Physician Information-seeking Habits And Pharma Resources

Staying current with new treatment options is essential for physicians, who need to quickly find information to manage patient challenges. We have uncovered another dimension – criticality – when physicians are making their final prescribing decisions. Knowing how channel choices are impacted by criticality can help pharma marketers know which promotional moves to make.

The critical scenario: “I really thought I was getting better.” Josh, 19, complains of fatigue, headaches, nausea and muscle pain that improved with a course of antibiotics but then recurred. “I can’t work, I can’t go to school. I just feel sick all the time.” Dr. Hurst, his primary care physician, knows that a number of conditions could cause these symptoms. She suspects Lyme Disease, but doesn’t want to wait for blood tests to come back before starting another course of treatment. 



Where can she get immediate answers to help inform her treatment decision?

While Internet search, colleagues and online references are the top sources for immediate information, 28% of physicians will turn to a pharmaceutical websitewhen they need an answer to a medical question within 10 minutes, according to our research, a comprehensive survey to over 2,000 physicians in 21 specialties. 

While this 28% statistic may reflect viewing a drug’s dosing and safety information, there are opportunities for pharma marketers to provide essential information for doctors at the point of care. A common request from physicians is unbiased, side-by-side treatment comparisons and non-branded treatment information. Bringing traffic to a landing page highlighting your products along with disease state information helps build a relationship with a physician in need of help in a hurry.

The critical scenario: Mrs. Esposito is being treated by a urologist for interstitial cystitis, a painful and debilitating bladder disease. Dr. Hurst needs to manage her hypertension without interfering with her bladder medications. 

Where can Dr. Hurst find the information she needs before Mrs. Esposito’s appointment tomorrow? 

For non-immediate needs (1-2 days), physicians tend to most frequently choose online journals (49%), since information is in-depth but searchable. Several other sources compose a second tier, including print journals, professional websites, online communities, colleagues and textbooks. However, more than a third (36%) would go to a pharma brand website for non-immediate information needs. 

The critical scenario: Dr. Hurst wants to learn about Lyme Disease and interstitial cystitis to better treat patients with these conditions in the near future. 

Where does she go for self-education?

Printed journals (47%) and printed references and textbooks (42%) are reported to be the primary means to fill knowledge gaps. Conferences, CME, symposia, professional association meetings, are also important education sources.

Wait, what about Internet search?

Although search is a frequently used channel, it can be fruitless. More than half of physicians (56%) report that they “sometimes” or “often” cannot find an answer to a medical question using a search engine. 

Typical reasons given by respondents are “it was too difficult or time-consuming to choose the relevant results,” or “the results website required registration or a paid membership.” This signals an enormous opportunity for pharma marketers to reach physicians in a medium that is still largely untapped. 

Our research shows physicians search differently than consumers, stringing medical abbreviations and acronyms together for more specific results. For example, a physician might search “IC/PBS” for “interstitial cystitis/painful bladder disease” or “Lyme abx” for “Lyme antibiotics.” They also will string words together, such as a list of symptoms, to try to get more relevant results. So when creating web content for a medical audience, include colloquial medical language in the targeted keyword list.

When comparing traditional vs. digital means of relaying information, we have confirmed that physicians continue to be channel-agnostic, relying on both traditional and digital channels for information. 


  • Consider physicians’ information needs through the dimension of criticality.
  • Use a multi-channel approach when delivering needed brand information.
  • Non-branded, unbiased information can go far in building loyalty with a brand.
  • Ensure that the right physicians find your resources at the right time, by optimizing and frequently updating and deep-linking website content.
  • Invest in search campaigns that specifically target HCPs and consider mobile users by providing content easily accessed through smaller screens.  
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