Physicians’ Increasing Digital Proficiency And Its Implication

At a time, when an unexpected and unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic struck a catastrophic impact on human lives, livelihood, and the global economy the healthcare sector continued surging ahead. This is being fueled by exponential advances in medical science, and the pandemic-triggered explosion of digital technologies, data access, analytics – besides emergence of more informed and empowered consumers with new expectations and aspirations.

Echoing this, Deloitte’s paper - ‘2022 Global Health Care Outlook’ articulated: ‘The global health care sector continues to rise up to the new challenges presented by the ongoing pandemic, which continues to dominate health care systems’ attention and resources.’

No more than just a couple of years back, none could predict that a pandemic in these modern days, would have the power to initiate the unforeseen changes so quickly. This is especially applicable to – mostly tradition bound and slow to change – the pharmaceutical industry, even in India, which gets reflected in the growth of this sector. That too, amid sporadic disruptions in the operational areas of many companies.

As reported on December 29, 2021, Indian Pharma Industry registered a growth of 15% in 2021 led by growth of Covid-19 products, against a growth of 3% last year. The report emphasized that the challenges posed by the pandemic gave rise to new opportunities for the pharma sector to evolve quickly under changing circumstances.

Which is why, many players are being compelled to adapt newer digital processes and practices to survive and excel – while navigating through this uncharted frontier. These will call for growing investments for paving a high-tech digital pathway, primarily for an effective customer engagement, besides refinement of the product life cycle through digitization.

To give a sense of perspective on strategic implications of increasing digital proficiency of physicians, particularly in the context of an effective, patient-centric engagement by pharma companies, I shall focus on this development, in this article.

HCPs digital proficiency poses a fresh challenge – it’s real:

Increasing digital proficiency of HCPs during Covid-19 pandemic poses a fresh challenge to pharma marketers for several reasons. It’s so real, which will invite many fundamental strategic changes, as Covid-19 isn’t going anywhere, at least, anytime soon, contrary to what many people are expecting.

The emergence of Delta and Omicron like variants that infected a large number of fully vaccinated people, as well, is expected to continue. For example, as reported on January 27, 2022: ‘Just as the omicron surge starts to recede in parts of the U.S., scientists have their eye on another coronavirus variant spreading rapidly in parts of Asia and Europe.’

Increasing digital savviness of HCPs is now unstoppable. It is expected to keep rolling at faster a faster pace now than ever before. Endorsing this trend, an article published in the Pharmaceutical Executiveon January 20, 2022, made some interesting observations.

The author underscored that the trend of the digital shift of HCPs in their professional space, is an outcome of a catalytic effect of the pandemic. It poses a new challenge for the life sciences industry, requiring a complete revamp of the content strategy and customer engagement channels, for each specialty. It further said: ‘The wave of consumerism led by digital natives has impacted HCPs when it comes to engaging with content on various digital channels for personal consumption.’  

A recent research study vindicates the magnitude of the challenge:

A recently published Indegene study, revealed some thought-provoking areas in this space. The research surveyed 984 physicians from the United States, Europe, India, and China for this study. All participants have >10 years of experience and represent a broad spectrum of specialty areas. According to Indegene, the process of surveying HCPs had started since 2014, to identify how their digital habits manifest and how do they change. Some of the key findings of the study include:

  • More HCPs, in general, are increasingly adopting digital channels to consume content.
  • 77% of HCPs use digital channels primarily for personal learning and development.
  • 68% of HCPs prefer short webinars or webcasts over other virtual
    engagement channels, globally.
  • Only 47% of HCPs prefer receiving communication through the marketing e-mail channel, although, marketing emails are among the top 5 channels used by pharma companies to engage HCPs. 
  • 62% of HCPs are overwhelmed by product promotional content pushed by pharma companies on various digital channels.
  • 70% of HCPs said that pharma representatives do not understand their requirements completely. Further, 62% of HCPs said that the most significant area where pharma representatives can add value is, by understanding the needs of HCPs and sharing only relevant content with them to make the interactions more insightful. The one-size-fits-all approach will no longer work, and pharma companies will have to invest in greater personalization at scale and build better content development and operations capabilities.
  • Pharma to consider using digital channels to provide HCPs on demand access to reps and content.
  • Need to map and implement geographic variations in HCP preferences for content, channels, device, and time.

This evolving trend sends clear signals to pharma marketers that need for professional engagement with the HCPs has to be on their own terms in the new normal

‘Engaging HCPs on their own terms’ – the need of the new normal:

This emerging need also came out clearly in another recent Global Physician Specialty Survey by Medscape - with over 12,000 participants in key specialties across Europe, Latin America, Canada, Asia, and MENA.

It provided some actionable insights, highlighting online content consumption habits of HCPs across the globe, in the new normal. This study also found: ‘The pandemic has had an undeniable impact on the interactions between HCPs and the pharmaceutical industry, with the shift towards virtual engagement and online events likely to be long-lasting.’

Based on this finding, it flagged a critical issue. This is, while the consumption of online medical content is growing and traditional in-person meetings are still not completely back on the agenda, how can pharma players reimagine the way they reach their target audience? This is indeed a primary business requirement to maintain respective drug company’s share of voice and foster relationships with their key customers. The key takeaway from this study includes the following:

  • Being incredibly time poor even now, HCPs mostly prefer to engage with the pharma companies on their own terms.
  • Compared to traditional in-person interactions, most HCPs feel, digital engagement channels offer them greater flexibility that they desire.
  • Over half of the survey respondents rated their online consumption of digital content higher, or much higher now than before the pandemic.

Conclusion:

On the positive side, during a short span of the last couple of years, Covid-19 pandemic has also triggered unprecedented advances in various critical areas of medical science and related areas. These include, remote healthcare services, digital technologies, ease of access to required data by all, the application of sophisticated analytics and above all emergence of an increasing number of digitally empowered customers. Consequently, aided by greater disease awareness and the need for prevention, the ‘self-care’ space also witnessed exponential advances.

Besides, the pandemic has also offered a fresh opportunity to the pharma and biotech sectors – to leverage the break in the cloud for accelerating all-round innovation – charting new frontiers of the modern digital world to remodel their business models for a faster growth in a new paradigm. Although, pharma customers have remained mostly unchanged, their expectations, behavior, practices, and preferences have undergone a metamorphosis. Some of these changes may be stark, and more may be a bit nuanced. Marketers, need to map all the changes, which are specific to their organizations, to excel in the new paradigm.

That said and, as pointed out above, results of expert surveys and syndicated studies in this area, send a clear signal about the pandemic-triggered – increasing digital proficiency of HCPs, even in India. This trend needs to be leveraged for a thorough overhaul of pharma’s customer engagement models. This is a new ball game of the new normal – having a huge impact on the business performance of drug companies.

By: Tapan J. Ray  

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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