We’re a long way from the times when doctors would get most of their medical information from print journals and medical meetings. Even before COVID-19, physicians were becoming more and more digitally savvy, especially as millennials entered the workforce.
But this has not necessarily made pharma’s life easier. The industry still often struggles to deliver their messages to HCPs and engage with them effectively.
Few people are busier than HCPs – and this, in addition to the oversaturation of information available online, means that many of pharma’s communications will simply not reach them, let alone engage them.
For this reason, Ian believes that pharma needs to “do the hard work for the HCPs” and actively bring information to them via new digital tools and ways of working.
Moreover, he says that pharma needs to think hard about the kinds of content they are producing for HCPs, and whether these are actually engaging and suitable for a digital world.
Jonathan Macdonald, EPG Health’s Chief Operating Officer, says that the company’s research into The Evolving Role of Websites for Healthcare Professionals has given them a sense of what kinds of content HCPs actually want to see.
“They want peer-to-peer information,” he says. “They want independent, trusted sources. They want short-form content, where it’s very clear what the learning will be very quickly. Then they also want access to longer-form content at a time that’s right for them.
“Multimedia content like webinars and podcasts are also becoming more and more popular.”
Nonetheless, Macdonald says that pharma still struggles to find ways to meaningfully engage with HCPs.
“Meaningful engagement involves being able to easily discover relevant content. Pharma needs to be able to say, ‘This healthcare professional from this region with this specialty has engaged with these messages, and we’re going to re-engage them with these additional messages.’ We want them to go on a unique, smooth journey through relevant, actionable content.”
Before joining EPG Health, Daley worked primarily in publishing technology, finding ways to boost content engagement for fast-paced organisations like the Financial Times, Pearson, and Daily Mail Group.
He says he saw a chance at EPG Health to bring similar methods into pharma to help bolster HCP engagement via digital disruption.
One philosophy he has brought over into med comms is the importance of building a “membership economy” and fostering habitual engagement, which he has applied to EPG Health’s Medthority.
“We want to be in a place where people start to rely on us and see us as a regular check-in resource, and when doing that we want to present them with something new at regular intervals. That builds a habitual relationship.”
Daley says this can be achieved by studying websites like Amazon and how they use recommendation services and intelligent search – experiences that are currently lacking in the healthcare sector.
“When you search for something on Amazon, it will tell you what other products people who searched for that item bought. That promotes other content that might actually be wider than the scope of your initial search. If you’re looking for a radio-controlled car, for example, it might also recommend batteries.
“We are taking the Amazon model and applying those techniques to content for HCPs. When a cardiologist visits our site – and we know they’re a cardiologist either because they’ve registered with us or their behaviour on-site tells us so – we’ll start to promote content to them that we think they’ll be interested in. The dashboard will show them new updates in their speciality area, tell them what events are coming up, or show them what articles their peers are reading.”
He adds: “You should never show users the same information they accessed last time they were on the website; you should show them the next most relevant message in that series. That means you get as much information in front of the user as possible, and your website feels alive.”
But doing the hard work for HCPs and pushing content to them is not enough on its own to make sure pharma’s messages are heard – the content pharma is producing also needs to be tailored for digital engagement, and they need to adapt their ways of working in order to achieve this.
“One of the things that pharma has traditionally suffered from, because of its strict regulations and the influence from academic environments, is having content that is created in a very sequential, long-form format,” says Daley.
“These days, the industry needs to think about content with more of a digital publishing mindset – start with the conclusion and summarise the key takeaways early on, then let people read the deep dive if they want to. You could even start with highlighting the five key points everyone needs to know about the topic.”
He adds: “My belief is that 20% of our content will be right for 80% of our audience most of the time. On that basis, pharma needs to adopt a ‘writing for digital’ mindset. Think about an HCP on a train looking at something on their mobile – you’ve got to design for that person, that channel and that device.”
Daley notes that the traditional publishing model, before digital became ubiquitous, was that writers and journalists wrote whatever they wanted, assuming that they knew best, and that people would read it no matter what.
“It didn’t really consider what someone was doing, what they were looking at, where they were spending time,” he says.
“Now we can look at our website and identify the areas that are getting lower traffic, then identify why that is the case. Is it because it’s dull? Is it hard to find? Today we have the opportunity to have that two-way discussion.”
But Daley says that many pharma companies have not yet adopted such a customer experience-focused way of working.
“We sometimes find that clients have invested a lot of money and time in their assets and are rightly proud of them, and that they have a strong idea of how they should be presented.
“Usually that is the kind of format that would look brilliant if it was going in an old-school textbook, but it’s not going in a textbook – it’s going on a digital platform to get in front of time-poor HCPs. You have to make it super engaging. You need to think about the hook that will get people to read the content.
“If you put the key points at a summary level and showcase them very early on, even if people engage with a fraction of the content, they’ll probably take away enough to capture your message.”
Daley cautions, though, that this is not as straightforward as just reordering existing assets.
“It’s a case of what story you’re trying to tell and why. Then you ask what content you would use, in what order, and how you can supplement that with other material – as well as how you make the content enjoyable to read.
“We need to acknowledge that we’re competing for a slice of an HCP’s time. I personally don’t believe there’s much brand loyalty in most spaces these days, and if it’s easy and intuitive to use people will use it. People will gravitate to the place that presents content in a meaningful way.”
This doesn’t mean abandoning in-depth content altogether. Daley says that pharma should still put out deep dives for those physicians who want them, making sure that they are easy to find – but the industry can’t expect every HCP to consume that kind of content.
