HCPs Want to Talk to You!


But you have to know how Adapted from Healthcasts: The New Rules of Engagement

One of the topics most challenging to healthcare companies these days is access of the sales force to HCPs. Obviously this has been influenced by doctors using more digital resources, hospitals instituting value committees, and increasing time limitations on physicians. But research continues to demonstrate that doctors don’t want to give up their contact with sales reps. Healthcasts provides us with some insight into how to make the connection in the ideal way.


Sales reps have seen their impact diminish as hospitals and healthcare practices restrict access. In fact, when Healthcasts surveyed its member physicians, nearly 50% of HCPs could “imagine a world without a sales rep.” Even as some doctors continue to be receptive to sales reps and other items from the “traditional” marketing toolbox, there is a growing recognition that targeted, cost-effective digital promotions can be used in conjunction with traditional tactics to drive an even greater ROI.

Consequently, pharma marketers increasingly focus on digital media, albeit at a slower pace than other industries. eMarketer, which reports on trends in digital marketing, forecasts that US healthcare and pharma marketers will spend $1.64 billion on paid online and mobile advertising this year, compared to $1.43 billion in 2014. This figure is expected to rise to $2.55 billion by 2019. The shifting focus to digital media largely reflects HCP preferences for electronic communication. Multiple studies have shown that HCPs turn first to digital sources when seeking clinical information to inform their decision-making. According to our most recent research on HCP device usage, two-thirds of HCPs now use smartphones for work, and over 40% use tablets for this purpose. But creating a marketing plan with optimal reach, frequency, and cadence across multiple channels is a difficult task. More difficult is aligning your messaging strategy to the varying ways physicians prefer to receive information and their individual practice needs. The challenge is disseminating content to educate physicians in the most engaging way, without bombarding them with messaging.



In the past few years the FDA has approved record numbers of new therapies, resulting in even more information to share. In March 2014, McKinsey & Company estimated that pharmaceutical companies would launch approximately 400 new products over the following three years — an increase of 146% from 2005.

Targeted, cost-effective digital promotions can be used in conjunction with traditional tactics to drive an even greater ROI.

Additionally, many new drugs are coming to market faster, largely thanks to the FDA’s “Breakthrough Therapy” designation, which facilitates approval of treatments for particularly serious or rare conditions. These drugs, primarily prescribed by smaller cadres of specialists, are all fighting for share of mind, share of voice, and share of market.

And yet, not everyone is convinced that the explosion of new drug approvals is a good thing. In his recent essay, “The 21st Century Cures Act: The (Somewhat) Good, The (Mostly) Bad, and The (Very) Ugly,” Dr. David H. Gorski voices the concern that faster, more numerous approvals may lead to lowered standards for providing drug safety and efficacy information. As greater numbers of drugs are approved more quickly, HCPs will need to examine clinical data more closely to make informed judgments regarding a drug’s safety and effectiveness for each individual patient.

More importantly, how do you guide the physician journey from introduction to influence?

Physician discretion and experience will therefore play an even more important role in patient care in the unfolding Accelerated Approval era. It will become increasingly important for HCPs to quickly access newly published clinical data so their assessments can evolve in real time. For new drugs to help patients most effectively, the industry will need to improve how it educates physicians and provide up-to-date clinical trial data and prescribing information.

Ideally, we should find synergies between traditional marketing approaches and digital non-personal promotion (NPP). The question is, how do pharma manufacturers decide which tactics will supplement their traditional marketing programs effectively? How do existing assets work in a digital world? How is tactical selection impacted at each point of a brand’s lifecycle?


The kind of information physicians need has not changed – it’s the format, timing, and delivery of that information that have changed.

To truly educate doctors, it is vital to provide them with rich content while they are researching new drugs and learning from influential opinion leaders. This is the point at which they are ready to engage with your brand. What’s needed is a comprehensive messaging framework across a cohesive ecosystem of traditional marketing tactics and innovative NPP. Finding this synergy depends upon adhering to the following “Rules of Engagement.”

