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Closing the widening gap between HCPs’ expectations and their pharma experiences

30 Jun 2022

Why pharma companies should focus on increasing their share of engagement over their share of voice

The rise in digital channels has enabled healthcare professionals (HCPs) to become discrete about their pharma engagement. Although pharma companies were quick in pivoting to a digital-first approach for engaging HCPs, they soon realised that digital does not automatically guarantee success. On the contrary, overwhelming HCPs with digital channel content results in a sub-par experience and poor returns on HCPs’ digital investments.

For example, globally, 55% of HCPs feel overwhelmed with the content that is shared by pharma companies, 62% are experiencing product-related promotional content fatigue and 70% feel that pharma representatives do not understand their requirements completely. These are some of the findings from the latest edition of the Digitally Savvy HCP survey by Indegene. The survey includes responses from close to 1,000 HCPs from 20+ specialties and eight countries, including the UK, France, Spain, Germany and Italy.

So, what are the reasons behind the widening gap between HCPs’ expectations and their pharma experiences? Why do HCPs feel that pharma representatives are not able to understand their changing needs? And what are some of the steps that pharma companies can undertake to close this widening gap? Outlined below are a few trends from the survey and some potential ways for pharma companies to enhance the HCP experience.

Prioritise the right content over more content

The volume of digital content created over the last few years has increased exponentially. Pharma companies also have more options to distribute the content than they did before. However, more content and more channels do not guarantee a high level of HCP engagement. Rather, pharma companies should focus on increasing their share of engagement over their share of voice. Otherwise, they run the risk of HCPs associating their brands with excessive spamming.

For example, 55% of HCPs from Europe across all specialties and countries said that they felt overwhelmed by the content they received from pharma companies. The fatigue was particularly high for HCPs from Spain (76%) and Germany (62%) compared to other countries. On similar lines, psychiatrists (82%), general surgeons (78%) and oncologists (71%) experienced a higher level of content fatigue than their peers.

The survey findings show that, globally, 62% of HCPs are overwhelmed with product-related promotional content. The situation is no different for HCPs from Europe, with 73% in Italy and 70% in Spain indicating that they are overwhelmed with product-related promotional content. HCPs want greater access to scientific knowledge and educational content. The lack of in-person engagement has made HCPs turn to digital channels for keeping themselves updated on the latest scientific findings, disease areas and treatment options. Over 75% of HCPs from Germany, Spain, the UK and Italy said that they use digital channels primarily for personal learning and development, while over 63% from Spain, France, the UK and Italy said that they use digital channels for professional networking.

In contrast, less than 54% of HCPs from Germany, France and the UK said that they use digital channels for remote interactions with pharma companies. The message is clear – HCPs want a greater volume of educational and scientific content. And they want pharma companies to prioritise such information over brand-centric communication. Pharma companies need to revisit their existing content strategy if they want to change HCPs’ perceptions. They should also experiment with innovative ways such as gamification and micro-learning to gain HCPs’ mindshare.

Enhance traditional reach and frequency with on-demand, self-serving models

HCPs are time-constrained and want greater autonomy and flexibility while engaging with pharma companies. Thus, it is no surprise that, globally, webinars have emerged as their most preferred channel (68%). HCPs in Europe have also indicated a strong preference for other channels that provide flexibility and autonomy. For example, more than 68% in Germany, Italy, France and Spain prefer online journals for their pharma engagement. Similarly, 69% in France said that they prefer self-directed web detailing while 56% in the UK prefer remote detailing for their pharma engagement.

Closing the gap between pharma’s channel focus and HCPs’ channel preferences is critical to ensure the success of pharma’s multichannel marketing initiatives. As mentioned before, while pharma companies have taken measures to understand what HCPs want, there is still a lot of scope for aligning their efforts with HCPs’ expectations. For instance, 60% of HCPs in the UK said that marketing emails were among the top five channels used by pharma companies to share content with them, however, only 44% of them preferred this as a channel for engagement.

Similarly, 52% of HCPs in France prefer to engage in medical science liaisons (MSL) using online channels. However, only 32% feel that pharma companies are prioritising online MSLs as a channel to engage HCPs.

Optimise content and distribution based on HCPs’ preferences

HCPs are constantly inundated with personal and professional information and there is a short window to win their attention. While digital channels have provided a larger window outside the core working hours to engage with HCPs, pharma companies still need to be mindful of HCPs’ time preferences. Globally, they prefer to access information between 5pm and 8pm on weekdays and 8pm and 11pm on weekends. However, these preferences vary by region, specialty, experience level and schedule. For instance, HCPs in France prefer to digitally engage with the content after 8pm, whereas HCPs from the UK prefer the 11am to 2pm slot.

In addition to considering their time preferences, pharma companies should also ensure that there is no break in the HCP journey as they shift from one device to another while engaging with the content. It is equally important to ensure that the content is rendered effectively based on HCPs’ device and browser configuration. By considering such nuances, pharma companies can differentiate themselves from the competition and help HCPs filter the signal from the noise. HCPs will appreciate such initiatives as they will know that pharma companies are designing content and campaigns that consider their requirements.

Upskill to keep pace with the new operating model

Pharma representatives share powerful relationships with HCPs. These relationships are usually founded on trust and mutual respect built over the years. However, the rapid acceleration to a digital-first model has had a detrimental impact on in-person engagement. Two years into the pandemic, HCPs expect pharma representatives to catch up to the new ways of working and make necessary changes that will align with their expectations.

However, 70% of HCPs surveyed feel that pharma representatives do not completely understand their evolving needs and expectations, and this surges to 83% in the UK and 80% in Germany.

So, how can pharma representatives still add value going ahead? The survey findings show that HCPs want representatives to do a better job of understanding their needs and expectations and share only relevant content with them via their preferred channels. They also want representatives to make themselves and other experts available on demand. In all five countries in Europe, HCPs cited flexibility to schedule appointments as the primary driving factor to interact with representatives remotely, with the highest inclination coming from HCPs in Spain (64%) and Italy (62%).

Learning new skills and capabilities will help pharma representatives to effectively integrate remote and digital touchpoints with in-person ones. They should also focus on understanding what HCPs want from their digital interactions. Pharma representatives who can integrate or lead with the content that HCPs want will eventually manage to add greater value to their HCP conversations and make the commercial conversations that follow look more natural and seamless.


HCP engagement is at an inflection point, presenting a wide range of challenges and opportunities to pharma companies. Today’s digitally savvy HCPs expect the same level of customer-centricity they experience while interacting with digital natives across other industries. Organisations that fail to prioritise these investments will not be able to keep pace with the pace at which HCPs are adopting digital channels, and will eventually take much longer to build their positioning as an HCP partner that enables HCPs to deliver the best health outcomes for the patients they treat.

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