There are more than 70 physician-only online social networks around the world and collectively they have an estimated total membership of 3.5-4 million.
They are used more often on a weekly basis than journals (on- or off-line) or consulting with colleagues in person, and they have a higher influence on online healthcare professionals than either pharma websites or sales reps, according to Manhattan Research.
In Europe physician networks have seen continuous and significant growth, particularly in the UK, Germany and Scandinavia. There is, however, a North/South divide, with a lower proportion of healthcare professionals in France, Spain and Italy joining these networks, but new entrants from Eastern Europe are helping drive overall uptake.
Digital healthcare consultant Len Starnes explains: “In Europe membership has grown continuously with many new entrants emerging from Eastern Europe, such as konsylium24.pl in Poland and iVrach.com in Russia.”
Len, the former head of digital sales and marketing within Bayer Healthcare's general medicine division, adds: “Europe is also now at the forefront of driving global alliances such as Networks in Health.”
He says more than 75 per cent go online to get healthcare information and that the most activity is often seen among those aged 50-59.
Len outlines three major areas for pharma to work with physician communities – market research, engagement (peer-to-peer dialogue) and partnering to develop specialist therapeutic-area communities within communities.
“The most formidable challenge for pharma is deciding to 'engage' physicians and developing local marketing regulation-compliant internal engagement guidelines,” he says.