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Unlocking online opportunities

Exploring the future of digital engagement with healthcare professionals across Europe

Locked laptopSince joining, I've spent time travelling across Europe talking to senior pharmaceutical marketers and the principals of other online doctor communities.  These conversations make it clear that our marketplace is changing rapidly, albeit with differences between countries.

Marketers are typically asking me: "How do we achieve increased market share for our brands with ever tightening budgets and a reduced salesforce headcount?" While I don't have all of the answers, I have been explaining the latest digital innovations and how they enable pharma to engage with doctors across multiple countries.

Self-service information
Matt Stanton, founding director of 7.4 Marketing, which delivers strategic marketing consultancy and communications solutions to pharma, confirms it's not the only challenge: "Increasingly doctors are limiting pharma rep access, resulting in the need for innovative approaches to reach them and build relationships with their brands."

We're seeing that doctors, previously the targets of reams of material and numerous meeting requests, will increasingly 'self-service' their information needs. If companies want to maintain share-of-voice for their brands they need to provide information in an accessible and engaging way.

While many brands are successfully reaching out to consumers through disease awareness campaigns and educational activity, pharma has been slow off the mark engaging with doctors online. Yet, with a significant increase in doctors using the internet for work and pleasure, the opportunity presented by the channel is huge.

Hard facts
In recent research among UK GPs we drilled down to determine the usefulness of online resources, and it came as no surprise that sites providing hard facts and supporting doctors' main areas of concern came top.

Some 79 per cent of respondents cited accredited CME modules as useful; 42 per cent of doctors find online reference text books of interest and 31 per cent find medical databases useful. The benefit of the internet in enabling speedy and effective diagnosis and treatment of patients is also clear.However, the pharmaceutical industry is deemed as lacking credibility with a nominal three per cent of doctors naming it as a trusted source of information – a sentiment that is further reflected in the low frequency of visits by these doctors to pharmaceutical websites.

More than four out of five (82 per cent) doctors claim to visit industry websites less than once a month and just under half (42 per cent) never go to pharma sites in the pursuit of facts. While doctors do recognise the need for such information, their preferred channels are trusted independent online sources (58 per cent).

Digital channels that offer access to doctors are now well-established across the world's major and emerging pharmaceutical markets. By way of illustrating their reach, the community attracts one in four of all practising UK doctors every day. Each visit represents the opportunity to target multiple messages at this hard to reach audience.

We're proving daily the power of digital and the high levels of engagement that are attainable. It's a great example of where doctors, industry and patients all benefit.

Gareth ThomasThe Author
Gareth Thomas is international development director at
He can be contacted at:

This article was first published in PME November/December 2010 as part of the Thought Leader series.

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10th December 2010


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