For more than a decade, medicine has been gradually shifting toward the digital world; and over the past year, as COVID-19 moved our lives online, it accelerated that transition, with patients and physicians alike embracing digital communication and telehealth. Sure, the changes brought marketing challenges: For example, opportunities to interact with providers in person became scant, and doctors were often overloaded with information.
Fortunately, marketers driven to improve the quality of both virtual and face-to-face connections can break through the noise and better help providers serve their patients. To do this, the industry will need to embrace some changes of its own. To get that journey started, MM+M and Razorfish Health surveyed nearly 1,000 providers about “their changing needs and attitudes in today’s environment.” Below, we highlight their key findings, and what they mean for the future of pharmaceutical marketing.
Personalization is a must… and data can help.
Most (70%) providers surveyed felt that the pharmaceutical industry is important to their successful practice of medicine. However, only about half described the industry as “a good partner,” with many saying that reps could do more to make the experience relevant to their practice’s unique needs. Indeed, a scant majority of respondents felt their reps understood how to engage with them (55%), supported their practice (53%), or personalized communications (52%.)
Fortunately, data and analytics can provide important insights into when and how to deliver messages. For example, we already know that the ubiquity of email and smartphones has blurred the boundaries between work and home, meaning well-placed messages can reach providers outside of typical business hours, when they may have more time to engage. What’s more, the right technology partner can help pharmaceutical companies identify target physicians’ particular points along the healthcare and treatment journey with a client and customize content and its placement to meet them there.
Reps are still important… but their role is changing.
Even as indirect marketing efforts become more personalized, providers suggest that actual human reps continue to be a key piece of the puzzle, serving as both connectors and translators. In fact, some respondents said they would like more overall communication with their reps. And a vast majority—more than three quarters—said they prefer to “engage personally” with pharmaceutical reps when learning about new products (81.9%), relevant medical advances (81.1%), updated information on existing products (77.7%), and nascent support programs (76.8%.) In these instances, providers saw reps as expert sources of much-needed insider knowledge.
Nonetheless, many also indicated that they are looking for information that goes even further. The internet provides patients with ever more information—78% of providers believe patients have better access than when they started practicing medicine—and digital communication may facilitate more direct two-way conversations. These changes have the potential to improve patient-provider relationships, but they will also make them more complex. As such, providers surveyed said they need to be better equipped to address information accuracy, and share up-to-date details about products, the latest studies, new findings about (contra)indications, and more.
In addition, two-thirds of providers said they want reps to do more to help them support their patients in real life. For example, they asked for more patient-friendly reading materials, tools (such as reminders) to promote medication adherence, and resources to help clients navigate insurance and cover costs.
There are new “experts” on the block… and pharma can harness them.
While healthcare providers continue to view their pharmaceutical reps as key players, they no longer see them as the only reliable sources of information. In fact, providers are increasingly seeking out expertise away from the pharmaceutical company itself, and influencers—often community physicians—are sharing their clinically derived knowledge and experience on social media platforms such as Twitter and TikTok..
According to a 2020 communications report by Healthlink Dimensions, 46% of physicians reported participating in work-related social networking, compared to 34% in 2019. And more than two-thirds of MM+M and Razorfish Health’s survey respondents were interested in receiving more peer-to-peer education (67.2%).
This democratization of knowledge means that pharma needs to be transparent and up-to-date in its communications. Rather than delivering “company propaganda,” as one provider put it, reps and messages should answer questions and address concerns directly and honestly.
What’s more, this shift to alternative forms of expertise provides an opportunity for deeper engagement with physicians. Companies can work directly with relevant and known influencers to co-create content. This allows the industry to harness the already-established trust of the messenger while ensuring information provided is accurate and timely.
Medicine’s digital future.
Overall, this survey confirmed that the modern, digital, era of medicine is largely characterized by continually growing information accessibility for providers and patients alike. With that comes the need for more open, honest, and time-sensitive communication. A majority of physicians surveyed are excited for these changes, and believe that the pharmaceutical industry has an important role to play in ensuring they’re prepared to serve their patients better than ever. Now it’s time to get started!
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