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The trust issue for pharma and HCPs

Pharma companies still face a degree of scepticism from doctors, so listening to, and acting on, feedback is essential

Trust is the key to everything independent online networks do, allowing them to generate the interest of doctors to engage with content and to develop the relationship.

Since these networks are independent: there is no hidden agenda and no secrecy. Instead the information in discussion forums is driven by doctors. Set that against a pharma company's website, where there is no independence and no impartiality: it is there for one thing only - to influence doctors to prescribe its drugs. By being independent, online communities can assist doctors with their daily work: prescribing and helping to make patients better - while also giving them insight into what the latest KOLs have been saying, not to mention ongoing education, news, conference highlights, peer-to-peer discussion and so on.

When asked where they go to get their trusted information, doctors say they use independent online communities, peer-reviewed sources, medical associations and government websites. Pharma websites are usually bottom of that pile: the vast majority of such sites are – let's make no bones about it - still very heavily promotional.
Networks in Health is working with pharma companies which have gone down that traditional road and found it hasn't worked for them in areas such as basic ROI: “How much has this cost me and what sort of traffic has it generated?”

However, if information is taken from a pharma website and positioned differently - and then placed somewhere doctors are already frequenting so they are not forced to go to you - then you can do more with it and this is where independent online networks come in. Perhaps the biggest thing is that these networks give doctors self-directed resources that allow them the opportunity to do things in their own time: it's the ability to access what they want, when they want. Timeliness is also important, which is why independent networks make sure they are always updating announcements. Trust, medical relevance and ease of use are also among the top half dozen things that doctors want.

How to start building trust
There are examples of pharma clients who have changed a global scare into something more positive by engaging with online communities. Others have used the channel for more simple things, such as announcing a product discontinuation. Time wasn't on their side yet they reached 50 per cent of their audience, 35 per cent of which clicked through to read their full announcement. That is a phenomenal rate of click-through over a four-week period: if you put that in the context of trying to reach the same audience by relying on sales reps, it would have taken far longer.

Of course there's a place for websites and pharma companies should not put all their eggs in one basket - however, independent online networks form a healthy part of the marketing mix. Building trust doesn't happen overnight and the starting point is helping doctors: pharma companies, for instance, can sponsor educational modules which are independent and unbiased and really give something back to doctors.

A really important way pharma can do this is to share knowledge and scientific data with doctors. In this way companies can temper their 'push' messaging with information that will 'pull' the target audience in, in the process earning the right to promote their products. Adopting this kind of 'push-pull' approach will ultimately give pharma a deeper level of engagement and a stronger return on investment (ROI) case.

Companies that understand this idea will then invest in thought-leadership activity to position themselves in a particular disease area. Doctors want pharma to share more disease-related information, so this too helps to increase trust.

Real-time feedback on effectiveness
Something else online communities can help pharma with is the answer to whether they are using the right messaging.
The beauty of digital is that every single click or movement is captured somewhere - not the identity of doctors and where they are, because that's not what this is about - but when it comes to your drug announcement on which you spent x amount, online communities can show clients exactly what doctors do: from opening a message to how long they spent on it and whether they clicked through to a pharma website.

There are also a variety of tools for monitoring and harnessing doctors' knowledge: from sentiment mining in forums to educational quizzes or even asking a direct question. Doctors are not backwards in coming forwards.

But the really important thing is that you must listen to the feedback, whatever it is, and tailor what you do to act on it - this is real-time feedback on where doctors go and, as importantly, where they don't go.

The Author
Beverly Stainsby, International Account Director, Networks in Health

Networks in Health is the unique global alliance of trusted online physician communities.

To learn more email: or visit:

This article appears in the PME supplement How to work with global online doctor networks

23rd August 2013

From: Marketing, Healthcare



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