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How do you identify doctors’ existing disease knowledge?

Online doctor networks present a real opportunity for pharma to better understand the needs of their customers

Pharmaceutical companies are embracing digital in many ways. However, they must tailor their resources to doctors' clinical information and education needs, and understand their online behaviour and habits, if they are to generate real ROI within the multi-channel mix (MCM).

By sharing relevant and timely information with their customers, pharma will build trust, which will, in turn, encourage doctors to view and become interested in promotional messages and resources. Understanding how to do this is key to optimising elements within the MCM, from the sales force, to tele-reach, to education service calls. It can even support a limited or non-existent sales force in the case of a mature brand.

However, when trying to understand doctors' online behaviour, pharma companies often fail to explore the data and evidence that are already available in places where doctors coalesce in large numbers in order to access clinical information and collaborate with their peers.

For example, online doctor networks present a real opportunity to better understand customers' disease area knowledge and their perceptions of therapies - so that promotional or educational resources can be tailored to deliver a measurable outcome in clinical knowledge.

Such intelligence can be gathered via a variety of sources and tools ranging from polls that gauge a quick view, to more formal tools such as omnibus surveys that provide a scaled up picture of current attitudes and activity relating to a disease.

Discussion forums can be mined for key sentiments and terms that may have been discussed around a particular topic, or groups of specialists could be gathered together in an online bulletin board discussion to assess levels of knowledge in particular subjects quickly, qualitatively and cost-effectively, in comparison to more traditional offline methods.

Sometimes, an accredited piece of educational content can be used to identify specific knowledge gaps either before the launch of a new brand or in an established brand programme.

This enables a very tailored approach to subsequent campaign engagement activity and thus encourages a higher quality of engagement for a more sustained period.

Deciding which technique to use depends on the stage of the product lifecycle, the disease and the audience - however, the key is to use different sources of data to obtain a clear view of the audience's knowledge.

By using knowledge gleaned from an online network as part of a planning programme, pharma can begin to ensure it differentiates between, and balances the need for, promotional and educational activity, and tests messages before implementation, to ensure effective cut-through, from agile mid-campaign adjustment.

This knowledge should also inform and enable the optimisation of the ongoing activities in the MCM.

And, if obtained early enough and integrated with the MCM, it can help to improve the effectiveness of the sales force by informing them and helping them to tailor activity locally and regionally. 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.

Gathering insights
There are a range of examples that demonstrate the approach from different perspectives. For example, is running an ongoing programme to promote and educate the primary care audience on an infant nutrition therapy. The programme kicked off with online qualitative group discussions to assess doctors' knowledge of a common condition and demonstrate the limited knowledge of the treatment options. The insights gathered prompted a tailored programme of education in advance of a new product launch. It also highlighted specific knowledge gaps and enabled the client to engage with a variety of doctors including ones who were not on the original target list.

The analysis of the engagement data identified this group of 'deep engagers' who were not on the target list and resulted in a second wave of activity focusing on different types of content to address and fill the knowledge gaps and clinical information needs, as well as targeting this information differently by region to integrate with sales force activivies.

The programme has so far led to a 64 per cent increase in intention to prescribe amongst target doctors with a 48 per cent penetration of the target list and a 24 per cent increase in clinical knowledge in the key subjects. This demonstrates the potential flexibility and agility of online doctor networks and the ability to integrate effectively to optimise the MCM.

Another example involved a new product launch for an antipsychotic drug, which had reduced sales force activity. Post campaign research showed that the three-month online promotional campaign, which engaged 2,432 psychiatrists in just two and a half months, prompted 80 per cent of them to consider prescribing this new third-generation anti-psychotic product in a mature class.

Another recent promotional campaign involved an established pain relief product for which the manufacturer wanted to raise awareness and increase coverage of GPs. This digital campaign was newly integrated into the channel mix to complement sales force activity, following insights gained from research. Post campaign analysis found that objectives and KPIs were far exceeded with a substantial increase in the coverage of GPs.

In conclusion, by gathering insights into doctors' knowledge and information needs, pharma companies and their agencies can plan and operate in a very targeted and measured way.

This, in turn, helps them to build a new kind of relationship with doctors - one in which they earn the right to promote their products and services by establishing themselves as trusted providers of valuable clinical information and resources.

The Author
Simon Grime, Managing Director of Communications, 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

30th August 2013

From: Marketing, Healthcare



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