Key Considerations in Developing and Improving Medical Websites
Raise awareness and differentiation
Awareness of medical websites operated by Medical Affairs teams in biopharmaceutical companies has traditionally been low. Perceived barriers resulting in limited use of pharmaceutical company websites included lack of awareness and perceived bias or lack of transparency,1 which may erode trust and adversely impact public health. Increasing awareness of medical websites has initially led to a cautious approach regarding what information is available and the ease with which it can be accessed. Although early concerns about possible compliance issues or verifying that requests for medical information are unsolicited on a website have been expressed, broad compliance issues have not materialized. Companies may struggle with what information can be made available on a website in addition to on-label product information. Medical Affairs teams working closely with legal and compliance have begun to reframe and gain alignment around content and searchability of medical websites for on-label, off-label information, publications, and congress materials. Additionally, progress is being made to raise awareness of medical websites through search engine optimization (SEO). Biopharmaceutical company medical websites face stiff competition from third-party websites that host drug information compendiums and are readily accessible through general search engines. Unlike third-party websites, information hosted by Medical Affairs on company medical websites is specific to the company’s products or disease states. Although third-party website compendiums allow HCPs to access content across multiple disease states and therapeutic uses, these compendiums are challenged with the task of keeping the information updated. An assessment of the error rate in the drug summaries provided in these compendiums demonstrated 24% of inaccurate information, 46% of incomplete information, and 30% of omitted information.5 This highlights the importance of regularly updating drug information to ensure complete and accurate information for HCPs to prescribe a safe and effective treatment for their patients.
Design intuitive website architecture to optimize user experience
Not only do HCPs have to find and navigate through medical websites, but they also must adapt to varying content formats, organization, and user experiences across medical websites. HCPs are time-constrained and seek information that is simple, bite-sized, and accessible about common topics such as dosing, efficacy, safety, real-world evidence, treatment guidelines, disease information, and medical publications. Medical Affairs teams should consider these requirements while designing medical websites. If the information on the websites is not organized intuitively, HCPs will seek other sources for future information needs. According to a recent study, 40% of overall satisfaction with a brand’s website is attributed to the ease of obtaining information.4 Having a logical structure with an ease of navigation is essential to creating a superior user experience and building trust.
Customizing and curating content on the Medical websites is critical to delivering a superior experience to the HCPs and KOLs.
VP, Global Medical Communications, Alexion Astra Zeneca Rare Disease
Ensure content compatibility with devices and browsers HCPs use
Equally important is how the information is rendered on the devices. HCPs may use different devices and browsers in different settings, for example, in a hospital ward, in their office, or away from the office. Some prefer to consume information on their computers or laptops while others prefer accessing the same information on a mobile phone or a tablet. A recent global survey of 984 physicians demonstrated that there were significant geographical differences in the devices used and the content viewed by physicians.6 If the information is not optimized based on the devices or browsers that HCPs use, the HCP’s user experience will suffer despite access to relevant, high-quality content. Medical Affairs teams must incorporate a responsive web design into the medical websites allowing a consistent experience regardless of device or its features.
Empower HCPs through self-service options
The consumer industry has done well to integrate services such as chatbots, virtual assistants, and interactive content on their websites. These services allow users to ask questions and provide feedback regarding the content hosted on the websites or connect to experts with queries not addressed by website content. HCPs also expect the same immediacy of experience and support from medical websites. The demand only continues to grow as demonstrated in a recent survey report showing that 88.5% of the physicians searched for medical information at least several times per week.1 HCPs also have individual preferences regarding the format of information they find most useful. Unfortunately, many medical information websites are not able to meet these demands for value-added services such as intelligent search function or content format that addresses individual physician preferences, which can simplify the HCP's efforts to find relevant content. Medical Affairs teams should be cognizant of merely replicating traditional medical information content on medical websites. Pharmaceutical companies should ensure that medical websites can support multiple formats such as slides, videos, infographics, interactive content, and templates. Diverse and innovative formats will work to address HCP’s individual preferences and optimize their experience. This in turn will increase session time and return visits to the website for new information. Medical Affairs teams can elevate the self-service experience of HCPs and align more closely with their expectations by rethinking these services to meet the broader needs of HCPs.
Cultivate medical websites as the mainstay for all medical team information and services
Medical websites have generally been designed to be reactive. HCPs visit these websites seeking information. Traditionally, limited information about HCPs visiting these websites has been collected to optimize the customer experience. Medical Affairs teams should consider how medical information websites can become a full-service portal for HCPs, not just a self-service portal for medical information. This full-service portal connects HCPs to other valuable medical and scientific resources and services. Council members noted that the ability to better meet the HCP needs has shown increased utilization of medical websites with measures such as time on page. In turn, this demonstration of value has facilitated Medical Affairs teams gaining additional resources. This was aided further by the pandemic making virtual interaction required, and timely access to information vital. Teams have worked to enhance the means of engagement with HCPs on their medical websites.
In addition to medical information, congress content, and Continuing Medical Education (CME), medical websites should be configured to allow bi-directional communication between HCPs and Medical Affairs teams. Rather than requiring HCPs to use multiple websites, Medical Affairs teams should work to integrate the information needs with other interactions on a single website. Examples include connecting with a Medical Science Liaison (MSL), grant submission, grant status, inquiries about becoming a clinical investigator, or expressing interest in becoming an advisor for the company. Having a single contact with Medical Affairs helps improve communication continuity and enhances the relationship. This comprehensive web interface with the Medical Affairs teams helps facilitate the interaction in the HCP’s daily workflow.
Medical Information/Medical websites have become a foundational platform, supporting omnichannel and optimizing customer experience.
Sr. Director, AstraZeneca
Create a website plan, establish goals, and secure resources
Most often website projects get pushed off another year or are an addon if the budget remains. It is important to allocate an appropriate budget and resources to optimize medical websites’ search engine indexing. Typically, search engines are the first place HCPs begin looking for any information on the internet. The Medical Affairs teams should invest in search engine optimization (SEO) and other techniques that will help in improving the ease of discovery and credibility of the medical information/medical websites. This will ensure that HCPs have easy access to these websites when searching for scientific information. By investing in these capabilities, the Medical Affairs teams ensure that credible information is not lost in the flood of irrelevant information or misinformation that may be returned when HCPs search for scientific/medical information online. Additionally, biopharmaceutical companies should consider partnering with third parties that have established the credibility and trust of HCPs. They can do this by hosting educational and scientific content on third-party websites. By working with such third parties, pharma companies can remove the bias that is usually associated with their websites and build greater transparency with HCPs. Goals and metrics may vary based on the maturity of the website and may include page views, time on page, click-through rate (CTR), new users, return users, and total users. Data are available that characterize how changes like SEO and responsive web design can help improve the discoverability of the website and optimize the user experience.