What do Australian doctors want from digital?

As digital engagement increases in all aspects of life, more and more doctors are seeking information and education online. And to meet the needs of ‘informed’ patients, they want to be able to recommend brand-specific tools and support programmes.

A tipping point has arrived whereby some of us now spend more of our time communicating digitally than we do physically. This paradigm shift that’s occurring in broader society is also happening in the medical world and as a result doctors are changing the way they think about and approach medicine. As healthcare professionals (HCPs) digitise, healthcare companies must also increase their engagement with the digital world.

From passive acceptance to proactive participation

Australian doctors are moving away from being passive and accepting of what they receive to taking the lead in seeking out what they want and need, as well as actively participating in what they like.

There’s now evidence1 to suggest that there are three critical ways in which this shift towards proactive participation will impact how doctors:

– inform themselves and connect with peers

– consult and engage with patients

– interact with healthcare companies.

1. Self-connection

So, how are doctors getting connected in Australia? They are forming patterns of behaviour around a number of key areas.


“I can find what I want, anytime I want. You could do a medical degree on your phone.” – GP, Sydney



Doctors are accessing a wider range of information sources than ever before. They use everything from Wikipedia to internal, hospital-specific portals to pharma company websites. The ultimate aim is to get credible information as quickly and efficiently as possible.


Doctors are increasingly adopting online education due to its convenience and relevance. They are accessing and learning on their own terms. They’re attracted to interactive education which delivers practical directions for ‘real-life’ situations. Peer-reviewed video is a great example of this.

’75 per cent strongly agree that their use of online resources and online tools for work purposes will increase in the near future’



Doctors are no longer limited to conversations with colleagues in their practice. Social networking allows them to go beyond their workplace to reach local and international colleagues, quickly and easily. Twitter was voiced as an emerging and powerful medium to share industry news and the latest clinical developments with their peers. US-based doctor platform SERMO has just launched in the UK and Australian doctors are eager to see that type of forum brought to life in their country too.


’55 per cent strongly agree that they would be open to networking with other medical professionals online for the purposes of helping with work’


2. Patient engagement

The second area of change is around the patient consultation.

Until recently Australian doctors tended to reject patient empowerment, or saw it as an inconvenience. Doctors recalled examples of too many patients being misinformed, unnecessarily panicked with horror stories of drug side effects and mishaps, and taking up too much of the doctor’s time asking irrelevant questions. 

’70 per cent welcome patients looking up their condition online prior to a consultation’


Now doctors have the opposite attitude. They are more accepting and some are embracing the empowered patient movement, seeing the ‘informed’ patient as being more involved in their own healthcare and simply looking for a dialogue.

Off the back of this doctors want to be able to provide patients with digital tools and resources that facilitate this dialogue or continue it outside of the consultation. Brand-specific tools or support programmes with credible websites which inform at a patient level will be key as doctors start to gravitate towards brands with digital support. These can provide a point of difference with the potential to impact prescribing behavior, the end result being increased satisfaction for patients and doctors.


’57 per cent would be extremely comfortable recommending credible online resources and online tools to patients’ 


“Digital technology will be part of the patient journey and increase as the proportion of digitally savvy patients increases. Hopefully, this leads to patient empowerment.” – Specialist, Adelaide


3. Pharma interaction

Doctors across Australia are now demanding a two-way conversation with healthcare companies. Traditional push tactics are no longer working as well as they used to. So, while advertising in journals and conference sponsorship get great reach, the cut-through is limited with doctors tuned out to what they describe as ‘wallpaper’.

Interestingly, the rep is still a critical marketing channel and perhaps, across current channel mix, the most accessible source of information and advice. But doctors say there is a need to redefine their roles – and even their job titles.

Tailored, bespoke information will be key. In an ideal world, the field rep would be well versed in company events; given access to real-time, around-the-clock information and clinical data; and armed with the most up-to-date technology to view, download and share with the HCP in a personalised manner.



“The fact they’re still called sales reps sends me the wrong message. I want to know how they can help me in my role with the specific problems I face” – GP, Sydney

“I don’t care what digital device they use – it’s the value of the content that’s important” – Specialist, Melbourne



Though less accessible, peers and the harder-to-reach KOLs are deemed the most credible sources or channels of information. If this is the case, the opportunity for pharma could lie in helping to facilitate these connections digitally.

Implications for healthcare companies

Customers are now more in control than ever, choosing how, with whom, with what and when they engage.

Customer-centric thinking and strategies are vital. Healthcare companies need a more intimate and informed picture of doctors – to intrinsically know their unmet needs, the challenges they face and what ultimately drives their decisions.

Pharma can then understand how HCPs prefer to receive information and the type and level of content they want and craft more efficient and impactful marketing efforts accordingly. Digital can provide a cost-effective means to target, engage and interact with doctors at a much more specific level.

A digital strategy alone is not enough, but it can work effectively if it complements more traditional channels. The net result is increased relevance for a brand or company. On the flip side, if healthcare companies fail to digitise at all, they could become irrelevant in the minds of doctors.


1 In March 2015, Elbow undertook a primary research study to better understand how digital is impacting the way Australian doctors practice medicine and prescribe. Qualitative group sessions were conducted in Sydney with a mix of specialists and GPs. Some of the findings were then validated with an online quantitative survey of 147 HCPs.

About the author:

Jonny Mackrill is director and founding partner at Elbow Insight and Strategy. He is a strategic thinker with 15 years’ hands-on experience in research and brand strategy. He cut his teeth in research in the UK before arriving in Sydney in 2005. Since then he’s worked as a strategic planner and brand strategist in creative and media agencies. More recently he spent five years as managing director at Jigsaw, gaining extensive experience across a diverse range of therapy areas and OTC categories.

Jonny loves connecting businesses with people, uncovering their truths and providing inspiration for the creation of strong brands.

Read more on doctors’ views:

The best route to physician engagement