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It's all in the detail

Your eDetailing speaks volumes about your understanding of the potential of engaging in any form of digital dialogue. Here's why it pays to step outside your comfort zone and think afresh…

Magnifing chipData shows that the majority of HCPs (including GPs) are using the internet as a key resource. So how can you reach them and keep them engaged? How can you spark and maintain conversations around brands without hijacking those conversations already taking place in professional social spaces, or finding yourself pushed aside in the fight for 'airtime'?

If you are earnest about fuelling the dialogue with healthcare professionals (HCPs) you need to give them something to talk about. Once you know exactly how your products and services are relevant to their needs, you can develop programmes that connect on many levels. And, with rep time with HCPs down and more pressure on HCP's time generally, if digital-based tactics are deployed smartly they can fill this gap well, and even create new opportunities to engage in a dialogue that has real and lasting impact.

A digital dialogue is flexible enough to cover all touch points, from patient-time web searches to out-of-surgery personal interest research, including mobile apps for the commute time between home and workplace.

eDetailing – it's how you say it
Undoubtedly the most popular way to create a digital experience for HCPs is through eDetailing. A few simple but important principles will help you in preparing yours. First, brevity is everything. This doesn't mean you dumb-down or heavily edit complex pieces, but it does mean you ensure that all the content can be broken up into engaging, digestible and distributable messages.

Respect the target audience's level of medical sophistication and experience. If they are cardiologists, craft the content at a level germane to cardiologists, not to PCPs (or vice versa).

Having said this, HCPs spend their days talking in medical language, interspersed with the occasional jargon, and like anyone, they appreciate a break from it. Everyone responds well to simple, clear language. Yet plain speaking is a skill – check the Plain English Awards' website, then take a look at your own promotional materials.

Keep sentences short. Make them active. Use direction in your language. And speak to your audience as you talk to friends over coffee. You may think this isn't the right approach for your brand, yet all you have to do is check dwell times on pages with formal or marketing language, compared to those with more natural language. Time after time, natural wins.

Listen to existing discussions
Another trick you can employ to create natural language is to draw upon the many therapeutic communities that are springing up online. Defined by specific diseases, eg, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, erectile dysfunction, etc, these groups will often discuss the topic in an oblique way. For example, erectile dysfunction conversations are often around sexual self-confidence, which is how women talk about their partners and sexual spontaneity.

While physicians will use medical terminology, people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) will talk about a 'smoker's cough' or 'smoker's lungs'.

The skill in monitoring social media is to identify and translate the various complex strands of conversation into what's relevant for the HCP. Successful digital marketing listens sensitively to the nuances of how a drug or condition is being talked about.

News page

The wonderful – and relevant – history of healthcare advertising on this BBC website (above) is as simple as it gets. It is essentially a slideshow, with music and a lively, well-spoken voiceover. The speaker (Dr Laragh Gollogly from the World Health Organisation) is passionate and animated, which helps maintain visitor engagement. Dr Gollogly has brought together some of the most striking posters from past decades and explains the ways governments and doctors have tried – from evoking fear to humour – to get their messages across.

Stay animated
If you can afford to produce, or even own, decent medical animation, use it. HCPs spend a lot of time during their training years and beyond trying to visualise exactly how diseases wreak havoc, and how drugs work at the level of the organ, the cell, the enzyme, and the receptor. Bring these scientific mechanisms of invisible reality to life and you'll create content that that's engaging and informative – especially if your drug or treatment has a unique mode of action.

Be creative in your thinking
Think flexibly and learn from other styles, other formats, other genres and other media. Not every eDetail has to conform to the style and flow of a print detail.

Adding even a few innovations will result in a brilliant enhancement of your detail aid. The pharma industry has a lot to learn from other sectors that are producing far more established and sophisticated websites and experiences. Remember, the internet as we know it has been around since 1990. There's a lot of commercial experience that pharma can draw upon. Indeed, this point leads us neatly onto the current trend towards FMV or Full Motion Video sites...

Testimonies and views from KOLs  
There's an industry view that using respected key opinion leaders (KOLs) on-camera is a good way to talk about your drug. It is – provided they can actually talk! Someone may well be a leading expert, but if they're not used to appearing on camera (or even public speaking) then you could end up watching a camera-shy individual mumble away unintelligibly. And, in the era of pan-European marketing, add a heavy accent to this and the result can mean HCPs switching off, rather than on.

So why not have the KOL write the voiceover, then have a professional recording artist read it aloud? A voice-over artist will know how to read to keep an audience awake, motivated and responsive. And again, stick to using simple, clear language. The result will be a relaxing read that draws listeners in and keeps them engaged.

Budget permitting, integrate the video of your KOL with supporting imagery, charts, graphs and data. This requires a 'green screen' shoot and a great deal of planning of what will be added during post-production but is well worth the effort.

Marihuana advert 

The Finnish website uses visitor interaction, music and technology to draw analogy with its main message that illegal drugs are harmful. The website brings the message home without resorting to melodrama. It's quick, simple and makes the point beautifully (There's also a nicely informed 'continue' button regarding heroin).

Turn data into experience
We know HCPs are in search of data. The trouble is data often looks as dull as the weekly lunch menu from the hospital cafeteria. And who wants to actively search and share that? Datagraphics, infographics, data visualisation – whatever you want to call it – can help bring complex arguments and facts to life in engaging ways. They can help you translate complex data into meaningful, engaging information.

Companies and their agencies should be continually challenging the way in which they deliver complex data and information through the use of accessible infographics. Investing in a bit of innovation here can really increase usability and enhance the experience of HCPs, through a marriage of design, interactivity and copy. It's a great way for delivering facts on efficacy or mode of action, and to deliver content that goes beyond pure promotion.

Getting the word out there
An eDetail assumes that your message is engaging enough to encourage HCPs to visit a destination site. But driving traffic to a website often involves interrupting the activity they're already involved in online, whether that's in a professional or a personal capacity(remember, almost all web activity is task-based).

However, by distributing the same eDetail content and services, you can integrate them into any one of a number of relevant, trusted online destinations where HCPs are likely to congregate.

While there are obvious paid-for media solutions, you can also find relevance through social media. And, there are a growing number of medical apps aimed at HCPs – with currently almost 6,000 available for smartphones. Why not recalibrate your content in app form, made ready for download?

The internet is built on interpersonal communication; moreso than it is for marketing opportunities. Social media organises this interpersonal nature. There are two sides to social. One is to ensure that your learning module can be easily shared by including tools that let HCPs use it as a social 'object' to inspire connections and conversations with other colleagues. The other is to use your content to distribute your key messages and encourage conversation around relevant destinations. Established platforms are already available for such distribution. Use them.

Physicians use search engines just as much as everyone else. As search engines get more sophisticated, video, social media and digital assets are included in search results. Make sure the metadata is baked in to make your messages as easy as possible to find on Google or Yahoo!

Engaging HCPs is about delivering relevant content to them in a relevant space and at the right time, which is any time they want it. This may mean creating a hook via some distributable content. It may involve creating a richly detailed and interactive eDetail. It may mean facilitating a social exchange or developing an app that can sit on a handset. It could be all of those, and more.

Be polite with how you take up the HCP's time, and be clear and engaging with your content. You want this to be an ongoing relationship, not a one-night stand. Use all the tools that digital offers to make sure that happens.

June Dawson is managing director and Vineet Thapar is creative director at Digitas Health London

To comment on this article, email

29th January 2011


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