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Why pharma should invest in the education of doctors

By Tim Russell, Heather Hancock and Deepak Jadon

M3 authors

Research shows that educational, non-promotional content is key to pharma engagement strategies.

By committing to doctors’ education, companies improve their interactions with HCPs, increasing the chances of long-term advocacy.

Yet despite doctors calling out for more educational resources, the pharma industry can still find it hard to break from sales rep calls and other traditional methods of engaging with doctors.

What doctors want

M3 operates the network of 235,000 UK doctors and, in an effort to understand what HCPs want, M3 ran a listening exercise involving nearly 250 doctors.

The survey found it is increasingly difficult for doctors to attend congresses, creating a knowledge gap at a time when specialisation is increasing their need for ongoing education. That trend is reflected in doctors’ desire for educational modules and non-promotional content.

Doctors said the most important change pharma could implement is sponsoring more educational events. This was followed by provision of honest, unbiased information. Doctors prefer third-party media as these sites are seen as impartial and present information in a form tailored to their needs.

The majority of doctors want content to be brief, preferably about half a page in length. And, given time constraints, there is a growing appetite for content that is easily consumed while commuting.

Doctors noted a lack of podcasts and digital conference coverage, and a particular desire was expressed for easily digestible digital conference content given the increasing struggle to attend congresses. Doctors think pharma is well placed to invest in this type of content.

Surveyed doctors cited the convenience and depth of information provided by online educational modules, which can be made even more valuable by including CPD certification.

As the NHS struggles to find the resources to create these, pharma companies can step in to provide these educational tools while simultaneously raising their profile.

Adapting to doctors’ needs

Pharma’s commercial objective has historically been to sell more products in the here and now in order to see immediate results. By focusing on the present, rather than taking a long-term view of the situation, pharma tends to ‘default’ to promotional messaging instead of educational content.

While there is still a place for branded, promotional content, a blended approach factoring in both short-term and long-term goals is the way forward. Given that the patent life of a drug is 10-15 years, and most companies’ pipelines contain multiple drugs in the same therapy area, it makes sense to invest in building relationships.

Pharma should try to understand the doctors’ position in the buying process and understand how it develops trust and loyalty, and the role that plays in buying. Thinking of sales in this way creates a shift to a longer-term strategy.

For pharma, there are internal challenges associated with educational content, such as measuring its value and return on investment. This can be compounded by a focus on the delivery of immediate growth and returns.

The hosting of educational content also needs consideration, given doctors tend to avoid ‘pharmacompany. com’ websites, preferring independent, third-party sites that do not require them to share ‘e-permissions’ with pharma.

There are other factors that pharma has to grapple with when it comes to incorporating educational materials into a content strategy. The two most notable are compliance issues and budgeting. In order to meet the requirements of the ABPI’s Code of Practice, education has to be siloed from promotion.

Meanwhile, the question of where budgets for medical education sit currently varies between pharma companies. Such challenges to investing in an educational, long-term approach are not insurmountable and, indeed, a balanced approach with a focus on educational content is not only feasible but desirable for today’s modern, forward-thinking pharma company.

Developing a content strategy

So, how does the modern pharma company go about addressing the challenges behind educational content? There are six areas that companies can immediately focus on as they move to invest in a long-term approach:

  • Redefine value away from sales figures
  • Create a single point of contact to address all doctors’ needs
  • Partner with other pharma companies on educational materials
  • Co-create content with doctors
  • Get the type of content right, use a channel mix and tailor it based on doctors’ needs
  • Focus on building trust and relationships.

There will always be a place for branded, promotional content, but for pharma to reap the rewards in the new healthcare environment, a more long-term approach is required.

With healthcare systems struggling to fill the knowledge gap for doctors, there is a real role for pharma to play as it works towards helping to improve patient care and outcomes.

For a copy of the full whitepaper that this article is based on, please email

By Tim Russell, VP Head of Business Development, M3 (EU); Heather Hancock, Business and Commercial Operations Director, MSD UK and Deepak Jadon, a consultant rheumatologist at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS FT and head of e-learning at the University of Cambridge Clinical School

In association with


17th March 2020

From: Healthcare


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