Seven Steps to a Digital Engagement Strategy for Physicians

As physicians increasingly turn to digital for information gathering disease, treatment and brand websites are inevitably necessary and important ingredients in a digital strategy in the pre-launch, launch and management of a given product.


Is there more to (digital) life than websites?

Websites and iPad e-detailing often become the digital strategy rather than parts of a strategically coherent approach to digital. Considering that both disease and product information will be readily available through other digital assets, and the fact that pure play pharmaceutical disease and brand websites remain infrequent resources for HCPs, pharmaceutical companies fall short of activating the full potential of digital.

Mirroring the sales process of a sales rep through digital

It is a much stated and appreciated fact that the strength of the relationship between business partners is the major driver of sales in complex sales (not accounting for the potential unique characteristics of the offered product portfolio). A constant flow of relevant interactions drives top-of-mind and the value perceived by the “buying” partner, i.e. primarily the HCP in the pharmaceutical industry (not considering Payers and Healthcare Policy Makers).

It is Vertic’s point of view that pharmaceutical companies need to forge close, digital relationships with the target group by frequent and relevant interactions. A similar mindset is reflected in many pharmaceutical companies’ implementation of solution selling with the physical sales force. In other words, pharmaceutical companies should extend this recognized offline sales methodology and mindset to digital. In what follows is an example of how this may be done one step at the time. Each step will differ from company to company, but I hope that the below illustrate the fundamental approach that is necessary to deploy in order to develop a digital strategy that truly brings value.

The digital ladder

1st step on the digital ladder — “Brand.com” as a basic and necessary resource

Taking a brand launch as an example, the brand site — henceforth “Brand.com” — will be only one, yet necessary, step in creating a digital relationship with HCPs. It will typically gain substantial traffic during a given launch through a substantial marketing pull and the potential novelty factor represented by product. Yet HCPs will revisit the site on an occasional rather than frequent basis, as it typically features one drug within one disease areaand thus covers only a fraction of the average HCP’s digital interest areas.

2nd step on the digital ladder — integrating with existing sales process

One step beyond providing superior product centric information is integrating Brand.com into the existing sales process. If a fraction of physical visits by sales reps at HCPs were converted into a personalized digital interaction, a second step towards creating a stronger digital relationship has been taken. For example, subsequent to the face to face meeting, the sales rep could provide minutes and presentation materials hosted directly on the Brand.com providing access through a link in a follow up e-mail to the HCP.

3rd step on the digital ladder — Leveraging the company DNA

Many pharmaceutical companies specialize within a given disease area. Thus, many have what approximates the Merck manual, the predecessor and the origin of Univadis — the most obvious success within owned media in pharmaceutical digital marketing. No matter whether the specialty is CNS, Respiratory, Cancer, Dermatology, Cardivascular, Diabetes or something else, patients in great numbers visit consultation every day around the world and they ask for HCP guidance as regards self-management. This patient demand is reflected in market intelligence showing that patient education material is in the top3 as regards digital content being sought for by HCPs.

Specialized pharmaceutical companies should position themselves as leaders in patient education within their disease area by providing a market leading everyday resource for the patient/HCP point of careconversation. It would have relevance and validity for all patients within the given disease addressed by HCPs. By providing such patient education as an integrated part of Brand.com — e.g. via an iPad app-, the pharmaceutical company would provide relevant and valuable digital interactions on a nearly daily basis and thereby substantially reinforce the HCP relationship. Also, the pharmaceutical company would have succeeded in establishing a new communication channelwith HCPs, which could be activated as a part of the subsequent steps on the digital ladder.

4th step on the ladder — Remote & on-demand e-detailing

If a pharmaceutical company improves the digital relationship from an occasional to frequent relationship through the first 3 steps on the digital ladder described above, a stronger relationship has been built and a new communication channel has been established by placing the patient education app in the hands of the HCPs. These could be factors that allow the pharmaceutical company to truly activate the majority of physicians who are interested in participating in on demandand remote e-detailing. By integrating on- demand and remote e-detailing into Brand.com, the frequency of digital interaction is increased and the relationship to HCP is further strengthened.

5th step on the ladder — the HCP panel

The trust build will allow the pharmaceutical company to build real collaboration with HCPs, e.g. through setting up global, digital HCP panels, where questions and answers on disease management are discussed, fed back to pharmaceutical companies, and corrective actions is made on a continuous basis.

6th to 7th step and beyond

Venturing this far on the digital ladder will have taken significant time. At this advanced time, industry trends would suggest that products are becoming even more commoditized and that prescription behavior is driven primarily by unique circumstances related to reimbursement, insurance and guidelines, which are all included in the notion of decentralization. Going further, we hypothesize that care is more important to patients, HCPs and payers than products, necessitating the integration of digital patient support services into the core value proposition, which will further drive digital interaction. Ultimately, this trend may be codified into healthcare policy where pharmaceutical companies are remunerated according to PRO, and patient will be prescribed a pharmacological solution and a patient support service, which may be hosted on Brand.com.

In sum, the conventional disease and brand site should be nothing more the start of a journey towards ensuring frequent and relevant digital interactions with HCPs, if digital is to create real business value in terms of creating tangible business value.


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