Re-imagining How the Field Force Connects with HCPs

Pharma sales rep on video call with HCP
Danny Flamberg post by: Danny Flamberg

This is Part 2 of 3 in a series: Thinking More Digitally in the Age of Coronavirus


The tried and true formula of sustained face to face relationships between HCPs and pharma reps is becoming a thing of the past: The steady decline of rep access coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic, focus our thinking on the future of non-personal pharmaceutical promotion (NPP).

Even in these challenging times, it’s critical to maintain relationships as much as possible; that’s just as true for pharma marketers’ HCP and payer relationships.  Rather than lose the opportunity to build and maintain those relationships, this is a moment to evaluate the digital tools we have available to keep those human interactions going – continuously, effectively, and most important, safely.  By now, it’s estimated that the majority – many sources say at least 70% — of HCPs are digital natives, creating an important receptivity to new and emerging digital communications.

While COVID-19 is at the forefront of HCPs’ daily lives across the country and the world, the other healthcare conditions that pharma brands address are still with us, and pharma’s highest purpose – to reliably educate and inform HCPs about the tools available to improve and maintain patients’ health – is as vital as ever. Creatively deploying technology to allow the field force to continue what they’re so good at – collaborative communications – can be one step toward keeping the work of our critical healthcare industry alive and well.

As we collectively consider the potential inherent in digital transformation, consider amping up both tried-and-true and newer NPP possibilities to continue to keep your reps connected.

There are practical – and purposeful – solutions that you can implement now, which we’ll discuss below, and innovations that every pharma company needs to be consider , which we’ll cover in one of the next articles in this series.

Here are our top five recommendations for how marketers can maintain vital thought leadership right now with strategic and creative use of digital – and just as important, build and maintain relationships that are so important to creating trust in both current brands and new innovations:

1) Take e-mail to the next level

with segmentation and personalization. A recent survey showed that more than two-thirds of HCPs say they prefer email to other forms of contact. But with every brand sharing their COVID-19 POVs in-mail blasts, maintaining relevance has taken on a new level of meaning. Knowing your HCPs and the challenges they face, individually, geographically, or due to a specific need, makes all the difference. One analysis suggests that segmenting your HCP emails achieves almost 15% higher open rates – and that personalized messages drive 18x more revenue than broadcast email. Create distinct messages aimed at persuadable segments – deciles of high writers, low writers or HCPs in related specialties. As you shape your messages, consider additional factors like age, gender, years in practice and geography. Recent research by BuzzStream and Fractl suggests that offering content that can be downloaded increases engagement. And use your subject line to flag why your content is distinctive: as HCPs become more inundated with emails from patients, colleagues, hospital systems, and government agencies, your SUBJ line needs to prompt them to click to open, and your content needs to be compelling.

2) The new face to face is video

Platforms like Skype, Zoom, MS Teams, pharma-focused eRep, iPhysicianNet and Engage Meeting bring the value of personal communication at times that work for both the HCP and the rep. Most of these platforms enable real-time voice, video and desktop communication, meaning reps can continue to provide real-time content from their screens. Sample calls can be recorded and used for virtual e-detailing on demand by HCPs. And since samples can’t be provided live, the sales rep can offer a link that HCPs can click through to order samples. Videos should be short, factual and to the point: again, more than ever, HCPs are time-pressed and prioritizing what they’ll view. Many brands will circulate videos: Not everyone will get attention or serious consideration.

3) Understand the platforms that resonate most

Recent research by global HCP network M3 revealed even more opportunities to connect with HCPs, according to the ways they prefer to consume information. For instance, surveyed PCPs asked for short, accessible online information, as well as online CMEs; cardiologists and endocrinologists shared a preference for video content; and rheumatologists enjoy listening to podcasts. Every audience is different of course, and you may prefer to know HCP preferences by demographics, practice setting, Rx volume, and/or size of practice in addition to specialty. Creating a short survey for your reps to offer to their contacts can help you customize contact strategies in ways that will resonate most.

4) Step up your use of social media

In the relatively short time we’ve been living with the coronavirus crisis, brands like Dial Soap have increased their use of social media to make relevant and helpful connections with customers and prospects – in their case, by promoting the CDC’s recommendation for hand-washing. With more and more people confined to their homes, social media use has increased dramatically for both personal and professional use. Even before orders to stay at home, according to Healthlink Dimensions’ 2020 HCP Communications Survey, more than 46% of the HCPs who responded use social media for professional purposes – up by a factor of about 33% from the previous year. Doximity and Sermo lead, as you’d expect, but 57% of social media users use Facebook or LinkedIn professionally. Along with Facebook, YouTube and Instagram are some of the popular social networks in the world, and twitter plays a role in the lives of many professionals who want to stay up to date with their influencers. Each platform has a different role, and HCPs have different levels of tolerances and different sensibilities regarding each platform, and will respond best to content that uses the capabilities of each platform most effectively.

5) Content, content, content

More than anything, HCPs welcome relevant, timely content that helps them make the safest, most effective decisions for their patients’ health. Today, much of that content must be purposeful, helpful and geared toward solving HCP concerns, especially in the context of the current crisis. Bringing value to HCPs – whether in their personal or professional lives – is how brands position themselves for success when crises have passedThe more new content the field force can offer, using the HCPs most preferred methods of digital communication, the more the rep – and the brand – will be seen as a both a partner and valued resource. For instance, as conferences migrate online, curating bite-size pieces of information that reps can easily share; hosting or connecting HCPs to relevant CMEs; providing brief updates on clinical or epidemiological news; sharing patient experiences and education; sharing clinical trial information and facilitating patient participation can all provide a welcome service, enhancing the role your rep – and your company – play in the physician’s practice management and decisions.

Reps have spent their careers honing their skills in personal interaction. Now is the time to migrate those successful personal approaches online, amplifying the power of the rep’s personality and ability to forge personal connections. The correct combination of empathy and purpose can be matched with the power of digital tools to target accurately and educate meaningfully, with both content and channel relevance. Most importantly, this is the moment to truly adopt and embrace digital strategies and tools to continue the vital work of connecting with HCPs, in service of all of their patients’ health.

Danny Flamberg is VP, Strategy – HCP at LiveWorld

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