Reaching the prescriber in 2023
Office of National Statistics (ONS) data describes COVID-19 levels in the UK today in similar terms as do US and the top-five European nations’ governing agencies. Hospital admission rates and the number of deaths involving COVID-19 are lower now than earlier in the pandemic. Yet, after three years of rising burnout and staffing shortages driven by the pandemic, physicians in 2023 are downtrodden and concerned about the future of public health. This concern is more pervasive for European physicians than for their US counterparts. In some respects, their consternation is even more strident than in 2022, when COVID’s impact was more recent.
For pharma brand teams tasked with achieving engagement with prescribers on in-market products, as well as new treatments in the pipeline, reaching the 2023 prescriber requires a new playbook, one suited to the myriad challenges that were not present pre-pandemic.
Fixing the staffing crisis is Job #1
Insights shared by members of the healthcare professional (HCP) panel of Survey Healthcare Global in the 2023 Apollo Intelligence Global Healthcare Predictions Report reflected what prescribers want from the pharma industry and the healthcare system in the coming year, and what they think they’ll realistically get. In Europe (HCPs from the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain are included in the survey), the results are stark. One in five (22%) European physicians predict more of their colleagues will leave the profession this year. Not surprisingly, they list fixing the staffing crisis (55%) and addressing burnout (43%) as their top priorities for the coming year.
US doctors are just as challenged. Nearly half (49%) of US physicians report burnout in 2023, up slightly from 2022 (45%); 70% have concerns about staffing challenges in 2023; and more than 60% believe that many more qualified HCPs will leave their professions in the coming year.
Physicians everywhere express frustration over their lack of compensation, the way they are treated, and their place in the decision-making process. Verbatim remarks on deteriorating quality of care, which some respondents said resulted from workforce shortages and “more care overload”, echo SHG’s March 2022 data that a third (34%) of European physicians said they had observed an increase in medical errors as a result of staff shortages.
“Haven’t seen an increase in pay for the work I do in years. Any increase in salary has been due to seeing more patients at the expense of a work life balance…” - PCP, US
[In the coming year, realistically we will see a] “progression of the skills shortage. Further deterioration of the payment of qualified personnel.” - Specialist, Germany
“The main change I would like to see in the healthcare industry is more hiring of healthcare staff. The current system is overloaded, and if more staff were hired, office visits and operating theaters could be made available” - Specialist, Spain
European physicians also believe the HCP staffing shortages (87%) and burnout (78%) are the top two reasons why very few physicians reported optimism about the state of public health in their nations.
Hopes vs reality in 2023
Far more than in the US, HCPs in Europe wish for improvements in medical staffing, education, and training in 2023, 34%, versus just 16% in the US. This wish was highest among French physicians (45%), whereas in the UK doctors’ top wish was for advances in technology and medicine (40%). Other hoped-for items by physicians include government/regulatory changes (20%), and more access to care for patients (17%). In contrast, their US counterparts prioritised making therapies more affordable to patients (50%) and increasing access to therapies (31%).
Yet, when asked realistically what they thought the pharma and healthcare industries will serve up in 2023, the largest answer was absolutely no change at all by 27% of European respondents, the same level as in the US (28%). Some 24% in Europe said they believe, realistically, they will see innovations in medicine and care in 2023, and 22% felt there would indeed be improvements in the staffing situation.
Compensation for HCPs remains a sought-after, yet less likely goal, with 17% of European physicians wishing for improvements in pay. However, only 11% feeling they would obtain it.
Technology and the human touch
For many respondents, technology was the way forward to better times. A quarter (24%) of European physicians realistically thought that they would see advances in medical technology this year, with verbatim remarks citing smart devices, telemedicine, electronic prescriptions, and better use of the electronic health record, among other advances.
“Use of AI technology for efficiency; development of remote monitoring to enable improved community management.” - PCP, UK
“I would like to improve the interaction between the patient, the doctor, and the manufacturing companies, in order to be able to provide personalised care to individual patients.” - Oncologist, Italy
For others, the way forward is about patient advances, such as expanded outpatient treatments, better screening protocols, or encouraging young physicians to join “difficult specialties.” For some HCPs, the pandemic reconnected them to why they joined their profession in the first place. Despite all they have been through, 18% of US physicians said that the pandemic has made them more passionate as physicians.
The way forward
The data suggests that achieving engagement with the prescriber of 2023 requires three actions:
- Meet prescribers where they are. Be compassionate. Listen. Learn how they are coping with the new normal and adapting to a changed care delivery environment.
- Be brief and clear with any time demands. Physicians in a summer 2021 study on pharma market research best practices said that respecting their time is the best way to show respect for them personally. Seemingly small tactics, such as keeping market research questions short and simple, and getting through screening qualifications quickly, can make a big difference in decisions to engage with pharma companies, or not.
- Preserve options for a human connection. The tide has turned in HCP communication preferences since the early days of the pandemic. Data presented at a US industry event in March 2023 shows that, in contrast to 15 months before, physicians favour in-person sales calls (48%)- up from 32% in August 2021- over a hybrid approach (42%) today. Sales rep detailing is rated the top communications preference by 58% of these physicians- one with higher value than non-personal channels, like emails and banner ads. In-person rep meetings also rank most likely to increase prescribing, at 37%, compared to virtual rep meetings (29%) or pharma manufacturers websites (18%).
HCPs are the world’s hope for sustaining public health through challenging times. Pharma industry players who honour their needs today can engage more effectively in their work to advance innovations in patient care.
About the author
Antonio Tropea is MD, Europe at Survey Healthcare Global, which provides first-party healthcare data collection and custom survey solutions. Tropea brings almost two decades of healthcare market research experience to help life sciences organisations obtain the insights to make critical decisions that impact health outcomes.