Relevance and impact: Connecting with HCPs in the digital age

Connecting with HCPs

What’s the best way to influence physician behaviour? This is the pharmaceutical industry’s billion-dollar question. The sector’s marketing and sales teams hold thousands of conferences every year in perpetual search of the answer. They’re still searching.

Precious few physicians attend these conferences. I recently attended one, watching and listening like a fly on the wall as they presented their best tips, tricks, and tactics for getting my attention. They discussed digital strategies to drive engagement, how to boost interactions, and the golden path to creating innovative content that drives results. The speakers’ PowerPoint decks were filled with ‘personas’ explaining the psychology and mindset of healthcare providers like me: what we read and watch, what motivates us, our personality types, our pecking order in the healthcare hierarchy.

They were talking about my peers, but they didn’t seem to know what to do with the intelligence they’d gathered about us. They struggled to match their personas to the lexicon of their trade: omnichannel communication, digital automation, maximised reach. No matter how detailed and accurate the personas, they still leaned heavily on mass-messaging tactics that were trying to appeal to all personas at once. Their tools are mismatched to the objectives they’re trying to accomplish.

No longer horses, but zebras now

As an entrepreneur, I understood their desire to engage healthcare providers. As a physician, it was clear they misunderstood the context in which my HCP colleagues and I are operating today. Clinicians of all stripes are still dealing with the after-effects of the pandemic. We’re managing hefty patient backlogs. We’re dealing with new or poorly understood diseases (long Covid), new mutations of familiar ones (extensively drug resistant typhoid), and the impact of global travel and climate change on others (dengue fever).

We also know that the problem isn’t going away. Outbreaks across the globe are increasing in frequency, scale, and impact, and it’s clear we remain unprepared. Most physicians in North America, as part of their training, spend a mere half-day in lectures learning about tropical infectious diseases. And then we are taught the old adage that “if you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras” — a way of saying that the most common explanation for a patient’s clinical presentation is the one to focus on, so don’t bother wasting time searching the world for obscure or exotic explanations. That adage, which was coined 75 years ago, no longer holds true, because outbreaks in a faraway part of the world can now show up at our doorstep within days. We have to be ready for anything.

It’s no wonder, then, that marketers and digital leaders find us impossible to reach, or that omnichannel bombardment doesn’t get through. Physicians are more near-sighted in our work than ever before. If the information being pumped our way isn’t helping us solve a problem that’s confronting us in that moment, if it’s not making us smarter or more effective in our work, then we’re going to ignore it. This is true of every pitch marketers and sales reps make to physicians, but it’s especially true when it comes to infectious diseases.

Two keywords: Relevance and impact

Pharma companies need to add two keywords to their messaging lexicon: relevance and impact. And they need to work with their Medical Affairs teams to develop new tools that are fit for this purpose. Thanks to digital innovation and artificial intelligence, the raw materials to make those tools already exist. It’s now possible to gather diverse global data and build predictive intelligence on dangerous infectious diseases, wherever they appear in the world. Once you have that intelligence in hand, you’ll have the ability to reach HCPs with actionable insights on how to quickly recognise those metaphorical zebras, protect yourself and those around you, and deliver timely treatments to patients, all in the right place, and at just the right time.

The challenge is that, while this kind of intelligence would undoubtedly help pharma companies connect with physicians, pharma companies shouldn’t be the ones to generate it. Doctors never rely on marketers to solve our problems. We rely on colleagues, published clinical trials, and other scientifically reputable sources we trust.

One way out of this Catch-22 is for pharma companies to partner with third-party organisations with the scientific and medical credibility to bridge that gap — the kind that can assemble this kind of information and turn it into publishable results and actionable intelligence. Healthcare providers might tune out a company’s sales pitch, but they won’t tune out a trusted source serving as a helpful intermediary for relevant knowledge-sharing.

Harnessing the power of digital

And this gets to the heart of the matter. Instead of asking “How can I influence HCP behaviour?” pharma companies should be asking “How can I empower HCPs to serve their patients better?” To answer that question, firms will need to make a paradigm shift from sales to service. They need to harness the power of digital technology, not for pushing messages, but for gathering real-time intelligence about emerging diseases, conditions, and treatments — and passing that intelligence on to physicians in ways that create more astute clinicians.

Given the constraints and challenges physicians are facing, pharma companies can only get our attention with new, relevant, actionable, and perfectly timed information. Everything else is just background noise.

Dr Kamran Khan
profile mask
Dr Kamran Khan