Special Report: Advances in HCP Engagement

First Word Special Report featuring Dr Brian J. Puckett, Pharm.D, M.D., VP of Medical Strategy, BioPharm Communications


Even as the COVID-19 pandemic dust settles, the digital transformation continues to march forward, with new communication strategies fostering advanced methods for engaging healthcare professionals (HCPs). Indeed, today’s HCPs expect high levels of personalization when interacting with pharmaceutical organizations – and research indicates a strong correlation between personalization of communication and HCP satisfaction with pharma interactions.1

There has been a seismic shift away from a purely push engagement model to a two-way pull communication strategy that empowers HCPs to receive pertinent information at the optimal times via their preferred channels.2 However, while a digital engagement strategy carries the advantages of multiple methods for connecting with HCPs and access to sophisticated data analytics tools, they also present complexities in identifying the most effective engagement strategies. This whitepaper examines this shift in HCP engagement, how personalization is driving advances in HCP engagement, what these advances look like, and what future HCP engagement might encompass. It also explores the challenges posed by advances in HCP engagement and how to overcome them.

Leveraging KOLs for HCP Engagement

Thought leaders can be incredibly influential with shaping HCP’s treatment decisions. One survey found that 83% of HCPs are likely to prescribe a new drug when a key opinion leader (KOL) endorses it.3 Data also show that HCPs are significantly more likely to engage with content that is KOL-derived or endorsed.4

Dr Brian J. Puckett, Vice President of Medical Strategy and Lead Medical Director at BioPharm Communications, highlights the long-standing medical community culture where HCPs are accustomed to putting their trust in colleagues with vast, direct experience in the field. To meet this expectation, he explains that BioPharm Communications has three physicians on staff who engage with experts to provide peer-to-peer interactions that facilitate a deep level of trust. “We [physicians] know what to dig into when it comes to clinical nuggets and pearls, patient management issues, and the intricacies of a disease state,” Dr Puckett explains. “We’ve taken care of hundreds, if not thousands, of patients personally.”

As specialists in a particular field, KOLs can provide high levels of guidance and insights in several significant areas, including the drug development process and the specific needs of different patient populations. Although a recent survey found that sales reps have the most monthly reach to physicians, 67% of respondents indicated that KOLs have the strongest influence on clinical decisions.5 Even when KOLs are not the direct engager, their endorsements provide reassurance to HCPs, solidifying the potential value of using a product in their practice.

Given the move to digital engagement, an important question is whether KOLs must also be digital opinion leaders (DOLs). According to Dr Puckett, “If you can get an expert that is a KOL and also a social media influencer, that’s your Unicorn right there. It is a big win to get a KOL who is also digitally savvy. The problem is that some of these DOLs are seen as media personalities rather than experts. They become famous and it is like booking a Hollywood actor.” Ultimately, Dr Puckett believes it is more important to get the right person and one who is trusted by the physician community – and that person isn’t necessarily a DOL.

Leveraging Different Channels for Personalized Omnichannel-First Engagement

While in-person and print communication remain important, the monumental shift to digital creates a wealth of new strategic opportunities for increasing and strengthening HCP engagement. Despite the comeback of face-to-face interactions in 2022-23, HCP communication expectations have been permanently altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. This makes it vital for pharma companies to develop comprehensive and effective digital channel strategies.6 However, research indicates significant work remains to achieve this.

Dr Puckett places emphasis on the value of an omnichannel-first approach to HCP engagement. He explains, “Whereas the traditional multichannel approach is like individual musical instruments, the omnichannel approach strives to create an orchestrated symphony.” He further emphasizes the importance of ensuring that every aspect of a communication strategy works together in harmony to deliver information in a seamless manner that maximizes engagement. An omnichannel-first approach also enables the use of sophisticated tracking systems, allowing the industry to collect comprehensive metrics on all types of communication, including email, banner ads, video, website content, and others.

However, the value of an omnichannel approach can significantly decrease based on the content being delivered. In one study, 70% of HCPs stated that the pharmaceutical industry does not completely understand their requirements. Additionally, 62% indicated that the most significant area where pharma can add value is to better understand their needs and to only share relevant content with them.7 This necessitates flexibility from pharmaceutical organizations since the type of information HCPs consider most important can fluctuate. For example, IQVIA found that help with managing patients remotely has moved up the priority lists of HCPs by 13%, and receiving information about the economic value of new therapies has moved up by 10%. At the same time, information about a product’s efficacy and safety continues to be a top priority for 70% of HCPs.8

It is also worth noting that 62% of HCPs said they are overwhelmed by pharma product promotional content received on various digital channels, further illustrating the importance of refining information dissemination to provide the most valuable and engaging content in a succinct manner.9

HCPs are typically very busy, and thus prefer to have control over the timing of their engagements with pharma companies. In one study, 68% of HCPs reported webinars, webcasts, or other video communications as their preferred channel for receiving information, while only 47% prefer email.10

As HCPs become increasingly tech-savvy, the power of personalization in communication is abundantly clear, making an omnichannel-first approach to engagement the optimal strategy for pharma.