1. When, Where, and How Matter More Than Ever

81% of physicians surveyed by the Physicians Foundation said they were over-extended or at full capacity. HCPs are expected to manage more responsibilities than ever before — from making diagnoses and providing treatment to ordering tests and updating documentation. Healthcasts member physicians say that they generally engage with our content in the evening (from 6 to 9 p.m.) when they are able to dedicate time to learning about emerging research and treatments. But it’s not only the “when” that matters. “Where” is at least as important. When applicable, you can use geo-targeting to target physicians by zip code, region, or state. Alternatively, you can roll out geographic campaigns over time to align with your strategy. Geographically focused campaigns are especially effective as a means to complement formulary approvals, to align with regional MSL or sales rep regions, to promote around specific institutions (especially where HCPs have been certified for a specific procedure), or to “surround” referring physicians near your target specialists.

It should go without saying that “how” also matters. Multi-screen engagement is the most effective way for doctors to access content. Research suggests that nearly 63% of HCPs are now “triple screen” users. Additionally, recent Healthcasts research demonstrates that physician use of smartphones and tablets to access information about new drugs has increased 133% over the last 5 years.Pc0320100

Source: Healthcasts HCP Digital Education Survey, October 2015: n = 399

Marketers must create content that doctors can discover and absorb at the right time. It is folly to vie for their attention at the height of the workday.

2. The “What” Still Matters Most

A marketer’s biggest challenge is engaging physicians longer and more meaningfully with information that informs practice decisions. In a world of 6-second Vine videos, 140-character Tweets, and 10-second Snapchats, many companies are making their content more concise to meet consumer demand. That poses a special challenge for pharma, which is constrained by legal requirements for fair balance.

To move doctors from “informed” to “influenced,” pharmaceutical companies must still deliver—and physicians still desire – deeply engaging educational information, But content must offer real value to the physician, as that is what promotes meaningful clinical activity that ultimately helps patients. Science resonates best with HCPs. Rich, robust content will position your brand as a credible resource.

As an online medium, video is extremely effective for showcasing detailed data, mechanism of action (MOA) illustrations, key opinion leader (KOL) interviews, and other educational content to help physicians understand new treatment approaches, drug-drug interactions, and long-term effects on patient care. Recent research on HCP education demonstrates that for learning about a new drug, HCPs were twice as likely to watch an online video today than they were 5 years ago.

Video, however, is not the only medium for delivering valuable content. KOL-led discussions and commentary, detailed PowerPoint presentations, MOA graphical representations, and whitepapers are all conducive to deeper engagement with physicians, and are easily optimized for digital consumption.

3. Content must be results-driven

Data collection and analysis are essential to a successful campaign. Different kinds of research should be employed throughout a campaign to measure and assess message delivery, and to analyze the campaign’s results. Such assessment should be done routinely in order to gauge your target audience’s perception of your messages and secure their feedback.

As a research tool, qualitative measures (e.g., pre-survey focus groups, phone interviews, surveys of medical congress attendees) can provide insights that otherwise may remain hidden, and are particularly useful for gauging physician receptivity to new ideas, especially if the questions are open-ended, and if the insights gathered are from influential KOLs.

Campaign-based research using quantitative surveys can validate the relevance of key messages and benefit statements that drive your content creation plan.

Quantitative surveys can substantiate learnings gleaned from qualitative results by providing deep insights into longer-term marketplace trends, as well as to test hypotheses or to demonstrate changes in HCP behavior. Quantitative survey research can also be a strong predictor of ROI – the ultimate demonstration of success.

Our most recent research on HCP media usage demonstrates that for learning about a new drug, HCPs were twice as likely to watch a video today than they were 5 years ago.

In the end, research should answer the following types of questions about what the campaign seeks to accomplish:

• Which types of HCPs are consuming the information?

• Which pieces of content are preferred across the target list and by distinct physician segments?

• What educational gaps still remain?

• Has engagement with the information led to more desirable behaviors such as change in practice behavior or prescription writing?

