you’re ready to take that next step, it’s critical that you know exactly how to customize direct-to-patient ads based on your particular situation, rather than wasting ad spend.

Here are some common scenarios you might be in, and how to approach them.

The 4 most common scenarios for med device companies considering DTC ads (and how to handle them)

While your situation may vary, the majority of med device companies find themselves in one of four key scenarios when considering direct-to-patient advertising, each of which requires a unique approach to effectively drive results.

1. Large teams - Surgeons need more patients/candidates

Scenario: Large field team with lots of users (from dabblers to heavy users). A common thing your team hears from surgeons is “I would do more if I saw more of the right type of patient.”

Solution: You can drive patient behavior to your online docfinder, so that patients are actively tracking down surgeons who are using this technology, and requesting treatment.


  • Significant increase in web traffic, specifically to your docfinder
  • Easier sales conversations for your team with non-using surgeons, either because they’re being asked by their patients, or due to more anecdotal stories from your field team about surgeons hearing the requests from patients
  • The response is going to be a mix: people who have been diagnosed, but also people who have avoided treatment, because they didn't know something like your tech was available.

Why it works:

  • The messaging in a campaign like this helps the patient understand that they have options, and that they can take things into their own hands (and that there may be a solution they didn't know about).

2. Med device company needs more surgeons

Scenario: Your field team has some customers that are bought into your technology, but they’re having a hard time getting to the next level of adoption with non-using surgeons.

Solution: A more targeted direct-to-patient approach with turnkey co-marketing options, or drive calls to a lead capturing call center. Co-marketing can be compliant, simple-to-execute programs.

Outcome: Med device companies using this approach see current users having an increased volume, due to specific behavioral biases (e.g. commitment bias). You get patients in the hands of the “right” surgeons, and an increased case volume with influential surgeons who champion your product and agitate the market.

Why it works:

  • Once surgeons choose to participate, they will more commonly recognize candidates for the therapy or technology, and the field sales teams will have easier conversations with non-using surgeons, due to the co-marketing market agitation.
  • It helps sales teams drive volume for co-marketing HCP, and creates market agitation for accelerated conversations with your sales team.
  • Co-marketing allows current surgeons to raise their hand and say, “I believe in your procedure.”
  • Co-marketing plans can range in affordability to create massive buy-in from current users.

3. Small team and growing, need more surgeons

Scenario: You’re a med device company that’s new to market (say with around 20 salespeople in the US), and have a few key surgeons bought in, but you want more.

Solution: A layered approach, using co-marketing and med device company-funded DTC advertising.

Outcome: This approach allows the sales team to accelerate buy-in while also driving patient demand for your technology.

Why it works:

  • Working hand-in-hand with the sales team, DTC advertising programs can be triggered to launch based on the number of surgeon accounts in a city.

4. Well-penetrated regions need to grow into new regions

Scenario: A new device rep in a new market takes 12-18 months to be successful, so growing into new regions is slow and inefficient.

Solution: Strategically deploy sales efforts based on priming a market with DTC advertising. Use DTC advertising to create demand for your therapy, from patients to their local surgeons.

Outcome: Similar to scenario 3 above, this approach allows your sales team to accelerate buy-in. Imagine a new device rep in a new region, hitting their numbers in 3-4 months.

Why it works:

  • Increased awareness and demand from patients and surgeons accelerates the sales process.

How to get started with direct-to-patient ads based on your scenario

We chat with a lot of med device leaders who aren’t sure their company is ready for direct-to-patient advertising. But they’re often surprised to find there’s a strategy that can help them accelerate from their current position.

While we see these scenarios most frequently with our medical device clients, more scenarios exist, and we help our clients execute plans for all of them. If you want to learn more, you can read about our DTC marketing services.

If you want to see if your company is ready to start direct-to-patient ads, book a call with us today— and don’t hesitate to voice your concerns about your budget, timeline, or compliance.