Please login to the form below

How can pharma deliver real value to doctors and earn their trust?

Article for for Networks in Health – the unique global alliance of trusted physician communities
Evidence suggests that while many doctors would like to access the wealth of information and scientific data that pharma companies hold, they often struggle to do so. This is because pharma has historically tended simply to promote products to doctors, rather than share its expertise and scientific data.

As a result, pharma company resources are viewed with scepticism by many doctors who need independent, unbiased materials and therefore favour sources such as peer reviewed journals, independent online networks and government websites.

This attitude is borne out by the fact that while many pharma companies have invested heavily in developing their own branded websites in recent years, research conducted for* shows only three per cent of doctors think that online pharma resources are credible and 42% never visit pharmaceutical websites.

In order to win doctors’ trust and earn the right to promote themselves, pharma companies need to form a new kind of relationship with them  – one in which they seek to better understand what doctors want and need in relation to specific disease and therapy areas, and tailor their resources accordingly.

Experience shows that this kind of ‘push and pull approach’, which positions pharma as a provider of valuable educational information, provides a far deeper level of engagement and thus builds a longer term relationship and return on investment. This, in turn, can bring significant benefits to pharma when adopted throughout the product lifecycle from planning disease awareness strategies before a product launch through to extending the long tail of sales in commercial brands in the mature stages, before patent expiry and loss of sales force.

So how can pharma get a firmer grip on what doctors want from them online and within the wider multi-channel mix, and integrate networks to adopt a more collaborative knowledge sharing approach? One obvious solution is to explore the data and evidence that already exists in places where doctors coalesce in large numbers.

It is estimated that of the 10 million doctors globally, around 3m doctors worldwide are members of professional
networks and use them for clinical information, collaboration and education.  These 3rd party environments present a real opportunity to better understand customers’ disease area knowledge and their perceptions of therapies so that promotional and educational resources can be tailored to fill clearly identified needs.

Valuable insights can be gained via a variety of tools, ranging from polls that gauge a quick view, to detailed Omnibus surveys and mining discussion forums for key sentiments. Online education, including learning needs assessments and accredited eCME learning modules, is increasingly popular with doctors, and also provides an effective method through which to gauge knowledge levels.

Gathering insights
Such tactics can be employed at any stage of the product lifecycle.  By gathering insights into doctors’ perceptions of the competitive landscape, knowledge levels and understanding of different disease and therapy areas, pharma can test doctors’ perspectives  of specific therapies prior to a product launch, and tailor the subsequent online engagement to mesh with sales and marketing activities across the multichannel mix – and continually measure and optimise the ongoing engagement.

This approach to the granular targeting, measurement and evaluation offered by independent online networks can be used  effectively to drive sales for mature brands to help extend the  long tail of sales in the mature stages before patent expiry, as well as integrate with the sales force for newer brands.  For example, in the UK, there was a recent promotional programme that involved an established pain relief product. The manufacturer wanted to raise awareness of key messages that insight evidence showed had been lost over time, as well as increase breadth of coverage of GPs.  Post campaign analysis found that following the three-month campaign, which was based on insight gathered from research, objectives and KPIs were far exceeded with a substantial increase in the coverage of GPs. 

Insight gathered online can help to inform and enhance other areas of the multi-channel mix and this can range from tele-reach to educational service calls and all points in between. It can also support the national and regional sales force or CSOs. In a tough economic climate where sales forces are being reduced, this can help to increase frequency of contact with doctors in a highly targeted way as well as increase breadth of reach, as evidenced by the case study below, while also delivering greater measurement of the impact of the engagement.

There are numerous examples of the way in which gathering unique information on prescribers’ knowledge of a therapy area has made a significant difference to the messaging delivered both online and through more traditional sales activities. In one example, engagement through a trusted independent online channel complemented sales force activities, as demonstrated by a measurable impact in improved sales in target regions of a prescribed nutritional product.

Harnessing knowledge
The digital programme was integrated with other sales and marketing activities, and was designed to increase awareness and prescribing of the brand. It has been so successful that it will be rolled out to  key European territories in 2014.

The programme was initiated with online focus group sessions with general practitioners to gather insight into doctors’ knowledge of the condition and treatment pathways. The research highlighted doctors’ lack of awareness of the scientific background to the condition and therapy area, and provided an opportunity to tailor new key sales messages differently for both online and offline marketing and sales activities. These insights are critical to the ongoing success of the programme.

A clinical data and evidence-based promotional programme was tailored to the ‘target list’ of doctors. The programme generated high levels of engagement, with interactions from more than 9,000 GPs in just six months, with high levels of time spent, and insights from it assisting the sales team with their activities with doctors.

Following a thorough evaluation, a significant uplift in sales in key territories was identified, resulting in a second phase campaign being launched. Importantly, this second phase also engages doctors who were not on the client’s original target list but who have been identified as relevant based on their profiles and interests – these ‘no-see’ groups will help to grow the sales funnel.

In conclusion, pharma companies need to ensure that they are engaging with doctors at all stages of the product lifecycle from disease knowledge and awareness long before launch to new product launch planning and mature brands. They should also be integrating 3rd party networks to tailor resources in line with the insights and feedback to inform a highly measurable programme. By becoming more responsive to doctors, and sharing relevant knowledge and information with them in more transparent and collaborative ways, pharma can begin to build a new, mutually rewarding relationship with them that builds trust and equity.

* The research was carried out for by its independent market research division – medeConnect

For more information on Networks in Health and please call 01235 828400 or email You can also follow on Twitter: @doctors_net_uk

24th October 2013