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Every scientific message has a story. Medical communications must adapt to effectively bring these to life.

Medical communications are in a state of transition. Due to the combined impact of emerging technologies, changing provider preferences, and an evolving post-pandemic world, pharma must navigate new ways to engage providers with relevant, science-driven, digital content. Delivering these materials in the proper format, however, requires a keen understanding of providers’ educational needs, learning science, and creative storytelling. Francis Namouk, managing director of Healthware MedComms, a new medical communications and education division of the Healthware Group, tells us more.

No doctor wakes up in the morning asking what your brand can do for them.

That statement, coined by one of my colleagues at Healthware MedComms, summarises the changing state of communications between pharmaceutical organisations and their healthcare provider (HCP) stakeholders. Triggered both by the industry-wide digital transformation and by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, HCPs’ expectations for the ways they receive information from pharma partners have shifted. Where medical communications have historically centred on brand, providers now desire more tailored, science-driven messaging.

Navigating this shift means reframing the way pharma teams approach provider-focused content. Medical communications must be able to offer useful information to HCPs when questions arise, whether that’s in the clinic with a patient or in a surgical theatre. Operationally, such a change also puts medical affairs teams and medical science liaisons – some of the leading scientific voices within pharma organisations – on the frontlines of provider communications, a responsibility traditionally held by brand and sales representatives.

When pharmaceutical leaders can proactively answer their customers’ questions and become the point of reference for their future needs, they build trust that can eventually lead providers to prescribe their product. Doing so requires an understanding of the educational, scientific, and creative underpinnings of effective medical communications – and the production chops to execute them. Such expertise may not sit within the medical affairs function, but an experienced agency partner can guide pharma in the right direction.

Below, I dive deeper into the changing landscape of medical communications, and how to build successful materials that help you win with HCPs.

“Loyalty can be established when a provider is searching for the next best step in a patient’s care journey, and their pharma partner has the data they need – where and when they need it most – to inform a clinical decision.”

How COVID-19 shifted medical communications

Historically – and still, in many instances, today – insufficient thought has been invested in understanding providers’ experience receiving high volumes of medical data. You could present for an hour to a very narrow audience – perhaps a room full of metastatic breast cancer experts – but any one of them may only be interested in ten minutes of the session. How can we help providers navigate the vast amount of available information to find what’s most relevant to them?

When COVID-19 hit in 2020, pharma was forced to change their modes of engaging with HCPs. Without the possibility of in-person meetings, how could they continue to inform, educate, and build trust with providers?

As all content shifted to online formats, healthcare professionals showed us their preferences for receiving information. For example, they’re interested in scientific exchange over brand, meaning they’d prefer to interact first with medical science liaisons, than with sales reps. Even under the umbrella of scientific exchange, they’ve shown they prefer the option of on-demand content and digital platforms. Where scientific symposia may last hours and cover a range of topics, many HCPs prefer or require bite-sized, highly tailored content which they can consume at their convenience.

This puts medical communications today in a state of transition, both towards digital transformation and toward true customer centricity. But many make the mistake of rushing to achieve short-term digital goals – for example, publishing a website or a new tech platform – rather than building a long-term, omnichannel, strategic plan that can help pharma teams build brand loyalty with customers.

In a post-COVID world, sustainable hybrid models are the key to engaging effectively with providers. While some in-person meetings have resumed, HCPs now expect tailored, digital, scientific content. Without a medical communications strategy that considers and accommodates providers’ needs, pharma risks missing opportunities for relationship building with their stakeholders.

“Communications agencies can act as the ‘conductor’ of an effective medical communications strategy, harmonising the efforts of pharma’s innovative development teams, experienced scientific leaders, and novel therapeutics into messages and formats that providers remember.”

How pharma must adapt to providers’ changing expectations

Pharma has also been forced to change the ways they operationalise provider engagement. Medical affairs teams are now in the drivers’ seat to deliver on customer centricity, a role typically held by commercial teams, leading to some uncertainty in how best to bring scientific content to providers. If they’re approaching a provider who has been effectively treating patients with the same staple drugs for years, how can they bring a novel therapy to their attention? How should they gain their trust? How do they move providers from not considering using a new treatment to adopting a new standard of care?

