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3 Ways to Inspire Better Doctor Patient Conversations


Synchronize consumer and professional strategies to consummate marketing efforts successfully

Despite advances in patient education and opportunities for self-care, the fact remains that it takes a doctor to write a prescription, and brands that silo their professional and patient communication strategies are missing a key ingredient in achieving their goals. Well-researched and medically appropriate patient preferences can go unaddressed in consultations where doctor and patient perspectives are not aligned on the the challenges, needs and priorities that inform the right individual treatment decision. Efficacy, side effects, dosing and cost concerns come together in a milieu that ultimately means a given treatment may be more “right” for some patients than for others.

The good news is that the conditions now exist to employ the right combination of messaging tactics, data platforms and communications technology to open up productive avenues for creating and fine-tuning truly integrated physician/patient communications. Taking the time to build cross-audience considerations into a marketing plan can make the difference between merely building brand interest and creating the conditions for successful doctor patient interactions.

Breaking Down Campaign Silos

Across the pharmaceutical marketing landscape, professional campaigns are often bottom-up, data-driven and personalized, informed by the long-established conventions of face-to-face sales rep interactions. Patient marketing, on the other hand, has been an arms-length affair, bounded by HIPAA and self-policed privacy guidelines, often confined to generalized targeting and reliant on contextual inferences to reach consumers. Keeping these efforts siloed is a mistake.

Early in my pharma marketing career, I found myself in a niche for which every client engagement required creating brand/audience relationships. Real-world personas informed messaging streams and user actions were tracked from initial media exposure to post-program survey responses to ensure the best possible outcome for both brand and patient. Not coincidentally, many of these campaigns exceeded their KPI goals when the brand platform prioritized educating patients and facilitating meaningful doctor/patient dialogue. Evidently, it is important for the clinical sector (be it pharmaceutical or dental) to know how to engage patients.

Getting Both Parties to the Table

It’s not hard to imagine why this would be, considering the patient journey that provides the backdrop for so much of what pharma marketing is about. Building patient awareness, consideration and ultimately an inquiry about a new treatment option is a process that can naturally unfold over the course of weeks, months or even years. Everything from the severity of disease at its onset to the speed of progression to response to early rounds of treatment can determine if and when the time is right for a change. As marketers, we go to great lengths to insert ourselves into the information mix in hopes of being top of mind for all the right reasons when that conversation with the doctor finally occurs.

We do the same with our professional audiences via non-personal promotions, dedicating substantial resources to studiously decoding the current behaviors, beliefs and priorities of physicians and allied practitioners and mapping them back to brand strengths and weaknesses.

By and large, once a brand strategy is in place, professional and consumer marketing are subsequently separated into independent tactical efforts. In so doing, those precious few minutes when our two audiences are face-to-face to discuss a treatment decision are overlooked. Approaches that successfully engender seamless patient/HCP audience activation simply take the effort over the goal line. They are organized around key patient journey milestones – reimagined along the dimension of physician/patient interactions. To wit:

  1. Patients seeking providers or treatment – the early stages of the treatment journey are a time for matchmaking as patients and caregivers research their treatment options and seek out the right physician and care team. If your patient marketing budget is not infinite and HCPs are dug in on their behaviors with little news in a given therapeutic category, one smart way to allocate spend is to prioritize patients whose doctors are most likely to honor their request. Armed with a well-honed list of target physicians that are believers and heavy prescribers, patient media can be geo-targeted to concentrate NRx efforts where an incremental patient-physician conversation is most likely to yield a favorable result.
  2. Patients on treatment with established providers – by the time most patients experience the progression of a disease or the need to switch treatments, their patient/physician relationships are often well established. Here, brands can employ a geo-cascade strategy overlaid with de-identified or panel-based view of a display media campaign to not only quantify the diagnosed patient concentration of each placement, but also map patients to target physicians for advanced segmentation. From a content perspective, the effectiveness of this approach can be greatly enhanced by capturing user-provided data about treatment status and intent to visit the doctor, and customizing messaging to support the patient’s individualized journey.
  3. Patients visiting their providers – here is where the response curve spikes palpably, as the messaging platforms converge with the precise time, place and context of a patient/provider visit. Supporting patient efforts from the HCP side, tools and materials for the practice can be furnished via non-personal promotions and professional branded websites to spark the same dialogue at the point of care. With much of the uncertainty removed from the equation, physicians can be served branded messaging via ad-supported EMR platforms immediately following consultations, when prescribing decisions are being made. Similarly, increasingly advanced point-of-care platforms allow brands to prompt patients with doctor discussion materials, in the moment.

These represent the tip of the iceberg, but the message here is that there is, indeed, a formidable iceberg to excavate. Successfully synchronizing patient and professional marketing and media requires thoughtful and comprehensive tagging, testing and KPI selection, as well as an analytics approach that ensures the desired outcome aligns with brand goals. Such results are best achieved when brands can harness a strong working collaboration between their sales analytics team and agency partners.

Wanting more digital pharma insight? Access my whitepaper for examples of current best practices, case studies and anecdotes illustrating real-world applications of all 8 principals for digital pharma marketing success:

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