HCPs in the digital landscape of the Russian market

Oxana Kolosova


To start our digital and social media focus month, Oxana Kolosova explores the online behaviour of healthcare professionals in Russia.

Since growth in the western pharma markets came to a standstill there has been growing interest from the industry in so-called pharmerging markets. One of these is Russia, the world’s 11th largest pharmaceutical market, according to IMS Health, and the one with strong potential for double digit growth over the next 5 years. However, succeeding in a market as complicated as the Russian pharma market is far from easy. Being very different in nature to the western environment it presents a lot of challenges for multinational companies.

In January 2012 a new national law on public health protection came into force, which among other provisions, imposed significant restrictions on interactions between medical practitioners and the industry. As a result, a search for alternative communication channels began, which in particular generated a lot of interest in internet and digital media.


“However, succeeding in a market as complicated as the Russian pharma market is far from easy.”


A survey conducted by an online community for medical representatives found out that the spectrum of new techniques used by field force in 2012 was dominated by digital tools (figure 1). Responding to a decline in a number of face-to-face calls pharma field forces turned their attention to mobile, email marketing, online meetings and presentations. Together these tools outweighed new offline activities employed last year (figure 1).



Figure 1: New detailing techniques used by field force in 2012

Data Source: Field force survey, September–November 2012, N=846

It is estimated that over 60% of Russian HCPs today are active internet users and access multiple professional web resources, with more than half of them using social networks for professional reasons.

A survey on public social networks, found out that doctors mostly use local social networks such as Odnoklassniki and VKontakte (54% and 22% respectively). Facebook is in the third place with just 14% of Russian physicians reportedly using this network (pic.2). However public platforms are rarely used by HCPs for professional collaboration. There is a clear tendency to take peer-to-peer discussions behind closed doors of physicians-only portals.


Figure 2: Public social networks used by physicians

Data sources: iVrach Members’ survey, June 2012, N=463,

comSource Metrics, February 2012

There are several drivers behind the rapid adoption of internet and digital media by Russian HCPs.

Russia is a vast country which spreads across nine time zones. Such geographic extent makes it extremely difficult and costly to disseminate medical information by offline means. Those physicians who live in metropolitan cities are more privileged as they have easier access to information they need. They are regularly visited by medical representatives and more often participate in medical conferences. By contrast, those who work in smaller towns, rural or remote areas often find themselves in professional isolation and lack access to traditional information resources.


“It is estimated that over 60% of Russian HCPs today are active internet users and access multiple professional web resources…”


In a Russian state-run system of continuous medical education, doctors are required to take courses only once in 5 years. Available educational programs are not always up-to-date and no e-learning is available yet on a national level. Sometimes it may take up to 4 months away from the office to complete a CME course.

There is also a general mistrust of medical print amongst HCPs. Many local medical papers are financially dependent on advertising which quite often affects the quality of their publications and editorials. The internet, on the other hand, and particularly a professional social network, creates a unique environment which allows peer reviews and evaluation filters to be added to the published information.

Most physicians already have reliable broadband internet access at home or at work and together these factors create a strong case for a further rise of the internet and digital channels as an important source of professional information for physicians in Russia. This fact cannot be ignored by those in the industry who want to lead the game.

Overall total industry spend on online promotion to physicians in 2012 was at 5–15% of the total marketing budget as found out by a survey of pharmaceutical industry marketing executives.


“Sometimes it may take up to 4 months away from the office to complete a CME course.”


Product and corporate websites, followed by webinars, were named the most popular formats. The respondents anticipated an increase in their digital spend in the near future. As a result this would lead to a significant growth across entire digital channel spectrum.

In order to benchmark these findings against physicians’ opinion, a poll was conducted (figure 3), asking about the preferred digital formats for doctors to access information from the pharmaceutical industry. The most popular turned out to be online articles, followed by online interviews with key opinion leaders. Interestingly, corporate and product websites scored 0%. not a single one of the respondents voted for them to be a preferred digital format. Webinars also scored poorly.


Figure 3: Digital tools – pharma vs. Physicians

Data sources: iVrach industry survey, Oct, Nov 2012, N=23,

iVrach Physician’s Poll Dec 12–Feb 2013, N=150


Clearly there is a mismatch between HCPs preferences and industry digital focus at the moment. Tuning the pharma digital mix in accordance with physicians’ expectations will help pharmaceutical companies to establish effective communication with the HCP community and help them to remain competitive in an accelerated survival-of-the-fittest contest on the Russian market.


About the author:

Oxana Kolosova is Managing Partner at iVrach.com –the leading professional network for Russian speaking physicians.

A graduate of Moscow Medial Academy, Oxana started her carrier in medical marketing with multinational pharma before focusing on medical communications and market research in the agency world. Originally from Moscow, Russia, Oxana worked for several years in Ukraine and then at Dendrite Europe in Windsor, England.

Oxana’s cross cultural professional experience helped her a lot in developing iVrach to become the major online knowledge and information sharing hub that supports Russian-speaking physicians in making the best decisions for the care of their patients.

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