Oct 04, 2023

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Seven Trends Affecting Direct-to-Physician Pharma Marketing

Updated from September 6, 2022

How physicians interact with pharmaceutical brands is changing — has your pharma marketing strategy adapted? Here are seven trends to watch.

Doctors are known for being busy. Between seeing patients and answering questions, managing department staff, reviewing patient files, and keeping up with medical advancements, physicians jump from one task to the next with minimal downtime. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, doctor availability has only worsened. As staff numbers shrink and patient demand soars, physician schedules have escalated from busy to downright hectic.

Hospitals and medical practices across the country are still grappling with understaffed teams and high patient volumes. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, half a million healthcare workers have left their jobs since February 2020. While employment numbers are rebounding, the healthcare sector is still 78,000 workers short of pre-pandemic numbers.  Burnout continues to afflict 53% of doctors and staff, an increase from 47% last year.

As doctors juggle overwhelming workloads, pharmaceutical sales representatives and lengthy visits take a back seat. In response, the role of pharma marketers becomes more crucial than ever in adapting to these changes and ensuring strong connections with doctors. Discover seven trends that will affect direct-to-physician (DTP) pharma marketing strategies moving forward.

1. Doctors Have Become More Resourceful

With back-to-back commitments flooding their schedules, doctors don’t always have the luxury of sitting down with a visiting pharma sales representative during a drop-in. Instead, doctors are researching new pharmaceuticals independently or squeezing in a virtual meeting with a sales rep of interest during appointment gaps.

Recent reports show that the number of rep-friendly doctors willing to use video meetings in combination with the traditional in-person model has reached an average of 60% in the U.S.—an increase from a 20% low during the pandemic. Embracing digital tools means improving pharma rep access to healthcare professionals across specialties. 

2. Healthcare Professionals Expect More From Pharma Brands

With efficiency top of mind, healthcare professionals seek quality over quantity when it comes to digital marketing campaigns. An Accenture study shows that 64% of physicians reported receiving too much digital content from pharma, with 65% saying they’ve been spammed by at least one pharma company since the beginning of the pandemic.

So what can you do instead? Capture a physician’s attention by thinking beyond your drug’s boilerplate promotional materials and providing them with targeted educational content that explains how your medication can help their patient base. In addition, your brand can help physicians foster inclusivity and break linguistic barriers by providing materials in the languages most commonly understood by a broader audience.

3. Doctors Rely on Digital Tools for Healthcare Needs

Meeting doctors where they are online is critical for pharma marketers looking to engage prospects. Digital transformations swept health systems even before the pandemic, encouraging patients, office staff, and physicians to connect through online tools like patient portals, asynchronous secure messaging, and telehealth. The pandemic not only accelerated this shift but cemented it. Telehealth’s benefits—including reduced wait times, increased access to care, and unparalleled convenience—have resonated with physicians and patients alike. According to Healthgrades’ updated Patient Confidence Survey, 34% of respondents are more likely to book telehealth appointments since the pandemic, and around 85% of physicians still offer telehealth options as of April 2022. 

In addition, a recent Healthgrades study found that 63% of doctors surveyed expressed optimism that artificial intelligence will have a positive impact—in particular, helping them with administrative work and patient education.

4. HCPs are Increasingly Interested in Reputation Management 

Now that over 50% of consumers begin their healthcare journey on a search engine, online reputation management has become a top focus area for healthcare professionals. 90% of consumers consult online reviews before selecting a doctor, and highly-rated physicians receive 5x the appointment requests than those without reviews. In addition, patient reviews drive referrals for physicians, who look to first-hand accounts from other patients to inform their decisions.

Today’s doctors know they need to manage their reputation across the web and actively seek out content that offers insight on this subject. Email open rates for reputation-related content are 75% higher than the industry average for email newsletters.1 Pharma marketers should place ads alongside this vital content to reach physicians when they’re most engaged.   

5. Patient Trust in Pharma Brands Is Struggling

The quick and effective rollout of COVID-19 vaccines demonstrated to the public that the pharmaceutical industry takes public health seriously. According to the Healthgrades Patient Confidence Study, 56% of healthcare consumers stated they had a newfound appreciation for pharma companies due to the speed with which they developed COVID-19 vaccines. However, only 18% of Americans overall have a positive perception of the pharmaceutical industry.

Even so, patients are proactively seeking information from their doctors about medications and treatments. According to a 2022 MARS study, 44.7% of women and 47% of men surveyed are willing to ask their doctor for a prescription they’ve seen or heard about, and a similar number (48.7% of women and 45.2% of men) proactively research medications before appointments. A timely and contextually relevant pharma ad matched with an engaged consumer has a lot of converting power, even without a formal sales call.

6. Cross-Device Targeting is Extending Outreach Efforts

Today’s tech consumers, including physicians, aren’t just using one device to browse the web. On average, about three-quarters of U.S. adults own a desktop or laptop computer, while roughly half own a tablet computer. Between tablets, laptops, and work phones, doctors jump back and forth between the devices most convenient to them. Pharma brands that can provide a universal experience with strategically timed repetitive ad placement garner increased exposure and interest.

But repetitive ad placement can only get you so far—because your message also needs to be responsive, meaning that it offers the best user experience regardless of which device someone uses at any given time. With responsive designs seeing an 11% higher conversion rate compared to non-responsive ones, it’s imperative that your ads are accessible on any device.

7. Online Prospects Prefer Contextual Advertising

Since Google announced its plan to remove third-party cookies by the end of 2023, digital marketers have had to find other ways to personalize ads for each prospect. Many are turning to contextual advertising, which includes curating content with keywords and SEO-backed data to drive interested visitors to a brand naturally.

Also, contextual advertising has been more effective than cookie-generated ads. In a study by Seedtag, 82% of consumers have a favorable impression of brands that decided to stop using cookies. Physicians who work hard to keep their data confidential will respect pharma brands that use contextual advertising and take privacy concerns seriously.

Maximize Your Direct-to-Physician Pharma Outreach with Healthgrades

To account for these trends, your pharma marketing strategy should leverage a digital-first approach that targets contextually relevant ads to the busy doctors who are likely to see a highly qualified patient soon. Adopting a digital solution to tailor campaigns to valuable audiences increases reach and the likelihood of long-term engagement.

Healthgrades’ direct-to-physician pharma advertising solutions can help. Our unique data, relevant healthcare content, and numerous access points maximize the patient-provider connection so you can reach 90% of active HCPs. Contact us today to engage the physicians who matter most, boost brand awareness, and nurture a loyal prescriber base.

1 Healthgrades Internal Data, 2022
2 2022 Healthline Media Whole Person Health Surveys, N= 1,771 individuals diagnosed with a chronic condition (COPD, Eczema/Atopic Dermatitis, Migraine, Multiple Sclerosis, or Type 2 Diabetes)