Engaging HCPs through digital media


The ubiquity of digital technology allows pharma reps to communicate with healthcare professionals (HCPs) through their preferred channels, making a positive difference to engagement, relationships, and outcomes.

Customer teams across the spectrum of sales, commercial and medical activities need to be able to meet the needs of healthcare professionals (HCPs), and they need the software to enable this. Without this being prioritised, they will fall behind their competitors and could end up providing what may be perceived as a substandard service.

What do HCPs want from pharma?

Physicians are increasingly amenable to communicating through digital channels. Demographic shifts mean that 70% of the European HCP population will be ‘digital natives’ by 2020, but even among the older ‘digital immigrant’ generation, there are strong engagement opportunities for pharma companies.

This can be particularly useful in engaging hard-to-see or even no-see HCPs, where digital channels present an opportunity to take the place of sales reps’ face-to-face calls when those are not an option.

To achieve that, the right software can provide an organised and responsive approach to customer engagement planning. When used appropriately, it can create and strengthen long-term engagement between pharma and the HCPs that companies wish to communicate with.

HCPs’ communication preferences present pharma companies with a stark challenge, as detailed in a recent whitepaper from Veeva and Across Health. Half (50%) of HCPs find the normal timing of face-to-face calls inconvenient and increasing numbers are changing their preferences when it comes to how they receive and digest information.

But it goes deeper than that. According to quantitative research by McKinsey and Across Health, the once-dominant HCP archetype of the rep-friendly ‘Relationship Seeker’ is on the wane and now accounts for 24% of specialists in Europe, behind ‘Independents’ (39%) and ‘Knowledge Seekers’ (27%). Strikingly, they either don’t place much value in any interaction with pharma (Independents) or do not value informal talks or samples (Knowledge Seekers).

Instead, they rely on evidence-based materials (Independents) or are interested in the educational programmes that pharma can offer (Knowledge Seekers). As should be expected, they are not groups of HCPs that look forward to interactions with reps and pharma companies.

Pharma’s use of digital

One of the ways in which pharma companies are adapting to meet these challenges is through greater use of digital.

The tendency in pharma has often been to view digital as a ‘shiny object,’ one that quickly attracts attention but retains no lasting interest or investment. That is changing and, in terms of digital budgets, 2017 marked a turning point in the industry.

After four years of digital accounting for 14.8% and 16% of marketing budgets, in 2017 it took off and then, more surprisingly, has continued rising. Two years ago, it reached 18.9% and then in 2018 hit 21.5%, following increasing support from senior management, suggesting that digital pharma marketing is no longer an afterthought.

Given the room within this picture for still greater use of digital marketing, it’s clear that there’s currently plenty of room for early adopters to make their mark and, in doing so, gain a clear competitive advantage over those who stick to traditional face-to-face interaction as their main channel.

Remote HCP engagement

As pharma companies’ focus shifts from aspirations to execution at scale, much of the emphasis is on developing ‘multichannel rep’ capabilities across field teams.  That means engaging in activities that can transform field forces from having a single-channel approach to a multichannel one and increasing the quality of the communication as well as their convenience. But, although channels like approved email and remote engagement are increasingly enabled through some CRM technology platforms, adoption of these channels varies significantly.

One company in this area started with limited experience with remote engagement but, on implementing it, found it was able to greatly extend its reach, enthuse its reps about the approach and keep HCPs satisfied.

The firm, a top-10 pharma company in Europe that specialises in vaccines, had a primary target audience of specialists who had been visited face-to-face by the field force and a secondary one of general practitioners (GPs) who had not been visited before by the reps.

To begin with, a dual model was used, with an external call agent scheduling the calls. Once comfortable with that, the firm switched to the hybrid model, using a dedicated outbound service agent (an employee on the company payroll) to schedule all calls for the reps. Reps were asked to dedicate 20% of their time (1 day per week) to remote engagement.

In doing so, it found HCPs were very positive about remote detailing. The overall satisfaction score for remote engagement was 8.1 on a scale of 10, with a positive Net Promoter Score (the extent to which physicians would recommend it to their peers) of 11%.

Nearly three-quarters (71%) of contacted specialists had a preference for a combination of rep visits and remote engagement, and 23% stated that they only wanted remote calls in the future. Of the GPs – who were not contacted before – 8 in 10 indicated a preference for being contacted through remote engagement in future.

There was some scepticism among reps but, after taking the training course and seeing how satisfied customers were, rep enthusiasm for remote engagement increased rapidly.

Staying ahead of the game

The multichannel rep is poised to play a key role in helping pharma better align itself with shifting customer needs but building on early successes will require pharma companies to move beyond traditional thinking.

The role of a multichannel rep belongs to an emerging type of commercial organisation in the life sciences industry. This new type of organisation can operate across brands and divisions to plan and execute according to the specific needs of their individual customers and the healthcare system in which they work.

In order to stay ahead of the game – while keeping abreast of how HCPs work – customer teams need to widen their approach to embrace tech, which will be beneficial to all stakeholders.