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Sep 06, 2022

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Seven Trends Affecting Direct-to-Physician Pharma Marketing

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. Moreover, burnout continues to afflict 47% of doctors and staff, according to a 2022 Medscape survey.

As doctors juggle overwhelming workloads, pharmaceutical sales representatives and lengthy visits take a back seat. However, pharma marketers are still essential even though recent industry shifts are changing how doctors engage with pharma brands. Here are seven trends that will affect direct-to-physician (DTP) pharma marketing strategies moving forward.

1. Medical Experts 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.

Now more than ever, online search engines, social media, and peer connections help keep doctors updated on the latest advancements in healthcare. Over 70% of doctors use the internet at least once a day for work-related tasks, according to a report by CMI/Compas, with physicians across all specialties stating they rely on search engines to obtain information in less than 10 minutes. Additionally, 94% of physicians are on social media networks. Pharma sales reps need to know how to translate in-person pitches to online content that meets doctors where they are for effective outreach.

2. Healthcare Professionals Expect More From Pharma Brands

Gone are the days when sales calls used to rule the marketing world. With efficiency top of mind, healthcare professionals are cutting these phone calls short or disregarding them entirely. An Accenture study shows that 57% of doctors and specialists believe pharma marketers aren’t delivering information sensitive to the pandemic’s impact on the healthcare system. 

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.

3. Doctors Rely on Digital Tools for Healthcare Needs

Even before the pandemic, digital transformations swept health systems, encouraging patients, office staff, and physicians to connect through online tools like patient portals. The pandemic not only accelerated this shift but cemented it. Around 84% of physicians still offer telehealth options as of April 2021, and 81% of adults in the United States turn to the internet for health-related information. Meeting doctors during their online research phase is critical for pharma marketers looking to engage prospects.

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. 84% of consumers consult online reviews before selecting a doctor, and highly-rated physicians receive 5x the appointment requests than those without reviews. 

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. Patients Trust Pharma Brands More Than Ever

The quick and effective rollout of COVID-19 vaccines demonstrated to the public that the pharmaceutical industry take 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. While trust has declined slightly in 2021 and 2022, public perception of the pharma industry is still higher than in pre-pandemic years.

This increased trust could be one of the factors leading to consumer confidence in researching their own medications. According to a 2022 MARS study, 44.7% of women and 47% of men surveyed are willing to ask their doctor for a medication they’ve seen or heard about, and a similar number (48.7% of women and 45.2% of men) proactively research medications prior to appointments.2 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. A report by GO-Globe shows that on average, consumers own between 3-4 connected devices, with 80% of internet users bouncing between them. Moreover, 71% of customers dislike when brand experiences differ across devices. Between tablets, laptops, and work phones, doctors jump back and forth between devices most convenient to them at the moment. Pharma brands that can provide a universal experience with strategically timed repetitive ad placement garner increased exposure and interest.

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 advertising firm GumGum, 66% of consumers said they felt uncomfortable with brands tracking their online activity for marketing purposes. 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)