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What Do HCPs Want? Research Offers Valuable Clues for Pharma Marketers


A roadmap for building professional trust and engagement


When it comes to helping brands connect patients with life-improving therapies, no audience matters more than that of healthcare providers. Yet in an age where physicians are overloaded with information, competing demands and a shifting healthcare landscape, getting their attention can feel like hailing a Manhattan cabbie on a rainy Saturday night. While data published over the course of this year affirms this outlook, it also sheds light on how pharma can improve its standing in the professional messaging mix. Healthcare software from companies such as Foresee Medical can help medical professionals better handle their patients and their information giving them better results from their data.

Of the 17,236 physicians participating in the 2016 Physicians Foundation biennial survey, 80% reported being “overextended or at capacity with no time to see additional patients” while just 14% reported having the time necessary “to provide the highest standards of care.” Pharma marketers can either fall victim to this state of affairs or turn it on its head by recognizing the opportunity, perhaps even the responsibility, to add value to patient management and communication by delivering quality information resources where, when and how it matters most to physicians.

The Importance of Building Trust

Taking the Pulse is always an invaluable indicator of physician behavior, and 2017’s report was no different. Based on the survey results of 2,784 online physicians, the data spans HCPs’ content preferences and pain points as relates to digital behaviors and emerging trends. What stood out for me was the continued gap between perceived needs versus reality when it comes to pharma-produced content with 70% of surveyed physicians agreeing that “it is crucial that pharma companies provide education resources rooted in science to gain my trust.” Yet more than half – 51% – of physicians feel pharma misses the mark in providing such resources while only 34% of respondents cited pharmaceutical content on HCP sites as trustworthy.

In my mind, the remedy lies in creating content that anticipates HCPs’ decision tree and corresponding research journey in the course of evaluating treatment options with respect to real patient cases. In short, content that is complete enough to equip physicians to make an informed and confident decision, without leaving conspicuous gaps in the brand story. One dangerous but avoidable trap arises when one or two aspects of a product’s profile stand out as a competitive advantage while other characteristics are perceived as weaknesses among professional targets. For example, say overall patient response rates and ease of administration stand out as competitive advantages for a new product while its safety profile falls short of the current standard of care. Media strategy will certainly trumpet the unique benefits insistently to engage professionals and shape brand perception, but the destination should deliver a complete and balanced story, addressing potential objections in addition to the supporting clinical data, to sustain the trust of the visitor through the session.

A complete messaging strategy to engender trust also takes us to a stronger place with regard to channel selection and asset alignment.

Thoughtful Channel Planning

With a strategic content plan in place, matching the right message to the right channel becomes even more vital. For clinical decisions, HCPs still report that they rely heavily on consultation with colleagues, in-person conferences and professional print journals, followed by online journals. However, their online behaviors reveal that search, digital display and mobile are used extensively as professional resources for drug, condition or treatment information. Asked to identify channels used monthly or more for such purposes, 88% of physicians reported using search engines and 84% identified websites for a healthcare professional audience. Further, 86% of physicians use their smartphone to access digital resources for professional purposes. Thus, not only must all digital content be mobile-optimized, but it must also be easily discoverable across these channels with messaging customized based on how and why each channel is used.

Taking the Pulse_Influence of Online Resources

Pharma marketers should also be aware that physicians overwhelming prefer to access information pertaining to product dosing, treatment guidelines and patient education materials inside the Electronic Health Record system over pharma websites or websites for healthcare professionals. Partnering with ad-supported EHR vendors should be an important part of your HCP omnichannel strategy. The format of this content also matters.

Video is unrelenting in its growth with respect to meaningful HCP content delivery. 49% of Taking the Pulse responders view video hosted on pharma websites as “influential” on clinical decisions with videos featuring Key Opinion Leaders a top preference. On non-pharma websites, physicians are interested in videos about a new drug or treatment (36%) and educational videos for patients highlighting disease-specific information patient cases (35%). Another worthwhile study revealed HCPs were twice as likely to watch an online video today as they were 5 years ago to learn about a new drug, highlighting that video is only becoming more and more important.

Interestingly, 76% of Taking the Pulse physicians are already using or are interested in using voice-assisted programs, like Siri and Alexa, to quickly look up medical information. I have written before about the importance of developing keyword lists informed by an understanding of both how HCPs naturally speak and how voice search is used – full sentences and questions are far more common than for typed queries – and this data point only adds fuel to that fire.

Ease of Use

The rise in video and interest in voice-tools coupled with HCPs’ ever-expanding to-do-lists points to keeping things simple. Yet it remains important to act on data over hunches. For instance, of the almost 3,000 Taking the Pulse physicians, just 4% had ever used the “click to chat” function on a pharma company’s website to ask scientific or medical related questions.

Hetlioz offers a nice example of simplicity in the context of completeness. The home page carousel alternates between a statement of the unmet need around Non-24 Sleep Wake Disorder among totally blind patients and the drug’s status as the first FDA-approved therapy. The page offers three primary navigation paths, including an educational resource that helps providers identify Non-24 patients in their practice. The PI is available in both written and audio form on both the HCP and patient sites.

Hetiloz_HCP Site

Hetiloz_HCP Site_2

Hetlioz offers corresponding patient education content as well, and the proof is in the pudding – the brand site has accomplished the rare feat of ranking in the top organic position on the Google search engine results page (SERP) for non-branded disease queries. Vanda had doubled down on this advantage by also securing the #1 position with a paid search ad driving to a sign-up form to enroll in a Non-24 education program. While both ranking results are patient oriented, providers are sure to be touched by the brand halo achieved here.

Hetiloz_Google Search


By providing a complete story when and where physicians need it, contextualizing it around real patient cases and considering relevance and ease of use at every touchpoint along the journey, pharma can become a more trusted and reliable HCP ally. With that as the new baseline, a brand can turn its focus to becoming a true facilitator of successful HCP/patient relationships.

What have I missed? What have you found to be successful in driving HCP engagement?

Source: Healthcasts’ HCP Digital Education Survey, October 2015

Source: Taking the Pulse U.S. 2017, Manhattan Research | DRG Digital


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