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Postcards from China

Part two: The value of innovative medical education in China

When conducting business in China, forming good relationships or guanxi with influential people often makes the difference between success and failure.

Relationship building is especially important for pharmaceutical companies, whose product performance, further to a demonstration of efficacy and safety (and increasingly, a favourable cost profile), may rise or fall based on the quality of relationships built with the key stakeholders who are critical to product success.

While a host of stakeholders need to be engaged in order to maximise the potential of a product, the emphasis in most markets is still on forming relationships with prescribing physicians. China is no exception. And yet guanxi is not enough. In a country weighed down by disparate levels of access to care, an ageing population, a dramatic rise in the burden of chronic disease and massively overburdened physicians, training new doctors and enhancing the education level of the current 2.4 million registered doctors is a critical task for the government and one in which the pharmaceutical industry can play an important role.

Consider this: by 2030, 16 per cent of China's population will be over 65 years old, growing to one in every four people by 2050. This demographic shift is already having a huge impact on the number of people living with hypertension, cancer, infectious disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes. Indeed, China now has the world's largest diabetic population with over 92 million people – one in every 10 adults – diagnosed, and cardiovascular disease events are predicted to double in number in urban areas by 2030 (compared with 2010).

Through innovative and effective medical education programmes, which support the physicians tackling these diseases – by enhancing their knowledge in key therapeutic areas; introducing innovative methods for disease prevention; and sharing research into the newest treatments to enable selection of the most appropriate therapies for China's patients – industry can be part of the government's effort to manage disease and improve health outcomes across the population.

Medical education can take multiple forms

The most successful medical education programmes are more often than not non-promotional in nature, driven by a clear unmet clinical need and aligned with government priorities. Targeted to the healthcare professionals that need them the most (which may not always be the primary prescriber), any medical education effort should be underpinned by input and endorsement from the local medical community, often a multidisciplinary faculty providing this from the perspective of specialist care, primary care, nursing and the patient.

Once content and focus are defined, channels and formats with which to reach your target audience range from relatively small groups in compelling live meetings, to stand-alone meetings and congress activities that reach larger numbers, through to traditional train-the-trainer models and web-based, e-learning or virtual meetings which create communities that can reach and engage physicians across the country.

Promotional medical education which supports healthcare professionals in the correct use of a particular product and the identification of the most appropriate therapies for individual patients also has a role. Pharmaceutical companies should not shy away from promotional programmes that focus on their licensed brands as physicians value these learning and networking opportunities as much as any others. Transparency regarding the nature of the meetings being held is essential, however.

Whether promotional or not, the best medical education initiative mixes online and offline activities and is underpinned by a validated digital and social media strategy. Surveys consistently show the medical community's desire to adopt new digital tools for both personal education and the education of their patients. And compared with their Western counterparts, Chinese doctors are reported to be some of the highest users of mainstream social media, professional networking sites and online medical communities.

Take the time to consider accreditation

Whenever possible and appropriate, companies should invest in the accreditation of medical education activities with the relevant Continuing Medical Education (CME) organisation. CME credits continue to be a significant draw and a key tool for reaching physicians (particularly those recently trained and mid-level) who need a certain number of Type I (often live meetings) and Type II credits (often web-based or small-scale live meetings) annually. Importantly, China's government is investing in standardised methods for the construction, delivery and accreditation of different CME materials, incorporating Western and some traditional medicine and focusing on prevention as well as treatment.

Non-clinical skills can differentiate

With a growing number of competing products with comparable medical outcomes entering the China market, the ability to enhance stakeholder relationships and differentiate a corporate or product brand by up skilling physicians on non-clinical skills should not be underestimated. Supporting career advancement opportunities through training on medical writing or patient communication skills, for example, provide tremendous added value for ambitious physicians.

Whether promotional or non-promotional in nature, activities conducted under an overarching, branded educational platform will reinforce relationships with key physician stakeholders and demonstrate commitment from the pharmaceutical brand providing them. Better yet, by providing both traditional and innovative medical education activities, pharmaceutical companies will be uniquely placed to help support China's ambitious long-term health goals.

Jon-inventiv-health-chinaAuthor: Jon Ruddick is the scientific director at inVentiv Health Communications China and can be contacted at




17th September 2012

From: Marketing



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