Mobile technology: pharma companies struggle to engage with doctors on the go

Dr Tim Ringrose

Doctors.net.uk

Dr Tim Ringrose, of Doctors.net.uk, explains how pharma companies can enhance their credibility and build relationships with doctors via mobile technology.

Thanks to the high uptake of smartphones and tablet devices by hospital doctors and GPs, the medical profession now has unprecedented access to online resources at work. However, the pharma industry has been slow to interact with doctors on the go and has tended to focus more heavily on creating apps for patients.

With 80% of UK doctors owning a smartphone and 31% an iPad, the possibilities for creating apps for doctors are seemingly endless, however, statistics suggest that users can be very fickle.

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“…statistics show that a quarter of apps are used only once before being discarded…”

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Although web traffic via smartphones is predicted to exceed that from desktops by 2013, statistics show that a quarter of apps are used only once before being discarded, while one in five free apps are downloaded less than 100 times.

If a pharma company spends tens of thousands building an app for doctors, it needs to be confident that it will have an enduring appeal. But what are the major stumbling blocks for pharma companies and how can they captialise on this fast changing and highly specialised digital market?

One of the fundamental issues that pharma companies face with any sales and marketing related activity is establishing credibility. Many doctors view the pharma industry with scepticism and are unlikely to turn to it for information and advice unless there is a compelling reason to do so. For example, statistics show that only three per cent of doctors think pharma company resources are credible and 42 per cent never visit their websites.

A flashy app cannot bridge this divide any more than a website or a presentation on an iPad unless pharma companies tackle the credibility issue head on and try to change doctors’ perceptions, earn their trust and position themselves as thought leaders in their disease or treatment area.

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“…pharma companies need to be savvy if they are to create something that doctors will really value and use on a regular basis.”

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One way of doing this is to partner with an organisation that doctors already have faith in. Statistics suggest that doctors are more likely to download an app that has been produced by a charity, so teaming up with a relevant third sector organisation to pool information and resources is a good way to start building relationships with doctors.

Another alternative is to partner with an independent online channel. New research suggests that doctors are increasingly turning to such channels for product information as time pressures make it difficult for them to see pharma reps face-to-face. The research, which was conducted among more than 1,000 GPs across the UK, found that nearly a quarter of them (23%) said they preferred to obtain their own product information via independent online resources.

With so many professional resources available on the internet, doctors have more information at their fingertips than ever before and pharma companies need to be savvy if they are to create something that doctors will really value and use on a regular basis. Unfortunately some pharma companies have been so eager to get a slice of the mobile technology market that they have rushed to build apps without conducting adequate research, or having a clear grasp of what their product could achieve or how they will measure its success.

Experience shows the technology will not sell itself and pharma companies must approach apps with the same rigour that they would apply to any other sales and marketing discipline. Understanding the market, knowing what is currently available and what kind of apps doctors like is essential. Pharma companies need to think how their app could benefit a doctor’s clinical practice and whether there really is a gap in the market to create it. The app must complement their overall sales and marketing activity and have clear business objectives and measurable goals for success.

If there is not a strong business case for an app, then pharma companies should not be tempted to create one for the sake of it. They would be better investing their money in other digital activity such as optimising their website for smartphones.

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“If an app is going to be used as a medical device, such as a dosage calculator, then it must be registered with the MHRA…”

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If they do decide to go ahead, they need to be careful to ensure their app has undergone the appropriate regulatory checks. If an app is going to be used as a medical device, such as a dosage calculator, then it must be registered with the MHRA to ensure that relevant checks have been undertaken – a process which costs about £70.

To conclude, the widespread use of smartphones and tablet devices by doctors offers new and exciting engagement opportunities to pharma companies. However, creating an app is not an easy option and pharma companies must address reputational issues and really understand what doctors want and how an app could usefully fit into their working day if they are to realise its potential.

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About the author:

For more information on Doctors.net.uk and its independent market research division, medeConnect Healthcare Insight, contact Tim Ringrose on +44 (0)1235 828400, or email Tim.Ringrose@mess.doctors.org.uk.

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