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The results are in: HCP communications need to evolve

Time is a precious commodity in healthcare. In an era characterised by rapid innovation, complex treatment options, and increasingly challenging workloads, it’s easy for healthcare professionals (HCPs) to become overloaded with information. For pharma communications, the time constraints faced by HCPs present a unique challenge: in order to cut through the noise of today’s engagement landscape, hitting the right note first time is no longer optional, it is a necessity.

But how can marketing teams ensure that their approach to engagement aligns with the needs of their intended audience? New research by M3, based on a survey conducted in September 2023 with 900 doctors from the EU5 (Spain, Italy, Germany, France, and the UK), elucidates the contours of the answer. Here, M3’s SVP of business intelligence and research, Dr Maxim Polyakov, discusses its key findings.

HCPs are under pressure

While the struggles facing healthcare systems have dominated headlines in recent years, M3’s research spotlights that, over the past 12 months, swollen treatment backlogs, staffing issues, and time constraints have put immense strain on doctors at an individual level.

In a concerning, but sadly unsurprising, outcome from the survey, more than 75% of the surveyed EU5 doctors categorised their workload as unsustainable, with only about a quarter of respondents reporting a fully sustainable workload.

“That lack of sustainability has knock-on effects,” explains Polyakov. “It means high levels of exhaustion and burnout. It means low morale. It means attrition.”

Indeed, ~75% of surveyed doctors agreed that their peers were exhausted or burnt out, and a similar proportion reported their peers as having low morale. Moreover, ~45% of respondents agreed that their peers were thinking about leaving medicine.

At the same time, doctors remain hungry for new and relevant information: when asked which are the most important pieces of information they would like to have about a new treatment before prescribing it for the first time, M3’s respondents selected on average between five and six categories of information.

For pharma, the combination of time-starved HCPs and the need to communicate large amounts of complex information to them is a clear challenge. “This will put further pressure on marketing teams to optimise and evolve their approach to HCP comms,” adds Polyakov. “Pharma increasingly needs to communicate with doctors in just the right way.”

Different doctors have different needs

But what does ‘just the right way’ mean? “Ultimately, companies should be aiming to understand the varied needs and preferences of their audiences, and transform this insight into meaningfully different customer journeys,” says Polyakov. “Ideally, the optimisation of each HCP’s customer journey should happen at an individual level, which is achievable if you can use data to unlock an understanding of individual doctors’ evolving preferences and behaviours.”

For instance, while there is little doubt that external professional opinion is important for doctors, the M3 survey found an almost even split between doctors who preferred the ‘opinion of experts in my local health system’, as opposed to ‘the opinion of national- or international-level experts’ (~30% preferring the former, ~40% preferring the latter, and ~30% neutral).

Another example: ~40% of respondents agreed that they would ‘prefer to read product information online, rather than have a meeting with a pharma rep’, ~40% disagreed, and ~20% were neutral. This is important information, as, for example, in the context of a product launch, third-party websites were ranked to have the same reach as pharma reps for the doctors who agreed with the statement above.

Polyakov continues: “An HCP’s customer journey should be shaped according to their market and specialty, of course, but also according to a plethora of insights, such as those gathered in M3’s research, that would permit the identification of more nuanced audience segments or ‘personas’. This could drive an increasingly tailored and highly effective comms approach; one that can be adapted and evolved, both as more data becomes available, but also because individuals’ comms preferences can change over time.”

Quality as a differentiator

However, comms optimisation of this type, at scale, can be challenging to operationalise, and is not something that the industry has ‘cracked’. For instance, according to M3’s data, almost 60% of doctors could not name a pharma company that ‘stood out for particularly effective digital communication’ over the previous 12 months.

This begs the question – how can companies stand out? In an era of information over-abundance, quality serves as a differentiator, capturing and maintaining the attention (and trust) of busy medical professionals amidst the data deluge. This covers both quality of content and the quality of its delivery to individual HCPs. Both are critical components of maximising available opportunities.

Polyakov elaborates: “Pharma brand managers rightly spend their days laser-focused on how they should communicate with their customers, the HCPs. However, pharma is not high on the list of doctors’ daily concerns. For instance, while three quarters of our survey respondents identified ‘lack of clinical staff’ as an issue for delivering optimal patient care, the lack of accessible / convenient information on new treatments was an issue for only 15% of respondents. The amount of headspace that HCPs can give pharma is very limited. Every interaction that pharma can get with doctors is precious, and it’s a shame when they are not used in the best possible way.”

Mastering the art of HCP communications

Hitting the right note with communications is not simply about marketing finesse; it is understanding and respecting the unique needs and preferences of different HCPs. In a world where informational saturation is the norm, where healthcare professionals are inundated with choices and requests, crafting messages that resonate and engage is a discipline in itself.

But, beyond the challenges, there are abundant opportunities for those who master the craft of precision communication. As M3’s research illustrates, many HCPs are struggling to maintain their current workload, and intervention is needed to ensure the system endures. While pharma alone cannot solve all of the challenges HCPs face, companies can help to reduce the pressure by using insights and data to maximise the value that HCPs derive from their contacts.

By doing so, pharma companies can chart a course for success, not just for their brands, but for the patients whose well-being depends on a commitment to delivering the right message to the right HCP, right from the start.

For more information on how you can deploy data insights to identify various target audiences and utilise diverse marketing strategies contact M3 at reachdoctors@eu.m3.com

About the interviewee

Dr Maxim Polyakov

Dr Maxim Polyakov is M3’s SVP of business intelligence and research. He is passionate about using data to drive better decisions, and ensuring that the voice and needs of patients and HCPs remain at the centre of healthcare systems.

About M3

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M3 is the world’s largest network of verified doctors with over six million members across many key markets; our closed and local communities of doctors are trusted by our members as places where they can reach content relevant to their profile and their geography. M3 has over 20 years’ experience in building online doctor communities, including Doctors.net.uk for the UK audience. These communities offer clients a unique opportunity to communicate with doctors. M3 is committed to its mission to use technology to help people live longer, healthier lives and reduce costs in healthcare.


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