Empathy: The missing link in HCP-pharma relationships?

Sales & Marketing
empathy healthcare professional

Empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel, see things from their point of view, and imagine yourself in their shoes. It’s a fundamental aspect of any successful relationship, and integral for building trust.

But empathy can feel like an aspect of the customer relationship, particularly in omnichannel engagement, that’s overlooked when it comes to pharma-HCP relationships.

Here, we explore this idea and think about how an alternative mindset could help build trust and drive commercial success.

It’s no secret that HCPs globally are stretched for time

In the UK, the average number of patients each GP is responsible for has increased by nearly 17% from 2015 to 2,260, and seeing an average of 37 patients a day. The picture is similar across Europe, where 76% of EU nations feel that general practice workload is unreasonable and unsustainable.

A recent survey amongst HCPs in the US revealed that 70% feel frustrated by the pressure put on them in today’s world, while just 30% say they find their profession rewarding. Average appointment wait times for new patients are now 26 days, showing the pressure that physicians and health services are under to meet the needs of growing and ageing populations.

‘A day in the life’

In our latest whitepaper on HCP trust, including first-hand user research with practising HCPs across the UK, US, and France, we mapped out what an average ‘day in the life’ can look like. We found that days are characterised by high frequency and intensity meetings, frustrating digital interactions, and little down time for things like admin, professional development, or engaging with third-parties.

Another recent study of US physicians revealed that during an average working day, physicians spent just 10% of their time on personal activities (e.g., meals) — with 66.5% of time on patient care, 20.7% on her input, 7.7% on administrative work, and 5% on other activities, such as teaching or supervising.

The interactions and content that HCPs are used to seeing from pharma

We asked HCPs about their current perceptions of and frustrations with digital content provided by pharma organisations. The issues they cited include the use of indirect language around risks and side-effects, siloed comms around one product, a lack of connectedness across touch points, and a lack of in-moment contextual awareness for HCPs.

They hold suspicions about the objectivity of the data provided and awareness of promotional spin on content via the tone of content and messaging. They also worry that the full information about a drug or condition will not be available in one place, citing difficulty in finding what they are looking for, as well as general problems with accessing information and platforms.

Over many years, these factors have led to a lack of trust towards pharma-provided content and channels. That trust needs to be rebuilt and it will only be achieved through alignment of content that is not misleading, that adds value, and to develop resources that actually meet their needs and those of their patients.

Seeing things through their eyes

How might things look different if we look through the eyes of the customer?

Asking this one simple question can help improve your digital content and give it a better chance of resonating. As well as understanding customer behaviour, it's important to think carefully about how they perceive your communications and wider brand.

More helpful questions to ask include:

  • Does this interaction add value and support HCPs in delivering value for their patients?
  • Is the tone and language of this campaign going to feel authentic and build trust?
  • Is it easily findable - in just a few seconds from a search engine?
  • If they want to see more detail, is this easily accessible?

Personalisation is also key in demonstrating empathy — speaking to your audience about the things that are relevant and important to them, rather than wasting their time and frustrating them with things that aren’t. It demonstrates consideration and feels like a much more human approach.

Championing the voice of the customer

It’s important that the voice of the customer is represented internally. One way of doing this is to identify a strong champion — or group of champions — for customer insight and interest, who will challenge preconceived notions about ‘the way we’ve always done it’ for content, user journey, and user experience.

Deep customer understanding is the cornerstone of empathy-based marketing approaches. Data alone won’t tell the full story — you’ll need to speak to HCPs regularly and have real conversations to do this. Being seen to really listen to customer feedback, valuing the customer’s input, showing a genuine interest in the customer experience, and using that knowledge to improve your communications and interactions is vital to success.

These champions may already exist in the form of medical teams, or they may need defining in a new way, and we are pleased to see some organisations already recognising the importance of this role and starting to carve it out. It's not an easy job, but get it right and it has the power to transform relationships.

Rob Verheul
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Rob Verheul
20 November, 2023