Compliant, obedient, and unknowledgeable. That’s how the patient landscape used to look to HCPs. Patients were wholly reliant on HCPs to provide them with the correct diagnosis and the most appropriate medication to improve their health.
Fast forward to 2019 and patients are an unrecognisable bunch. They are, for the most part, knowledgeable (however (un)trustworthy their sources), they have informed opinions on what their potential diagnosis could be, and what tests may need to be carried out. Further still, patients may already have an idea what their treatment options are, and what they want.
This 180-degree shift could make HCPs feel like they have had their guru-status rug whipped out from right under their feet…
How the change effects HCPs
Gone are the days when HCPs could be swayed by the most engaging and convincing pharma sales rep, which may have influenced their decision on what first-line drug they prescribed for that patient. Today, HCPs need to be equipped to answer all the questions a patient has, for example, how the prescribed drug works, the potential side effects, the alternatives, what are the reasonings for prescribing drug/treatment ‘X’ rather than ‘Y’... and so on.
How can pharma help HCPs (and ourselves)?
The brands that provide the most trusted sources of information are the brands that are more likely to get prescribed. The fact is that the information out there is often so brand heavy which is perceived as pushy at best, and biased/untrustworthy at worst. Some interesting facts highlight the issues:
- 40% of HCP’s brand preference is attributable to customer experience factors beyond the product 1.
- HCPs give pharma companies an average Net Promoter Score of -11 across all their interactions with them 2.
It's not just about how excellent the product is anymore, it is about an experience and building trust – with both HCPs and patients. The Net Promoter Score shows the willingness of customers to recommend a company’s products or services to others, and gauges the customer’s overall satisfaction with a company’s product or service and the customer’s loyalty to the brand. Obviously, there is a lot of work to be done to improve this score. But how?
The traditional methods of engaging with HCPs such as conferences, marketing, and f2f are still useful, however the information is not transferred to the broader industry, therefore they can be limited and costly.
e-Detailing is an established and useful tool which can get information out to a wide audience, but is it going out of favour? The information HCPs needs to access might be present, however, it could be 40 slides deep so they don’t have time to look for it - the way we all search for and consume information is changing and few HCP portals are handling this well.
Furthermore, there is no lack of content being produced it just isn't utilised correctly - 78% of pharma and biotech organisations say they are producing a moderate to enormous amount of digital content and assets, only 13% felt they were leveraging that content well. There is a realisation that the content produced needs to expand into other channels and it needs to work effectively for those channels. At present, few channels are being used and synchronisation between channels is not yet a reality.
Overall, most current communication methods are push models. The communication is mainly based around what pharma wants the HCP to hear, it is initiated by pharma with some follow up a couple of months after the initial communication.
This needs to change.
We need to create an environment where HCPs initiate conversations by asking for the information that they want and need; pharma then responds in the most appropriate way to follow up with HCPs and instill a sense of partnership (with both HCPs and patients alike). We need to change from push to pull models of communication. We need to create conversations.
Pharma needs to become the trusted guide for the science, for the data, and for the evidence surrounding a particular disease area and/or therapy. Importantly, this needs to be provided independently of brand association or promotion – this is especially important when talking about a particular domain of therapeutics to the patient. Trust will develop from high quality, independent, brand-free, and authoritative content. A move away from the mistrusting thoughts of ‘what are you trying to sell me?’ - thoughts that turn most of us off, in most situations.
We need to educate HCPs and patients alike and create a situation where they can have meaningful conversations with each other about their options i.e., the science in general, the mechanisms of action, the benefits from clinical trials and the real-world situation as it stands. If patients are trusting and informed, they will be happy to take a particular product, and HCPs will be happy to prescribe them.
Pharma and med comms agencies must change the way they work within the industry which is no mean feat. Such a change requires a shift in the way pharma partner with med comms agencies to create and communicate content as well as putting in place an effective way to measure the success of each communication – so many campaigns are kicked off before knowing if the previous one was even successful – so analytics are required.
There are many channels available to utilise nowadays such as video animations, interactive online courses, webinars, approved emails, etc. Podcasts have soared in popularity - there are many high quality and trusted podcasts that can help the busy HCP and patient keep up to date with the newest studies and research. AI also has massive potential in healthcare, and chatbots or virtual assistants are already being adopted e.g. Tabatha – a Facebook chatbot aimed to encourage patients to act on their asthma symptoms. We also need to also be aware of the ‘Generation Z’ doctors (born in 1995 or later) who will enter the medical profession in the not-so-distant future, and their preferences will have a profound influence on communication and learning formats of all types.
It is clear that dry and clinical information is no longer good enough, we need to use creativity and be imaginative in the way the information provided. The content created needs to be trusted, meaningful, modular and flexible, and quick and easy to find – convenience is vital. It also needs to be easily shared across multiple channels.
Although this sounds like a mammoth task, it doesn’t have to be. There are simple solutions like providing a patient with a 90-second video overview on their new diagnosis or treatment or providing a short explainer overview video on newly published research. See our blog on ‘What makes a good educational video?’
Med comms agencies need to work with pharma to instill trust, create conversations and build partnerships with HCPs and patients. This is the future of effective communication.
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