The good news is that the pharma industry appears poised to conduct the orchestra Dr Puckett refers to, with 74% of companies surveyed by IQVIA noting omnichannel engagement as a high priority.11 However, greater investment is needed for the industry to reach the omnichannel maturity required to effectively implement the right channel mix, messaging, and timing in order to optimize engagement.12

Accelerating Video Engagement

Omnichannel maturity requires up-to-date knowledge of the potential value of different channels and understanding which can address the pain points of different HCPs. Dr Puckett suggests that one channel offering of significant value to HCPs is video, noting that videos with high production value can be extraordinarily effective.

There are multiple ways to produce high quality videos, but for these to be effective they must be engaging. Given the trust HCPs place in peers, KOL roundtable videos are proving to be particularly compelling. Dr Puckett recommends creating videos with at least two experts and an informed moderator, where the participants bounce questions and ideas off each other. “These discussions naturally engage your brain more versus just sitting back and watching an expert go through a bunch of slides,” he explains.

Offering further suggestions for making video presentations more enjoyable and engaging, Dr Puckett says, “Rather than having static slides, you can have slides where a bar chart or line graph is animated as the expert is speaking to it. Or if the KOL is speaking to a certain data point within the efficacy or safety data, that data point gets highlighted in the slide and pops out substantially. It becomes an engaging presentation rather than just flat slides.”

However, while providing exceptional content is vital, it is also essential to drive HCPs to watch the video– and to measure metrics to understand what works and what doesn’t resonate strongly enough to result in significant viewership. Dr Puckett points out that, “You can have the best content or video in the world, but if no one watches it, it is meaningless.” By analyzing the percentage of recipients who click on a link to view a video and determining how long they are watching, pharma marketers can refine their strategies over time based on the approaches that work best.

Peer-to-peer communication can prove to be a highly effective content strategy for videos, both on the Commercial and Medical Affairs sides of the business. HCPs typically react positively to watching content created by their peers, which is evidenced by the popularity of medical webinars, and other round table style video engagement strategies.13 “Another thing that can be engaging is presenting an actual patient case or a hypothetical patient case to really bring them into the content,” Dr Puckett says. “When doctors hear about a particular patient type with certain symptoms, they may have seen a patient like that last week, and it really resonates with them.”

Given the value offered by videos, why are they so underutilized by pharma?

The answer is simple: It can be expensive and time-consuming to create top quality video content. A full video production requires a studio space with a production manager and a large crew of video and audio experts, hair and makeup, teleprompters, 4K cameras, and calendar availability of the experts to travel to a filming location. When post-production is factored into this, it can take up to nine months to produce top quality video content, according to Dr Puckett.

Since pharma marketers or medical affairs professionals often want something quick and less expensive,there are alternative options to consider. Dr Puckett has worked with video production experts to develop methods for creating virtual video content with professional quality results. In some instances,they will even send experts a kit that includes a 4K webcam, special lighting, and a high-fidelity microphone. Although the video and audio are captured separately, the content can be matched up in post-production to appear seamless. Dr Puckett explains that these kits can be sent with a return FedEx overnight label included, making equipment retrieval and return convenient and easy. By enabling participants to create content remotely, the video production process can be much quicker, easier to schedule, and less expensive, while still producing high-quality results that illustrate credibility and professionalism to viewers.

Fully Optimizing Digital Opportunities for HCP Engagement

The digital medical communications market can prove to be extraordinarily effective when coupled with the advanced use of segmentation and targeting principles. Today’s marketers and medical affairs professionals possess a wealth of data and tools to tailor content to specific HCPs based on their interests and communication preferences.14

To predict the behaviors and preferences of HCPs, the pharmaceutical industry might consider metrics such as Myers-Briggs Personality Categorization or Extraversion and Introversion Scores.15 However, these methods may no longer be suitable when strategizing communication with HCPs in the digital age.16 For example, HCPs who are patient-centric are likely to communicate freely with pharma representatives, even in cases where their extra version or introversion scores would suggest otherwise.17

It may be more effective to approach segmentation by using a model such as the HCP Archetypes defined by McKinsey18:

This archetype model can help to structure the way pharma organizations communicate with HCPs to maximize engagement.

