Four and a half billion medications are prescribed in the US each year, but many patients end up not taking them, or not taking them as indicated, or neglecting the long-term behavioral modifications needed to become healthy.

“Sustaining behavior change is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to healthcare marketing,” said Dr. Susan Garfield, global advisory principal and advisory life sciences sector commercial lead at Ernst & Young, the professional services firm.

“The industry develops and delivers extraordinary drugs: Drugs that can treat, and sometimes even cure, disease. But people will stand in the way of that impact,” said Garfield. “In order for a drug to be effective, patients must take it as prescribed – the right dose, day after day, week after week, and, in some cases, year after year for a lifetime.”

Inciting short-term behavior change is comparatively easy in some categories, argued Garfield, who also is a behavioral economist. “Getting someone to buy, say, a flat-screen TV [means] the marketer has only to get the customer to think, ‘I need a flat-screen TV’, activate that decision relatively quickly, and there goes the customer off to Best Buy for that TV,” said Garfield.