COVID-19 has rapidly impacted the pharmaceutical industry and how it communicates and engages with healthcare professionals (HCPs). Medical education has been particularly impacted, since the bulk of medical education activities involves some type of peer-to-peer communication and—historically—such communications have often been centered around live, in-person engagements, which are not currently feasible.
In recent years, there has been growing recognition of the value of nonpersonal promotion (NPP) medical education initiatives, including digital and virtual engagements. In fact, prior to the current pandemic, a number of surveys had indicated HCPs’ shifting preferences:
61% of HCPs found it difficult to attend live meetings(1)
196% of HCPs say they would see benefits from attending more virtual conferences, meetings, and CME events
Approximately one third of physicians cited both advances in technology and changes in personal preferences as reasons they’re interested in virtual congresses(2)
While medical education tactics have been evolving to be less focused on live, in-person engagements, the shift has been slow. The COVID-19 pandemic has precipitated a sea change, accelerating the adoption of nonpersonal, digital, and virtual execution of medical education initiatives. While we would expect live programs to slowly return, we also expect that the tipping of the scales in favor of virtual programs will be permanent. Not only will pharmaceutical companies and HCPs have grown comfortable moving away from in-person initiatives, such initiatives are reflective of their learning preferences.
There is no “one size fits all” approach to medical education during this challenging time. However, there are a number of important considerations that the FCB Health Network’s medical education agencies consider when guiding their clients on appropriate solutions.
It is important to first understand the objective of the engagement from both the company’s and the HCP’s perspectives. What are we looking to communicate to the HCP? What are we looking to get from the HCP? What do we want the HCP experience to be? Finally, what do we know about the HCPs’ specialty that might influence how and where they want to learn?
Once that assessment has been completed, we can then help determine the right solution that will satisfy both the company’s and the HCPs’ needs, ranging from off-the-shelf communication tools, to third party channels, to more customized, bespoke solutions. Regardless of platform selected, a low friction user experience, with ease of access and seamless log-in, is critical.
NPP platforms offer varying levels of engagement opportunities for brands. Assessing the goals of the educational program, available assets, target audience and budget all are critical to identifying the right NPP partner. Beyond third party NPP partners, there are also benefits to creating NPP hubs that are customized for a company’s or brand’s specific needs and customer base. A well-executed customized NPP hub can serve as a one-stop educational destination, linking users to content that lives on the platform, linking out to other platforms, as well as connecting HCPs to live, virtual events. In the future, we see such hubs leveraging HCPs’ experiences as both consumers and clinicians, including Netflix-style content delivery and a mirroring of the telehealth experience.
Given the need for timely, relevant information, there are increased expectations around optimized online experiences and content delivery. As both consumers and clinicians, HCPs are not expecting that content be long-form and didactic; they expect it to be more snackable, as well as more engaging. As such, more digestible videos, podcasts and interactive case-based content disseminated via NPP consistently demonstrate higher levels of engagement than long-format content.
Beyond NPP, live, virtual events also call for content that is more digestible. Far too often, when changing an event from live in-person to live virtual, there is a temptation to use content one-to-one. Live virtual events must consider not only HCPs’ content consumption preferences, but also the importance of optimizing content for virtual channels.
Far too often, medical education initiatives were “one and done.” For example, HCPs would participate in a speaker program, but there was no coordinated follow-up or pull through into other educational events.
As programming increasingly shifts to NPP and virtual options, there is an opportunity to build out a continuous feedback loop of HCP engagement, encompassing CRM, pre-and post-event communications that are customized to the HCP, and event triggers whereby participation in specific promotional encounters trigger specific educational follow-up activities, and vice versa.
Also embedded within such models is the ability to more effectively measure outcomes, including metrics around program effectiveness, learning, intention to change behavior, and prescribing habits.
Now more than ever, it is essential to be purposeful and strategic when communicating with, and engaging, HCPs, including customers, speakers, and key opinion leaders (KOLs). In the absence of traditional speaker programs (or due to a lower volume of speaker programs), are there other ways to engage speakers?
For example, speaker focus groups and surveys can help optimize content for the virtual world, while a robust speaker communications plan will help them remain connected to the brand. Where programming is continuing, in the absence of in-person rep visits, consider reaching HCPs and driving attendance through callouts on brand.com, social media, banner ads, or e-mail communications that leverage KOLs.
Finally, it is important to recognize the impact that COVID-19 is having with your target HCPs and geographies. Being mindful of this will help ensure that the timing of your engagements makes sense for the brand, is sensitive to HCPs’ priorities, and fosters a better long-term relationship.
Please contact your account leads or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or would like to discuss any of the above.