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Realising the potential of omnichannel in medical communications

By David Barnes and Dom Sloane

Ology diagram

The digital revolution is, without doubt, the most significant event in information dissemination since Gutenberg’s printing press.

In 2020, nearly 70% of all healthcare professionals (HCPs) were digitally native. Their personal experiences in day-to-day life involve many digital interactions, which have naturally shifted into their professional lives.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced both HCPs and Medical Affairs teams to shift their information-seeking and educational behaviours to primarily digital channels. Surveys report a five-fold increase in emails, a six-fold increase in digital meetings, and 70% use of social media – nowadays 87% of HCPs want a choice of digital/hybrid education.

The digital revolution has profoundly impacted modern society and shows no sign of wavering. Is it time for medical affairs teams to take a step back and better understand their audience’s needs and how to communicate with them?

Medical affairs requires a new approach that creates a personalised experience for HCP audiences, enabling us to deliver the right content, at the right time and in the right place. This approach necessitates an omnichannel strategy.

What is an omnichannel strategy?
Omnichannel strategies will enable Medical Affairs teams to create personalised experiences that put our audience at the centre of our communications planning, meaning they can find the information they require, and ensuring that we cater to their educational needs with a suitable format (eg text, video, infographics, podcast) according to their preferences. Importantly omnichannel is not a digital strategy, but a strategy that accommodates any channel the audience uses.

More specifically, omnichannel means that Medical Affairs teams can align the scientific narrative to a specific point in their audience relationship. They can educate HCPs from being aware of particular therapies, to being able to trust and consider them at the time of clinical need.

Traditional Medical Affairs activities generally focused on providing high- quality medical information as a top priority. Omnichannel also allows Medical Affairs to create a more convenient, self- serviced experience to facilitate medical education, ensuring the content HCPs require is available on their own terms.

What value does this provide to Medical Affairs?
Omnichannel offers opportunities when implemented well:
* Delivery of content that meets audience time, channel and format preferences, maximising the value derived from each piece of content
* The creation of an educational journey, avoiding the communications dead-end created by single-content initiatives, by delivering connected content that enables the learner to continue when convenient
* Building trust: aligning content with the audience needs allows more potential touchpoints; creating consistency between touchpoints builds recognition. The more HCPs recognise our scientific narrative, the more they begin to trust our content.

Omnichannel also means that the average 12-minute physical MSL meeting can now be focused on the relationship and the critical conversations. All other content is available either before or after.
Many companies recognise the need for omnichannel engagement, but there is a lot of work to do to realise its potential. A 2021 survey of Medical Affairs professionals revealed that 67% of their organisations had ambitious plans, but only 27% were satisfied with their progress.

Data-driven insights?
Omnichannel starts with insights and understanding our audience: their clinical challenges, educational needs, channel and format preferences. More data provides greater precision in how, when and where we deliver medical content, however Medical Affairs teams often overlook the digital data sources and platforms already integrated into their organisations, such as HCP online platforms and customer relationship management (CRM) tools such as Veeva, as they are considered commercial tools.

A robust omnichannel strategy will ensure that data is captured and used effectively, to increase the impact of communications programmes.

A simplified framework for an omnichannel strategy
A comprehensive omnichannel strategy needs a framework based on this checklist (see image).

What next?
Omnichannel offers the potential to provide a better experience to HCPs, enhancing audience engagement and improving the impact of education by providing content that is accessible, convenient and relevant. However, to fully deliver on this promise, we need to reconsider how we engage with our audiences and crucially, how we plan, create and deliver our medical content in a more agile way.

David Barnes is Director of Digital and Engagement at Adelphi in Healthcare Communications and Dom Sloane is Director at Ology Medical Education

David Barnes is Director of Digital and Engagement at Adelphi in Healthcare Communications and Dom Sloane is Director at Ology Medical Education

6th June 2022

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