The great physicist Richard Feynman famously said, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, then you don’t understand quantum mechanics.” The same might be said of today’s inter-relationships in healthcare. It was complex enough when there were merely companies, agencies, HCPs, hospitals, and a limited number of media platforms.
Today, a map of the territory looks like a bowl of spaghetti. Just the digital choices are multiplying rapidly, not to mention the vertically segmented categories of vendors: traditional agencies, digital agencies, a hodge-podge of IT consultants, analysts for the avalanche of Big Data, and so on.
Then there’s the increased involvement by multiple divisions within pharma (procurement, digital excellence, med-legal). And a changing regulatory landscape, price pressure and differentiation hurdles. Plus the vast challenge of how to reach the patient, how to help facilitate the patient/physician conversation, how to answer the questions patients are asking about information they have Googled, and you realize that no one really has a grip on a reliable strategy for all of this.
So how do pharma marketers get their arms around a challenge this tangled, and create the best solutions to drive education and uptake of their brands?
Let’s take a breath and look at it in the most basic way. In the end, there are really only two audiences: doctors and patients. First, you have to be clear about your messaging goals for each, and the prioritization of them. That will help you define what kinds of partners you need — and the prioritization of them.
To begin with, how do you find the partners that offer data and insights into the preferences and behavior of target doctors? It’s a little unsettling to realize, as a recent study found, that doctors are increasingly consulting Wikipedia instead of pharma companies for medical information. That’s a result of several factors.
First, many are resisting meetings with reps, because they don’t want to be “sold” — they want specific data and answers. Second, they face numerous hurdles getting through to pharma companies — such logistical barriers as various IDs, passwords and protocols. And, when they do get through, they find restrictions on what information can be shared. Third, they just don’t have much time and want the quickest path to an answer.
That’s why the industry is moving toward a model that offers reliable insights into what doctors are looking for and turnkey execution on those insights. Companies need to be in touch directly with a large community of doctors, on a personal level. They want to be involved with platforms that the physicians are attracted to, that offer an ongoing dialogue with other professionals who the HCPs trust.
This is an emerging space, a combination water-cooler and educational resource where doctors “hang out” virtually with their colleagues; a place where they can get anything from an overview, to peer insights to a deep dive. This gives the doctors what they want, and in turn it provides a lot of wisdom about what they’re seeking and how they want to be addressed in the future, segmented beyond just their specialty. It’s a Goldilocks solution: not too much or too little information, but just the right amount.
On the other side, the model affords sponsors the opportunity to benefit from physician feedback on content and messaging strategy. It helps them differentiate their brands in unique and innovative ways. Does the HCP want clinical data, patient identification, sample access, formulary information or even sales rep connection? Are they confused about the benefits of a new product, or do they have trouble differentiating what seem like me-too products? They provide this information, so it can be passed on to the pharma companies.
The overall benefit is that this is a space where pharma can find conversations with motivated audiences of physicians, assess their knowledge gaps and preferences, and measure the lift in understanding and prescribing after you have engaged with them.
What could be better than a trusted brand physicians associate with advice from their expert colleagues?
We may not understand quantum mechanics, or even the whole healthcare landscape yet. But having a place where HCPs are engaged in meaningful discussions and learning from each other all the time, you can gain an in-depth understanding of what doctors want, and how brands fit into this physician-driven environment.