September 23, 2010
What Are The Best Ways to Target Healthcare Providers Online?
Posted By: Tobi Elkin
While the big topic today among most pharmaceutical marketers generally has something to do with FDA regulations and DTC marketing on social media, another equally important question is about the healthcare community. As more physicians start using online tools in their daily practice, what are the best ways marketers can reach them?
We recently chatted with Meredith Ressi of Manhattan Research to learn more about the behavior of healthcare professionals online and the most effective strategies for reaching them. Here is a snippet from the full interview, available to eMarketer Total Access clients.
eMarketer: What types of online information do healthcare professionals want most and what sources do they find most credible?
Healthcare providers, specifically physicians, are integrating their use of digital media and online sources across a broad spectrum of activities. It’s very much a part of how they practice medicine. There’s lot of journal content, continuing medical education and video content that is available online today. Physicians are increasingly looking for things that help them with decision support during the workday—practical tools that are accessible and can help them easily get their questions answered.
We’re also seeing so many more physicians turning to the internet when they’re trying to make treatment decisions for patients. They turn to online journals such as Medscape, UptoDate and sites focused on evidence-based medicine that help them find best practices for treatment.
eMarketer: Have you noticed changes over time in how physicians search for information?
They used to be very loyal to a few websites like Medscape and Bedlinen for journal searches. Today, they’re much more search engine friendly. It’s also interesting that more than half of all physicians are accessing Wikipedia as a medical information source, but less than 10%—maybe more like 5%—of those are actually contributing to it. This is driven by physicians’ increasing reliance on search engines.
As far as age differences, we don’t see as many as you might think. We survey physicians of all ages and what’s been fascinating in the past few years is that there really isn’t a significant segmentation as there is with general consumers. Physicians have overcome that hurdle of education and income that often is a predictor of internet adoption. They have always been a tech-savvy, curious bunch. In fact, older physicians are more likely to be posting user-generated content online than younger ones.
eMarketer: What about physician community sites, such as Sermo and Ozmosis? How are physicians using them?
We’re seeing that adoption of professional communities—such as Sermo, Medscape Physician Connect, QuantiaMD—is still relatively low, with only about 20% of physicians accessing them.
With all the focus on these networks, though, it may be getting overlooked that two-thirds of physicians are accessing user-generated content online, broadly defined, and it’s not necessarily in closed communities. Discussions, for example, are happening in professional blogs and within Medscape or New England Journal of Medicine articles that enable reader comments. So there is a broad audience of physicians turning to their colleagues online through user-generated content that’s not necessarily on the social networks.
eMarketer: How is the increasing use of digital media changing the way that patients, peers and pharma companies interact and communicate with healthcare professionals?
With patients, it’s been a big shift. When I first started looking at the data five or six years ago, less than half of US adults were researching healthcare online. Today, 68% are. These engaged patients are bringing information to their physician’s office and talking about it. Today, you can’t really find a physician who says, “No, no one’s ever done that.”
Physicians went through a transition in coming to terms with this. Primary-care physicians were perhaps a bit put off by online health info at first, but they’ve been coming around over the past few years and have started recommending sites for patient education. Overall, we’re seeing a much more positive attitude from physicians in terms of patients taking an active role in their care. Many think it’s a good thing that some patients are active, involved and educated.
Physicians are also becoming more receptive to pharma marketers’ online info. Of course this varies based on the products and the program and the type of information. Primary-care physicians and a lot of the specialties are quite open to using patient education information to educate their patients about specific medications and conditions.
In terms of getting questions answered about a product, the pharma companies are certainly still the go-to resource for physicians. In fact, when a new product is launched, we see a great opportunity for a wide variety of online promotional interactions with physicians.
Key opinion leader webinars are another big area of interest. For example, if a pharma company has a relationship with a key opinion leader in a certain specialty who has either done work on a product or research in a certain area, a lot of times they’ll ask that person to do a webinar online and talk about some of their work. It’s that kind of peer-to-peer event that physicians are interested in having from pharma.
eMarketer: What are the greatest challenges in getting healthcare providers to use digital media, and what are the challenges in marketing to them online?
For pharma companies, which are among the primary marketers to physicians, the biggest challenge is figuring out how to fit the information they want to share into the physician’s workflow.
Over the past five years, the industry has spent time and money on a range of useful resources, including product websites and service portals that provide product information, answer questions and enable physicians to request samples. We know that most physicians have some sort of interaction with pharma companies but many of these resources don’t have very high traffic. Physicians still don’t know where to go when they need information immediately. So pharma marketers must focus more on letting physicians know that these resources exist.
Search can play a big role in this. Physicians often search for information they need right away. Integrating search is the first way to get into that workflow. Some companies are working with the resources they know physicians already use. For example, physicians use Medscape during the day and Epocrates on their mobile phone so pharma companies can integrate useful information where physicians already are, rather than send them to another site. Epocrates, for instance, is integrating click-to-call or e-mail customer service for some drug companies. And some firms have created an entire physician-facing product site right within Medscape. These are the kinds of things that can help get into that workflow.
The full version of this interview is available here, to eMarketer Total Access clients only. Every day they have access to new interviews with digital marketing leaders and trendsetting entrepreneurs.
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