The Secret to Engaging HCPs – Targeted Content and Digital Channels

Getting the attention of healthcare providers is more and more difficult. Between seeing patients, dealing with electronic health records, staying up to date on their specialty as well as running the business side of their practice there is very little time to spare.

The sales reps were the first to feel the effects of the physicians’ work overload: the percentage of HCPs who have adopted no access policies for pharmaceutical commercial teams has been growing steadily over the last few years. A 2017 IQVIA report finds that over 40% of physicians were “no-see” – a more than 4% jump in just over a year.

Field medical team members, such as medical science liaisons, have profited from physicians not letting sales reps through their doors: they still get to spend quality time with their KOLs. But one questions looms large: how can medical affairs successfully engage healthcare in general in the future.

It comes down to picking the right content and proper channels.

It is not just us saying this. Here is what a 2018 McKinsey study has to say about content and channels:


“81 percent of physicians are dissatisfied with their interactions with biopharmaceutical companies, and over 40 percent no longer perceive a “need” for medical support from pharma. Driving this dissatisfaction is a perceived lack of personalized, relevant content (28 percent) and appropriate communication channels (17 percent).


Content – what to communicate to get and hold an HCPs Attention?

Life is getting a lot more complex. What is true for all of us, is especially true for physicians. Gone are the days of the blockbuster drug and the notion that the same treatment is ideally suited for everybody. In its place we now have personalized medicine, real-world evidence, complex antibody-based drugs, patient stratification and medical information overload. The leisurely pace of the 90s where medical information doubled every 2,555 days - or 7 years - was replaced by a frantic 73 days - not even 2.5 months – doubling time. No wonder engagement with all that information dropped precariously in the process.

Source: 2019 Health Trends, Syneos Health

For HCPs managing that glut and learning to pick the relevant bits out of the information avalanche is the critical skill to acquire. For pharmaceutical companies, the trick is to provide content that is highly relevant, readily identifiable as such and presented in a way that makes it easy to access in order to outperform the paltry average engagement.

This Harvard Business Review article suggests a number of ways how the medical profession as a whole could adopt to manage the information flow, e.g. by creating the medical equivalent of a paralegal, somebody, or - increasingly - something, i.e. an AI-powered algorithm, that reviews, summarizes and extracts the critical pieces of information.

This is where pharmaceutical companies can set themselves apart: they need to become partners of HCPs that help them manage and extract information, rather than piling more, commercially-focused information on top.

The content HCPs are increasing looking for is information that can help them personalize treatment for their patients. Today a physician needs to evaluate a multitude of treatment option, make sense of the underlying science of these options, be aware of any clinical trials the patient might benefit from and consider real-world evidence learned from similar cases – maybe half a world away.


“(…) research among physicians found that two-thirds of medical professionals complain they are bombarded with generic digital content and are seeking more personalized, tailored, and user-friendly information (for example, short videos).” Source: Medical affairs: Key imperatives for engaging and educating physicians in a digital world”


MSLs already fill the role of medical and scientific partner for the key opinion leaders and HCPs they interact with. However, they, too, experience the information overload HCPs suffer from and therefore need access to medical information systems that can provide them the specific information, the HCP is looking for on demand and in real time.

Until a few years ago the Star Trek tricorder seemed the most desirable of all futuristic medical inventions but the goal post has shifted. What we really need is something akin of the “emergency medical hologram”: a system that not only stores the totality of the medical data available but is intelligently connecting disparate pieces of information to come up with an optimized custom-tailored treatment option for each patient.

Until such time: to engage HCPs will increasingly require providing them with relevant answers to their specific questions rather than high-level information.

Channels – how to best reach HCPs

Ever tried finding physicians on LinkedIn? How about on Facebook or Twitter? If you drew a blank you are not alone: medical professionals are notorious for shunning the channels everybody else seems to flock to. At least in their professional capacity.

This doesn’t mean that HCPs aren’t relying more and more on digital channels. Driving that change, in addition to convenience and pervasiveness, is a generational change: as the millennials are coming of age – and (almost) middle age – they are taking over healthcare. In Europe, for example, 70% of all HCPs will be digital natives by 2020.

So, if pharmaceutical companies need to engage HCPs using digital channels and tweeting medical information isn’t the way to go, what is?

Answering this question isn’t easy, the number of channels HCPs can connect with peers is expanding. The resulting fragmentation makes it more difficult for each to reach critical mass.

One of the most established channels, company webpages, suffer from low trust. A recent survey shows that, e.g. only 26% of urologists find pharma websites credible and trustworthy and 62% or rheumatologists believe, that pharma webpages are simple ways to push promotional content.

For now, most physicians rely on web searches and scientific journals but are interested in more engaging options. Short videos with relevant, educational content is the delivery option that shows up regularly on the wish list of HCPs.

Continuing medical education also consistently ranks high on that wish list. Making more of the content of medical conferences and symposia available on demand can help address that information need.

The pharmaceutical industry is conservative and has been lagging behind other industries with adopting digital technology. The exponentially increasing content and the communication preferences of the increasingly more technology savvy HCPs are just two reasons that pharma cannot ignore engaging physicians via digital channels anymore.

It will take more time and innovation to reach the ideal state of healthcare information sharing: a comprehensive knowledge platform that is easy to access and provides relevant, personalized answers to specific questions in convenient small information “bites”.

In short, somebody better start working on that Star Trek inspired medical hologram.