Dr Puckett adds another form of HCP engagement segmentation. “If you’re trying to provide deep education and you really need to hit people from different angles, you need to consider learning styles,” he says. “Adults have many different preferences in the way they learn. Some people are visual learners,while others like to read.” There is a need to adjust communication strategies accordingly.Customer relationship management (CRM) systems can be utilized to automate the collection of customer data from the entire omnichannel landscape to further the generation of detailed personas.19

Once segmentation by personas is understood, pharma companies can identify the type of content that works best for each group, including preferred channels of communication and which days and times are most likely to result in engagement. By harnessing vast quantities of data and using analytical tools to boil the information down to ratings for digital affinity (likelihood of responding positively to digital education) and medical educational sensitivity (likelihood that interactions drive prescriptions or changes in behavior), pharma can fine-tune targeting methods to increase engagement and adoption while improving return on investment (ROI), or improving medical education and adoption.20

Where Do Traditional Engagement Methods Fit In?

True omnichannel marketing still includes print as a highly relevant component of the overall engagement strategy. Although print may appear expensive, it can be priced less than digital on a cost-per-engagement basis. Furthermore, research shows that many HCPs feel inundated with digital communication, leading to a resurgence in print materials.21

Although tracking print metrics can be a challenge, innovative methods can be deployed to include traditional engagement data in omnichannel campaign strategies. For example, Dr Puckett offers that integration with USPS [United States Postal Service] helps track when direct mailers arrive in the mailboxes of recipients. This data can trigger other channels to increase the impact of digital communication when a brand is already at the front of a recipient’s mind.22

Dr Puckett shares several methods for increasing engagement in relation to print materials, such as including a QR code for recipients to link print to digital communications, complete surveys, or learn more, or otherwise communicate digitally as a follow-up to reading print materials. QR codes are experiencing somewhat of a resurgence thanks to the COVID pandemic as well as the fact that smartphones now have the capability of reading QR codes with just the camera, rather than a separate app.

Print ads in medical journals present another method for engaging HCPs while they are already seeking information. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, 87% of its subscribers receive print copies at home, which creates an ideal scenario for ads to be viewed by HCPs at alternative times.23 Print materials also carry the potential to cut through the noise in an increasingly digital world. As Dr Puckett points out, while most physicians are very busy, they may find themselves able to sit in their office for five minutes and read a page of compelling content. They may also find it faster to carry a small piece of content in their lab coat pocket to refer to when needed, such as quick reference cards or dosing guidelines.

Although Dr Puckett believes that digital will continue to expand its reach, he explains that a substantial percentage of HCPs are over 35 years old, which he describes as a demographic that still considers print to be a highly valuable source of information. The future may witness the gradual death of printed materials, but we are not there yet, and printed materials remain critical to the overall omnichannel experience.

The Future of HCP Engagement

Although there is a great deal of discussion about ChatGPT and other AI-driven chatbots, these tools lack the advanced capabilities required for direct engagement with HCPs. However, the pharma industry is investing resources into analyzing the potential for AI to engage with HCPs in the future. According to one survey, almost 79% of pharma companies are either testing AI or already using a combination of humans and AI technologies.24

As opposed to completely replacing human engagement, AI agents are typically being developed to complement people’s work. By positioning AI tech to respond to simple HCP requests and questions, the pharma workforce will gain additional time to focus on other necessary tasks. Pharma’s use of AI agents to engage with HCPs could improve response time while increasing the productivity of humans andreducing overall operational expenses. At the same time, the need for trust and credibility remains vital to meet the expectations of HCPs in their interactions with the pharmaceutical industry. Dr Puckett goes on to say, “Another interesting area is the Metaverse and utilizing engaging platforms where HCPs can either talk to each other or to experts directly in a live session without having to go anywhere or leave their office.”

Research makes it clear that there is no single solution that meets the requirements of all HCPs. Pharma companies must leverage data and analytics to effectively personalize communication strategies in their efforts to increase overall engagement and satisfaction.25 To optimize HCP engagement, pharma companies must focus on the following key factors:

  • Building credibility via the use of trusted KOLs
  • An omnichannel-first approach
  • Making the quality of content and engagement non-negotiable
  • Data-driven personalization
  • Succinctness in an era where attention spans are decreasing, and HCPs are the busiest they have ever been.

As the digital transformation continues to evolve, pharma organizations must embrace modern technologies and devise innovative strategies to reap the rewards of ongoing advancements in HCP engagement. It is vital to harness every component of the expanding omnichannel marketing and medical education toolbox to remain effective in the future HCP engagement landscape.

Contact Us

Let’s talk next steps.

Interested in connecting or learning more about our solutions? Drop us a line!