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Pharma and Healthcare

Physician Engagement in Pharma Changes Due to Pandemic

By Akhila Sriram on April 9, 2021

Adapting Pharma Communication to the COVID-19 Pandemic

How do you measure physician engagement now that the pandemic has made face-to-face meetings more difficult?

Before the pandemic, face-to-face meetings were the norm for most pharmaceutical companies to educate physicians on the benefits of their latest treatments or medical devices. Pharmaceutical sales personnel could establish strong relationships by calling regularly and responsively based on physicians’ needs. Face-to-face meetings provided a clear, two-way dialogue to build credibility beyond that which is achievable over a phone call.

Many in the pharma industry still feel that there is little that can be more effective when it comes to physician engagement. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic, this method of selling and educating has been completely removed as an option. Many businesses have had to adopt new ways to reach physicians, leading them to evaluate whether face-to-face meetings were quite so essential after all.

Will there still be that same appetite for face-to-face meetings from both manufacturer and physician?

What clearly has not changed is that physicians will still need to keep up-to-date with new drugs, medical devices, and treatments. Making this information easy to access and digest where they expect to see it remains vital. The key issues are how best to measure physician engagement and how to design messaging to address physician needs. Both rely on what online and offline channels are going to be most effective for communication and physician engagement. Balancing communication with relationships during this largely digital time has been an obstacle for many pharma businesses. 

Will it make sense to go back to face-to-face selling when conditions do allow it? 

It is widely accepted that today’s consumers, physicians included, engage with products through omnichannel, both online and offline media, to gather information and make decisions on which products best suit their requirements. They may be trying to understand what new treatments offer them to address existing problems in a better, less expensive, or more effective way. The influence of other opinion leaders through reviews may play a key role in their decision making. But during pandemic times, the need for all of this information hasn’t changed. But the time and attention that physicians can give has been supplanted by high priority pandemic-related patient care. COVID-19 isn’t close to being resolved, anywhere in the world, so by the time conditions allow a change, pharma companies will have invested much in digital marketing.

Does it make sense to use the previous system of sales personnel or will a different model be more effective in the future?

Medical conferences can be a key influencing factor for forming opinions on new drugs, devices, or treatments where global opinion leaders express views and exchange their experiences. This has become difficult when medical conferences worldwide have been either cancelled or moved to an online environment. This creates quite a different experience for delegates. The ease online to drop in and out of sessions makes at least one significant difference. The physician is no longer captive in the audience for an entire talk or seminar, so the sponsor’s messaging can more easily be skipped or missed.

But in this vein, delegates don’t have to travel all over for presenting their products at conferences. Working remotely, for many companies, has allowed for more flexibility with attending conferences and events around the globe. Thus, international presence through digital means is easier to accomplish, and sales delegates can attend more conveniently.

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Tracking Physician Engagement and Communication

Understanding physician engagement not only the ability to track omnichannel behaviors, but also the ability to reach out to a community of physicians. This way, you can understand in-depth not only how they are behaving but why they are behaving that way. This allows you to gather valuable data on what is motivating their behavior and the factors impacting their ultimate decisions. Studies have shown that, in addition to the objective clinical data, other factors can drive decision making, including intuition based on previous experience and the needs of the specific patient.

What messaging, both your own and that of your competitors, influences the physician decision-making process and how?

Customer journey mapping has been used for many years in consumer goods markets to understand the influences on consumer purchasing decisions as market conditions change. The utilization of these same journey-mapping tools can help to understand how to best optimize your sales outreach activity, as well as the most effective ways to connect and engage through new omnichannel communications and messaging. Using these tools with physicians as your customers unlocks new opportunities for understanding physician engagement. Just as brand loyalty is valuable to quantify for retail, physician understanding and motivation is necessary for pharma.

To describe this process in detail, a community of physicians is first recruited. Their behavior is methodically observed and recorded through use of an application they install on their devices that monitors their research methods. This data demonstrates how physicians understand new treatments and drugs. Understanding not just what the physicians are doing, but also what they are feeling and thinking, and, ultimately, the knowledge that they are retaining is also possible through the application.

Every communication method at every touchpoint can be tested along with the messaging itself. This is achieved through the app providing incentivized tasks for the physician to complete to see how they view specific messaging or how they go about searching for specific treatment information. This way, more data is gathered, and the physicians are willing and incentivized to help in the process.

Is it possible to test competitors’ messaging and offers through the eyes of physicians in a double-blind study?

This type of application generates a plethora of both structured and unstructured data which through advanced analytics can provide insights to optimize your sales process and to develop more efficient targeting of your key audiences. This, in turn, enables the design and production of more effective marketing communications and digitally enabled marketing strategies. By measuring the importance of meetings limited to video and phone calls, you can easily identify the most effective means of communicating the same information to physicians. That way, should sales move back to in-person operations, you’ll know how best to build relationships with physicians.

How can we help you improve physician engagement with your business?

OSG can help with every aspect of this process. Our OSG o360TM application tracks both online and offline behavior and provides incentivized tasks for our community of physicians to complete. OSG o360TM incorporates our unique ASEMAP behavioral analytics technology to understand in greater depth what really matters to physicians when they are looking for information. There is no better method to test your messaging and measure physician engagement with your product. With a real-time dashboard for your data, our unique and powerful behavioral analytics technology uncovers what really motivates medical professionals and reveals the optimal behavioral nudges for messaging and engagement. This way, you have actionable recommendations for improving your business and the data to back up your decisions.