Successful customer engagement first requires pharma to understand providers’ educational needs and gaps in their current understanding. This begins with an educational landscape assessment: what literature is available in a specific geography? What gaps or guidelines exist in the region? What content are their customers engaging with today, and is it relevant?

From there, pharma can identify stakeholders – including regional influencers or opinion leaders – and conduct one-to-one interviews to reinforce understanding of professional education gaps for providers. These interviews inform a survey, distributed across academia in the region, to take a deeper dive into the needs of their customers.

This process allows pharma to map where their stakeholders’ greatest educational needs are, and where the pharma organisation should allocate resources to create useful customer materials.

In medical communications, building trust with providers means being the point of reference for critical treatment-related questions. Loyalty can be established when a provider is searching for the next best step in a patient’s care journey, and their pharma partner has the data they need – where and when they need it most – to inform a clinical decision. This cycle of understanding providers’ needs, then designing content to help them improve outcomes for their patients, is the key to medical communications success.

Bringing scientific stories to life

Data on a novel molecule or interesting clinical trial findings is, of course, fascinating on its own. But if it is not presented to providers in a way that resonates with them, the information may be lost among the flood of other content in a provider’s inbox.

Doctors are human; they can connect to emotion evoked by effective storytelling. Creativity, then, is the medical communicator’s challenge. How can we craft a message that elevates key scientific points? Should we package it in an email or in a video for social media? As the first point of engagement with customers, it’s important that pharma uses engaging narratives to convey an emotion for their stakeholders.

We must also appreciate the role learning science plays in effective communications. For professional adults, knowledge is gained when new insights are delivered at the right moment and in the correct format, as opposed to the curriculum-style format we may have received during school. Such understanding must be infused into all provider-facing communications.

This capability isn’t native to pharma organisations, and rightfully so, as their service is to develop and market lifesaving treatments. Communications agencies can act as the “conductor” of an effective medical communications strategy, harmonising the efforts of pharma’s innovative development teams, experienced scientific leaders, and novel therapeutics into messages and formats that providers remember.

Improving the medical communications experience for HCPs

In today’s digital world, doctors are overwhelmed by the volume of available data. We have an opportunity to create a better learning experience for HCPs, where they receive the information they need at the appropriate moment, and in a format that they’ll respond well to. We can help them cut through the noise and focus on the most important messages.

With the expertise needed to build engaging content – specifically, creative storytelling capabilities, medical knowledge, and a deep understanding of learning science – an experienced agency partner can support pharma in designing memorable materials.

Whether via animation clips, white papers, or even TikTok videos, science and creativity can complement one another to reach providers where they are, empowering them to offer more innovative care to their patients.

About the author

Francis

Francis Namouk is a serial entrepreneur whose passion is to improve patient outcomes by focusing on creative storytelling and immersive learning experiences. He has over 15 years of medical and digital comms expertise within the life science and consumer health sector.

Francis is now Managing Director at Healthware MedComms, the medical communications and education division of the Healthware Group. He also remains Managing Director at SWM, a creative motion lab and consultancy which Francis co-founded in 2020, before it was acquired by Healthware Group the following year. SWM is focused on virtual and hybrid experiences, scientific content development, and medical education. He continues to oversee the strategic and tactical implementation of all Healthware virtual and hybrid customer engagement solutions for the Group.

About Healthware MedComms

Healthcare medcomms logo

Healthware MedComms meets the always-on, audience centric, evidence driven demands of today’s clinical environment. We support our clients with modern medical communication and education offerings that meet the needs of the contemporary clinician. We do this by partnering with our clients to reimagine scientific exchange by creatively translating new and complex science into digestible, engaging, learning experiences which healthcare professionals can adopt to improve patient outcomes.

Our unbridled passion for creativity, innovation, and technology allows us to deliver audience centric, evidence-based, cutting-edge scientific communications to support medical teams globally. Visit our website to learn more: www.healthwaregroup.com/brands/healthwaremedcomms

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