“People don’t consume information like that in their social life. Why would they do it in their workspace?” he says.
The new technologies, channels and ways of working required for digital transformation cannot be implemented overnight, and pharma companies need collaboration and focus across the business to make it successful.
Luckily, Macdonald says that there are ways to make the process as smooth as possible – for example, EPG Health has brought its research and real world learnings together into an ‘Ten step roadmap’, published in the whitepaper Accomplish Meaningful Engagement Online, to help pharma make sure they are getting meaningful engagement and delivering value to HCPs.
“First of all, we work with the pharma company to define what success would look like to them and the HCP,” says Macdonald.
“The next step is to think about how the HCPs are going to interact with that user experience. What are they searching for? Is that different between specialties or personas?
“At that point you can start thinking about the digital channels and the key messages you want to use. Once we’ve defined that, we’re then able to think about the content types that are going to best suit that user experience and best convey those key messages.
“Then you need to think about how you’re going to track all this, and what success metrics and KPIs you’re going to place around each content type.”
From there, Macdonald says, companies need to think about how they’re actually going to engage the audience.
“It’s important to put in place a multi-channel communication strategy to nurture the audience. That can involve email, social media, reps and working with associations and charities, etc.”
Again, some of the tactics pharma can employ to make sure users go through these journeys are navigation techniques, such as pushing new content via dashboards and allowing HCPs to bookmark pages, but companies can also get more granular than that.
“We spend a lot of time within the science, commercial and digital teams, both internally and within our client organisations, to understand how each journey is going to be different for a healthcare professional based on their speciality,” says Macdonald.
“The user journey of a primary care physician might be very different from a consultant, and it will vary depending on how they accessed the content in the first place. You need to consider how they’re going to navigate their way through the different key education messages from there and what the best experience looks like.”
Finally, companies need to be regularly monitoring their KPIs, analysing how users are engaging with content and adjusting accordingly.
“A lot of organisations will look at viewer numbers and average time on page, but those traditional analytics are open to interpretation and ambiguity,” Daley points out. “Instead, it’s better to analyse Key Educational Message consumption and the degree of engagement that people had with those messages to demonstrate the quality of the view. For example, you can tell them that out of five key educational messages, 70% of their audience engaged with three or more.
“You can also look at how far a user gets through content before they drop off. Clients may well feel that they’re happy with them dropping off after a certain point if they’ve still got the salient points across.
“Unmet search needs are another key insight. If people keep searching for a topic for which we lack content, that tells us it’s an area we should explore more widely.”
The insights from Medthority show some interesting trends in how HCPs’ viewing habits are evolving.
“We’re seeing that users like interactive content – e.g. surveys, polls, quizzes, and decision trees. They’re really good at keeping people on-site and engaged,” says Daley.
Similarly, the company has seen good engagement from virtual patient animations. These are less than one and a half minutes long, which is not a burdensome time for HCPs, and can effectively put across key messages.
Daley says that he can see interactive, visual content like this becoming even more popular in the future.
“This could include things like maps you can hover over and get, for example, information on hotspots for COVID-19 – where you could zoom in on certain areas or expand criteria dropdowns. Textual formats will probably take a backseat, and interactive, animation, and video content will play a huge part in how people are perusing information.
He says that making content as relevant as possible will also be key to improving engagement as hyper-personalisation becomes more feasible.
“Communications are going to have to become hyper-targeted, because people simply don’t have the time to be bombarded with content that is interesting but not that meaningful for them.
“That content will also need to be disseminated through as many different channels as possible. Companies will be making much more use of things like social media, and lots of content will be presented in teaser formats that link to a deeper dive. Snippet style content in easy-to-digest content blocks is going to dominate.”
Beyond these changes to the content itself, Macdonald says that HCP behaviour is also evolving. “They’re becoming far more digitally savvy, and with that, they’re inevitably becoming more demanding as well,” he says.
“What we know is we need to continue to deliver relevant up-to-date content for our audience.
“What’s exciting is that the digital spaces will become even more useful and even more important for our audience going forward, and I think we’re in a great place to support that.”
Based in the UK, supporting pharma companies globally, reaching over 1 million HCPs worldwide
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Jonathan is chief operations officer at EPG Health. Since joining in 2018, he has been responsible for aligning commercial, scientific and digital operations. With over 15 years experience in the pharma and medical device sector, he has specialised in sales excellence, marketing, CRM and data solutions, product launches and lifecycle management, leading several organisations in their optimisation of multichannel approaches when engaging with HCPs.
As chief digital officer at EPG Health, Ian is responsible for driving digital strategy by shaping and implementing a multi-year transformation roadmap to grow HCP audience and deliver online personalised learning experiences for them. Prior to joining in 2017, Ian worked as a ‘commercial technologist’ within the publishing industry, defining ‘build for the future’ initiatives for the Daily Mail Group, Pearson and Financial Times.
EPG Health is the publisher of Medthority, an independent medical website for healthcare professionals (HCPs). Supporting modern digital behaviour and preferences, Medthority provides a trusted learning environment with convenient access to content that drives better treatment decisions and patient outcomes. With an actionable reach of over a million HCPs globally, EPG Health provides pharmaceutical companies with an integrated toolset to reach and engage target audiences with Key Educational Messages (KEMs) while measuring the outcomes.
For more information visit www.epghealth.com
George Underwood is a senior member of the pharmaphorum editorial team, having previously worked at PharmaTimes and prior to this at Pharmafocus. He is a trained journalist, with a degree from Bournemouth University and current specialisms that include R&D, digital and M&A.