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Engaging with HCPs Virtually in a Post COVID World

COVID-19 has brought about unprecedented changes to the existing normal operating procedure across industries. The situation although has hit a large range of business functions, but the most afflicted function remains ‘on the field’ jobs of medical representatives in the pharma industry. No doubt the industry as a whole has seen significant growth in embracing digital solutions, their marketing efforts still rely on in-person interaction of the reps with Health Care Professionals (HCPs).

Current Challenges at a Glance

The status quo of the industry, however, has been challenged with strict norms of COVID-19. There are estimates that show a huge dip in F2F HCPs engagements during the COVID times. Even after the pandemic, the frequency of in-person communication is seeing a downward turn, which means engaging HCPs virtually is going to be the next big trend in pharma.

In this blog, we will put emphasis on the current challenges and how COVID-19 is driving lasting changes in the engagement of HCPs with pharma representatives. Also, how they are redefining relevance in terms of what HCPs need and value.

Throughout 2020 and beyond, we’ve seen a number of restrictions due to COVID-19 that has limited the in-person engagement of pharma representatives with HCPs. This has spurred several key challenges in front of life-sciences and bio-pharma companies in their efforts to meaningfully engage with HCPs.

Decline in Pharma Interactions

In tough times, most pharma companies have pulled their workforce out of the field. Even HCPs surveyed in a McKinsey report say their interaction frequency with pharma representatives have declined sharply when compared to the reported interaction frequency with the patients, by an average drop of 65%. On the other hand, virtual interactions between HCPs and pharma representatives are two times more frequent in the US than before COVID. These are signals for pharma leaders to revisit their engagement approach to establish meaningful relationships with healthcare practitioners again.

Impact on Sales & Marketing Channel Mix

Restrictions on F2F engagements have resulted in canceled/postponed training sessions, canceled conferences and events. And all of these were major marketing as well as engagement methods for pharma companies until now. With the disruption, which is causing a tough time for field sales and medical representatives to get attention of healthcare professionals, companies must equip themselves with digital transformation to create an omnichannel experience for HCPs. They should bolster medical-commercial integration to blur the line between marketing and education.

This brings us to an important consideration of how pharma companies should accelerate to navigate the current shock concerning HCPs engagement in a post-pandemic world.

Healthcare Providers are Operating in a New Realm

Similar to the pharma business functions, the COVID-19 has also impacted HCPs' daily operations. Post crises, HCPs are now settled into virtual interactions with both patients and pharma reps. They are adjusting how they provide care by means of telemedicine.

Like healthcare professionals and patients see great value in connecting remotely, pharma companies are remodeling their communication strategies to adapt to the change. The services and communication they offer are much more helpful than pre-COVID time. Now is the right time for pharma companies to redefine their engagement with HCPs.

A survey conducted by Accenture revealed that 82% health professionals have found that pharma companies put focus on what they communicate about. This also means including support to meet the pressing needs of the current situation.

Interesting Read: Top Digital Transformation Trends in Pharma for 2021

Breaking through the Clutter: Engaging with HCPs

Moving forward in the new normal, pharma companies need to consider a strategic HCP engagement approach to manage the clamoring COVID situation. Teams would need to optimize their marketing efforts in the current crises to formulate a strategy which is sustainable. And fill the gap between current pharma industry sales procedures and the future of marketing in the next normal.   

Here are some best practices that help pharma companies embrace the new normal and realign omnichannel engagement capabilities in post-COVID time.

Access Current Practices and Channel Preferences

Consider the inventory of the entire HCPs communications. Messages that became obsolete in context to the current situation may need to be revised. Assess current, available channel tactics and approaches to identify the loopholes in HCP coverage. To overcome the situation, consider engaging HCPs virtually by identifying the right technologies and platforms. The next big thing is to understand channel preference at individual HCP level. If HCP level preference is limited, understand varying physician preferences based on specialty, practice, or geographic level to reinforce a longer-term customer centric model.

Revisit Channel and Tactics in Detail

It is important to revise a mix of content and channels using available technologies and internal resources to better engage with HCPs. Remember that these are tough times for pharma. So, it is essential to facilitate communication with healthcare professionals with every piece of information at their disposal. Visual sales aids, which are effective on relevant digital platforms, no longer fit when it comes to in-person delivery. Therefore, it is crucial to revisit these materials and test with HCPs to ensure they are well optimized for intended media. Build new tactics to address disruptions and treatment protocols. This could include support on telemedicine, modernizing legacy systems, improving supply chains, and so on.

Use Data-Driven Audience Targeting

Start with a data-driven approach to identify the ideal target HCPs for engagement efforts. Identify the most productive audience to get the right direction for the targeted messaging. Don’t forget mid-level decision makers such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants in the process and understand how these healthcare professionals will fit within your target audience. Use research to develop messaging strategies and roadmaps to understand what problems they are dealing with and how can it be immediately addressed. One great example is Jazz Pharma, a biopharmaceutical company who has partnered with Icreon to create precision targeting strategies to reach the relevant audiences. This included understanding of customer preference and intent to drive the next best actions.

Educate HCPs on Optimal Channels

A research conducted by Accenture covering 720 healthcare professionals found that HCPs want pharma companies to provide higher value content to meet their most pressing needs. Moreover, the study revealed that 69% of HCPs believe that pharma companies’ digital patient education is more helpful now than before pandemic. Self-service tools, HCP portals and IVR, for example, are helpful to educate HCPs and establish stronger connections with them. The content should not be promotional messages, instead, it should be educational and clinically focused so that it can urge the audience to take further action. By ensuring potential benefits such as the ability to save HCPs time, or access to newer (or relevant) information at the right time, will drive acceleration at a fast pace.

Measure, Learn and Improve

Physicians in the post-pandemic world are dealing with a lot of information and administrative burdens. As a result, personal level engagement has suffered abruptly. With this sudden shift, it is important to focus on personalized messaging to break through in the noisy world. To drive value and relevance, consider on-boarding new digital engagement platforms. Such tools offer a large-scale customization (at segment level) and personalization (at individual HCP’s specialty level) basis on channel preferences. Experiment with A/B testing to understand what’s working and what’s not. And always use a consistent set of metrics to evaluate performance across different channels.

Navigating the New Normal

We’ve been in the pandemic for a year now, and it is clear that the next normal for pharma companies is filled with promising digital opportunities. Pre-COVID rules of engagement are now fading away, demanding more virtual meetings and conferences to stay relevant and connected with HCPs. It is the right time for pharma companies to maintain their share of voice and engagement with health practitioners. Adopt a digital strategy and re-design the HCP engagement framework to stay ahead of the curve.

Need assistance to make personalized engagements with HCPs conducive! Connect with our digital consultants to plan a strategy roadmap that resonates with your target audience fuels your business growth.

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