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The drive to digital in pharma marketing is 'overwhelming' doctors. Solution? Train digitally savvy reps​

10 Jan 2022

Pharma marketers don't understand what healthcare professionals need—and, worse, they're overwhelming doctors with drug promos at the expense of more tailored content.

This is according to a new report, the Digitally Savvy HCP, out from healthcare solutions company Indegene, which has been tracking these relationships for the past few years. This report focuses on just under 1,000 physicians from the U.S., Europe, India and China.

It makes for some grim reading for pharma sales folks: 70% of healthcare professionals (HCPs) surveyed by the company feel that reps “do not completely understand their needs and expectations,” while 62% of HCPs are “overwhelmed” by product-related promotional content they receive from drugmakers.

Nearly two-thirds (63%) said companies should only share relevant content with them to “make the interactions more insightful.”

This echoes some of the findings in a report undertaken by Accenture late last year, which found 64% of HCPs said they're getting too much digital content from pharma and 65% said at least one pharma company had “spammed” them during the pandemic.

Gaurav Kapoor, executive vice president at Indegene, said COVID has thrown up more issues given that HCPs and reps were restricted in fact-to-face meetings. Sometimes, digital outreach was too much, he said.

"As a result, pharma companies relied on digital channels to push product-related promotional information," Kapoor said in an interview. "This increased the frequency of touch points, and, in certain cases, led HCPs to associate certain pharma companies with sharing excessive promotional content."

"Given the constrained bandwidth," he added, pharma companies should look at innovative ways to share information. For instance, drugmakers might optimize their communications for the devices doctors use to consume the type of information in play.

Plus, pharma companies should look beyond their own channels and forums and partner with other websites, he advised.

“By publishing and co-creating educational content on such platforms, pharma companies can deliver greater value to the HCPs as well as simplify the transition to commercial conversations that will follow.”

Educating doctors is just part of it. Pharma companies need to train sales reps, too. Companies should seek out reps who are digitally savvy and help them upgrade their skills to make sure they are “flexible and efficient” in using digital channels and content based on HCPs' preferences, Kapoor said.

While pharma has made some major investments in omnichannel strategies, drugmakers still "have a long way to go to achieve customer-centricity," he added.

So what's the solution? Go beyond the product script, particularly if a given doctor has seen plenty of digital product info already. “Reps should focus on conversations that make the interactions insightful … and avoid driving product information fatigue,” he said.

Indegene said when HCPs do want to hear from pharma companies, they cited webinars and webcasts, in-person meeting discussions, online journals, websites and offline journals as the most common preferences. The affinity for webinars is “especially correlated to the prevalence of Covid-19,” the report noted.

What about social media? Will channels like Twitter or even TikTok become a more preferred method in the future? "Overall, there has been an increase in the adoption of social media by HCPs," Kapoor explained, adding that the survey found social media adoption was strongest among HCPs in China.

"Social media is at a watershed moment and its role and significance will continue to rise in the coming few years," he said. "Given this, pharma reps should consider social media as an important channel to communicate and strengthen their relationship with HCPs."

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