The COVID-19 pandemic forced pharmaceutical companies to adopt digital-first marketing models when in-person strategies were inaccessible, but health care practitioners report they’re becoming increasingly inundated with information and the shift to virtual marketing isn’t meeting their needs.
Digital marketing channels for health care practitioners most commonly include webinars, social media outreach, emails and text messaging from representatives and self-directed web and remote detailing. While health care practitioners are becoming more familiar with digital technologies, the Digitally Savvy HCP, out from healthcare solutions company Indegene, shows 55% of practitioners feel overwhelmed by the content coming from pharmaceutical companies through various virtual channels.
“This sudden shift was not orchestrated effectively and it did not align with HCPs’ needs,” said Gaurav Kapoor, EVP of Indegene, Inc. “HCPs need simple, bite-sized, and relevant content which is less promotional and more educative about the diseases and therapies that matter to the specific HCP.”
In addition to being overwhelmed by the amount of information, practitioners feel as though pharmaceutical companies are out of touch with the information practitioners need to be informed about new drugs and products. Kapoor noted many pharmaceutical company representatives traditionally relied on face-to-face contact with practitioners.
Due to the change in strategy, some pharmaceutical companies are making staffing changes. Specifically, Pfizer Inc. reduced its U.S. sales staff in January in anticipation of health care providers wanting fewer face-to-face interactions with salespeople after the pandemic ends.
"There will be some changes to our workforce to ensure we have the right expertise and resources in place to meet our evolving needs," the company said in a recent statement to Reuters.
According to a document obtained by Reuters, Pfizer believes that doctors and other health care professionals will want around half of their interactions with drug companies to be remote in the future.
However, cutting staff isn’t enough to move forward with a new digital-focused marketing strategy, according to Kapoor, even though there is less staff required to maintain electronic communications.
"Pharma companies will invest significantly in upskilling their salesforce to use digital channels more effectively," Kapoor said. "This will help reps to integrate remote and digital touchpoints successfully with their in-person touchpoints. Further, given HCPs’ preferences for disease-centric and practice enhancement conversations, reps will be expected to share relevant content on these topics or make expert colleagues available to HCPs on-demand."
Companies need to be willing to hire employees with a deeper understanding of what practitioners are looking for or be willing to train their existing staff, according to Nikki Reeves, health care regulation compliance lawyer at King & Spalding. Marketing pharmaceuticals to health care professionals and the general population is different, Reeves noted, as FDA imposes strict regulations that pharmaceutical companies must abide by in direct-to-consumer advertisements.
“The doctor is an educated clinician that can understand some of the nuances that an individual consumer or patient cannot,” Reeves said.
“It needs deep medical expertise to interpret it correctly,” Kapoor said. “That is why pharma companies follow a very rigorous Medical Legal Regulatory (MLR) review process to educate their audience and promote their offerings. Regardless of virtual, print or in-person marketing channels, they apply different levels of review rigor depending on whether the consumer of a content is an HCP or a patient.”
Indegene’s study found that 77% of practitioners use digital channels primarily for learning and development. Webinars and online journals would be ideal ways for health care professionals to stay connected with companies and fulfill learning objectives, according to Kapoor.
While in-person marketing with health care practitioners might not reach pre-pandemic levels, there will still be opportunities to do so. However, Kapoor said companies should start treating them as supplementary opportunities rather than their main channel to communicate with professionals. Yet for virtual marketing to be effective, drug makers’ need to better understand practitioners’ needs.
“HCPs expect pharma companies to share only relevant content with them, over channels of their preferences, and at a time of their convenience,” Kapoor said. “Going ahead, pharma companies need to develop a stronger understanding of HCPs’ preferences.” -- Cara Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org)