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Online networks: unique insights for pharma marketers

Use of independent networks help ensure that promotional and educational campaigns offer real value to doctors
There is no doubt that doctors have fully embraced the digital world, with a recent ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulations) external audit for showing that more than a third of the UK’s doctors log on to its network every month. And this excludes those who only log on to access their free email service. However, to capitalise on the digital marketing revolution in the global healthcare industry, pharma marketers must understand how, and why, doctors consume professional information and educational resources online.

Experience shows that while pharma companies have a wealth of knowledge, data and evidence that could be valuable to doctors, credibility is a problem; and doctors are unlikely to turn to the industry directly for information and advice unless there is a compelling reason to do so. This 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 per cent never visit pharmaceutical websites.

Other research conducted by shows independent online websites are second only to peer-reviewed journals in terms of credibility and usefulness of information, with blogs, tweets and pharma-owned websites proving to be the least popular options. This desire for impartiality is one of the main reasons why doctors’ use of independent professional online networks in both the UK and overseas has been dramatically increasing in recent years, with around 45,000 GMC registered doctors in the UK now using - the UK’s largest and most active online network of doctors - every day for information, education and collaboration.

On an international scale, more than two million doctors are now part of Networks in Health - the unique global alliance of over 20 trusted online physician networks, founded and run by The network, which was set up in 2011, stretches across Europe, Latin America and Australia, as well as covering the US, Canada and Asia, and is constantly expanding with networks in Belgium, Russia, Turkey and Canada among the latest to join the alliance.
In addition to giving pharma companies access to hundreds of thousands of doctors across the globe and lending impartiality and credibility to their brand promotion and disease awareness strategies, and Networks in Health can offer valuable insights into doctors’ information levels, wants and needs, thanks to their extensive member profiling, research and evaluation capability. This means they are ideally placed to be integrated into the multi-channel mix and help pharma companies provide doctors with timely, clinically relevant promotional and educational resources that help them to improve their competence and confidence in managing specific patient conditions. 

Filling clearly identified knowledge gaps, as part of an engagement strategy, not only offers value to doctors, it also enables pharma companies to associate themselves with promoting excellence in their therapy area, thus extending their relationship with the doctor. The potential benefits are enormous, although, of course, services have to be delivered carefully to ensure they comply with the ABPI Code of Practice.

Insight gathering and message evaluation gathers information from its members in the UK in a variety of ways. To begin with, each doctor creates a ‘user reported profile’ when they join, which includes their current post, clinical interests and professional responsibilities. This profile provides a key point of reference for ensuring that sales and marketing materials are targeted effectively.

Thanks to its insight gathering tools, can also obtain a wealth of information for pharma companies on how GPs and specialists prefer to access and consume information online as well as assess their existing knowledge levels and future needs. Insights range from the number of oncologists who view conferences, or conference highlights on a regular basis (59 per cent) and the fact that, on average, they view at least three e-details per month, to the number of rheumatologists who use online CME frequently (46 per cent). The behavioural measurement available is so detailed that can even identify GPs whose online searches or digital education history point to a particular interest in asthma, as well as those doctors who are easier to identify in this regard by nature of their job title or declared clinical interest.

The network can also provide information on when specific groups of doctors last engaged with relevant information via other channels. These insights help pharma marketers develop tailored programmes and target very specific messages to all kinds of doctors, including the ‘low-see, no-see’ ones. They can also inform, integrate with and support other multi-channel marketing activities, such as service calls and tele-reach.  For example, an e-detail or a more educational style resource can be used as a substitute for face-to-face pharma sales rep activity alongside educational service calls and/or tele-reach; or to broaden reach to target ‘low-see, no-see doctors’ in combination with service calls and tele-reach. By optimising and integrating activity in this way, pharma companies can maximise ROI from their online resources and deepen engagement with doctors.

To ensure that pharma companies continue to gain maximum cut through and ROI, can also measure and evaluate messages and other content at any stage of a campaign via ongoing research and impact assessments. This enables pharma companies to keep abreast of everything from growing levels of awareness of a disease or therapy area to changes in prescribing intentions and behaviour. Continually optimising information in this way not only motivates doctors to keep returning to specific programmes, it also enables pharma companies to work smarter and make best use of the increasingly limited amount of access that their sales reps have to doctors by ensuring their materials and messages are fully relevant and up-to-date.

Acting locally, thinking globally
Experience shows that in order to replicate these kinds of promotional and educational activities internationally, pharma companies need to think global but act local. This means they need to liaise with doctors via their preferred local online community rather than trying to deliver something internationally. Tailoring information to specific groups of doctors, identifying the right contacts within individual countries, navigating local regulations and cultures, and establishing credibility has always been a difficult and time consuming process for pharma companies. And so to simplify this process, Networks in Health was set up two years ago. By managing promotional or disease awareness programmes centrally but delivering them locally via experts within individual countries, Networks in Health gives pharma companies a real commercial advantage.

Clients benefit from efficiencies through standardised measurement and reporting, governance and procurement across territories, but also have the ability to compare performance of programmes within a single country as well as between different countries, brands and regions. This helps ensure that messages are consistent, timely and well targeted as well as being in line with local culture and regulations.

Online campaigns that worked
Work conducted by Networks in Health to date, includes a campaign that has been created to help a pharma company reduce the operating cost of promoting its nocturnal enuresis product to GPs in the UK by moving from a contract sales organisation to a predominantly online approach that has now rolled out in other key G5 countries in Europe. The multi-wave campaign comprised educational and promotional content; ongoing message development activities based on feedback from doctors in the UK and Germany; re-use of key client resources and information from the UK in other target countries; and a central framework for local adaptation and application.

Another campaign running through Networks in Health has involved the creation of a trial, digital platform to improve doctors’ knowledge of a growth hormone treatment. The six-month programme, across the UK, France and Germany, reached more than 4,000 GPs and endocrinologists, and enabled the company to deliver key messages to doctors in those countries. 

A third promotional and educational programme is supporting traditional sales and marketing activity via a multi-territory digital platform. The ongoing multi-wave programme, which began in the UK and Germany, is now being rolled out to Italy, Australia, Brazil and Mexico, and is enabling customised and flexible targeting of GPs, cardiologists, internal medicine specialists, neurologists, haematologists, orthopaedic specialists, chest physicians and intensive care specialists.

In conclusion, and Networks in Health have given the pharma industry unprecedented reach to its customer base, plus vital levels of information about doctors’ wants and needs in relation to specific disease and therapy areas. This, in turn, has enabled pharma companies to deliver consistent, measurable promotional and educational campaigns that can be integrated into other multichannel activity, continually optimised and replicated across multiple territories to deliver maximum cut-through and ROI.

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