4. Create Memorable Interactions with Multiple Touchpoints

To make a campaign truly resonate with your audience, you need to create a story arc across multiple touchpoints, enlivened with refreshed data. This can be done by leveraging multiple formats of your existing assets, including interactive learning programs, quizzes, slide decks, videos, texts, and self-directed learning modules with multiple tabs for information on topics such as product efficacy, safety, dosing, preclinical data, and supporting literature.

In an analysis of nearly 2,000 HCPs who viewed promotional content from two distinct campaigns from the same brand on Healthcasts, dual engagement with both programs resulted in a 4-fold impact (24% vs. 6%) on HCP script volume compared to those who engaged with only one program. Creating content to work across your marketing plan doesn’t have to be a regulatory nightmare. In the new world of multi-channel marketing (MCM), you can optimize existing print assets for other media. After all, once copy has been approved, it doesn’t take much time or effort to secure medical/legal/ regulatory approval in a different format.


Detail aids and other sales force materials can be made more visually compelling and interactive with voice-over capability, as can patient profiles, which can incorporate digital “quiz” elements to bolster their educational impact. Additionally, an approved KOL slide deck can be leveraged as the “script” for a deeply engaging educational video, a series of videos or an engaging self-learning module. The possibilities extend to telesales scripts, whereby you can digitally reproduce the phone “algorithm” with approved messaging.

In short, creating resonant, meaningful interactions with HCPs is a matter of maintaining continuous dialogue with these practitioners. You therefore need to craft consistent, personalized experiences across multiple touch points, making judicious use of targeted, sequential messaging.

5. Build Trust

Just as the physician-patient relationship is built on trust, the success of your marketing campaign depends on establishing trust with your target physicians. In today’s healthcare environment, trust is a commodity in limited supply, one that has eroded in the face of increasingly restrictive marketplace trends. Many doctors feel they have lost some authority in picking medicines, as health plans have learned to wield co-pays to steer use of certain drugs.

To restore physicians’ trust, you need to empower them by giving them the information they need via platforms they feel comfortable with. Choosing the right platforms for communicating with physicians is largely a matter of aligning your brand with KOLs (both regional and national), medical specialty societies, and/or patient advocacy associations. These entities imbue your messages with credibility.

Whether packaged as independent editorial content or within brand messaging, input from KOLs carries considerable weight among practicing physicians. The power of KOL support is illustrated in Figure 4, which suggests that 83% of physicians are likely to prescribe a new drug if it’s endorsed by a Key Opinion Leader. Maintaining relationships is a key component of trust-building. No one appreciates being the target of scattershot marketing tactics, and physicians are no exception. Targeting lists of HCPs that have been compiled by third-party vendors can do more harm than good. This is one area where you can leverage your channel partners to strengthen ties with your target physicians—and with the KOLs whose input they value. Look for partners offering a long history of engaging physicians with unbiased content, top-tier KOLs, and a member-driven approach to marketing.


Whether you’re working with KOLs or collaborating with media partners to maintain your physician relationships, you need to look for platforms that have a sound reputation for clinical accuracy, utility, and unbiased content. That is the key to building trust.


One of the great pluses of working in pharma marketing is knowing that the products we’re promoting make a real difference in people’s lives. This industry produces and distributes products that save lives and alleviate suffering. And yet, with that status comes great responsibility. When you, as a marketer, adhere to the marketplace’s new rules of engagement to connect and engage with HCPs appropriately and meaningfully, you help to create and nurture the educated physician—a noble endeavor, which will help a greater number of patients in the long run.

About Healthcasts

Healthcasts is the leading educational resource for physicians with an exclusive, verified network of practicing members that spans over 30 clinical specialty areas. Since its inception in 2001, Healthcasts has been leveraging research and member feedback to provide relevant, personalized educational content from more than 50 medical conferences, insights from Key Opinion Leaders and CME programming through partnerships with leading educational institutions. Healthcasts programming is available digitally, on-demand on all devices for an optimized, cross-channel experience.