Focusing on digital strategies: How can pharma companies engage healthcare professionals through a digital approach? – #BHHMembersInitiatives

Pharmaceutical companies have been facing real challenges with medical visits for some time now. More and more often, doctors are refusing to receive medical representatives, while those who do accept visits have significantly reduced the time they spend with them.

Health professionals were on the front line in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, the consequence of this has been a considerable increase in the number of consultations. This has forced pharmaceutical companies to review their approach and communication strategies.

For instance, the pharmaceutical industry was confronted with overloaded agendas and, as a result, the digital channel quickly emerged as a great ally in stakeholder exchanges. The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic has proved to be an accelerator for the digitalization of the healthcare sector, both for patients (via teleconsultation) and laboratories (via remote medical visits). But how can pharma companies engage healthcare professionals through a digital approach?

A shift to digital initiated by the crisis

The health sector faces a dilemma between face-to-face and remote visits from pharma medical visits. In fact, although Spain has adapted to the hybrid model between physical and digital visits, due to the epidemic outbreak, pharma companies had to adapt their approach and find a way to contact doctors without having to resort to “field” actions. Therefore, they deployed digital tools and opted for direct marketing actions by implementing push marketing strategies.

However, will these new habits and expectations, established during the confinement period, survive in a post-Covid era, to the point of permanently changing the contact methods of medical visitors? A digital strategy should not be just a short-term fix in the context of a pandemic, and the engagement of digital tactics with medical sales representatives will be a key indicator of innovation in marketing strategies.

Nowadays, healthcare professionals approve of the remote medical visiting channels that predominate in their exchanges with pharma companies. Indeed, doctors are leaning towards digital forms of contact. A model of “hybrid visits” is developing, at least for so-called “follow-up” medical visits.

Adapted and attractive content: the key to remote medical visits

The digitization of the medical visit is based on three essential pillars:

  • the medical visitors who hold the meetings remotely,
  • the technology that makes it possible to support digital formats,the content that forms the basis of the exchange between healthcare professionals and medical sales representatives.

Currently, the main deficiency lies in the lack of diversification of content, which is simply a “copy and paste” from paper documents. According to a study conducted by the Euris Group (1), health professionals prefer theoretical information (clinical data, pathology training, etc.), while medical sales representatives provide practical information. Therefore, without a redesign, the gap between the content offered by medical sales representatives and the content preferred by doctors tends to widen considerably.
According to several studies (2), the solution is within reach. Content should be presented in a way that has real added value for the doctor and it is close to their expectations. This would be an effective incentive for the doctor to go digital and engage in the long term. As videoconferencing requires more concentration than a face-to-face visit, it is essential to adapt the content to make it more attractive.

Opportunities offered by a digital approach

With the growing enthusiasm of doctors for the digital channel, a trend is emerging: the development of a pull marketing strategy. To put it more simply, with doctors overloaded with appointments and with very little time to devote to medical sales, the aim of this strategy is to position oneself as a receiver of information rather than a sender. We must make ourselves available to the doctor when they feel the need for information and stop providing it without their request.

From a commercial point of view, pharma companies must adopt a doctor-centric approach in order to engage and motivate them in the long term. This means (3), segmenting the target group of doctors using a qualitative database to establish specific action plans according to the profile of each doctor (digital engager (4) – digital learner (5) – traditionalist (6)) in order to be able to develop clusters. In fact, this process would make it possible to offer almost tailor-made messages for each subgroup and improve the experience of doctors with the aim of building loyalty.

Leveraging the digital channel by organizing virtual events, for example, means gaining in-depth knowledge of individual preferences, tracking information delivered, analyzing attendance trends, and obtaining valuable feedback to inform future strategic planning. Finally, it would mean using the digital channel to develop digitalization by promoting the concept of the hybrid visit: offering the remote visit as a complement to the face-to-face visit. In addition, the use of this channel offers advantages such as greater flexibility, ease of data collection or the possibility of obtaining up-to-date scientific data.

Some companies have already seized this opportunity by offering new digital solutions such as webinars, remote workshop sessions or even a chatbot by creating a social network exclusively for healthcare professionals. The use of different digital channels favors the omnichannel engagement strategy for the pharma industry. As a results, sales reps can better communicate with their target audience, and reach healthcare professionals beyond their office. Understanding healthcare professionals’ engagement preferences will help the stakeholders make better and faster decisions that will benefit sales.

In conclusion, the digitalization of healthcare professionals is already underway. However, the adoption of digital tools is not yet unanimous, which suggests a real opportunity to be seized. To engage doctors effectively and sustainably in this practice, it is essential to propose content that is partially modified and adapted to the digital tool, in the form of appealing and relevant content. Thus, the most appropriate solution for pharma companies would be the hybrid visit – a concept associated with agility and adaptability to the world of tomorrow – which offers the remote visit as a complementary element to the face-to-face visit.

(1) Euris Group, How Covid-19 crisis triggered digital innovation in pharma industry? 2020.
(2) Etude benchmark rélaisée par Veeva Pulse (2021) | Etude visite médicale, impact du Covid-19 sur les relations avec les PDS, Leem et Actis, septembre 2020.
(3) Etude VEEVA réalisée en 2021.
(4) Digital engager: health professional who is already engaged in a digital process.
(5) Digital learner: healthcare professional who is willing to go digital.
(6) Traditionalist: healthcare professional who remains attached to traditional face-to-face visit formats.

This article is written by BHH member Webhelp Medica

Webhelp Medica offers BPO solutions to healthcare organizations and pharmaceutical companies by designing and running value-based operating models that accelerate growth and provide outstanding experiences for customers, patients, and clinical teamsWebhelp is an end-to-end partner across all B2B and B2C customer journeys.