Through five core principles, medical education programs can truly educate providers and compel engagement by focusing on improving the patient’s health.

Once upon a time, many of the promotional education programs that were marketed to providers emphasized one thing—sell brands. And it worked…for a while. But it became evident that some of the programs fell short of sharing scientific rationale, leading to skepticism and perceptions of potential bias. While this purely promotional approach may not have been the sole reason for the stringent regulations we’re feeling today, it certainly didn’t help. Nor did it improve the perceptions consumer media and the public have of our industry.

Perceptions of reduced scientific and clinical rigor in promotional content created a gap between the companies that develop the medicines patients need and the healthcare providers who care for them. And with growing concern about content bias, speakers shied away from collaborating and presenting promotional medical education programs.

In general, many in our industry produce education programs that are balanced and insightful. But there are still opportunities to strengthen the quality of programs and deliver content that providers deem more valuable.

Given today’s new normal (stringent regulatory environment), brand marketers are now challenged on how to effectively combine information that providers want while promoting their brands. One approach is to create a bridge—a Science Bridge— that connects the marketing with the science behind the brand.

The Science Bridge facilitates improved patient outcomes by connecting knowledge about the most recent scientific advances with clinical needs. Through a more thorough understanding of the disease and drug therapy, a valid and reasonable scientific rationale is established for how and why the drug therapy benefits patients. Simply, instead of programs that communicate “my brand works,” ethical promotional education communicates the how and why the brand works.


Ethical promotional medical education emphasizes the clinical value behind the program. It means providing a clear understanding of complex scientific concepts to help providers understand the appropriate place for the brand in their clinical practice. When providers are better informed, they are then able to make clinical decisions that lead to better patient care.

This approach also gives value to participants, which in turn, gives marketing greater credibility. Therapeutic experts are more willing to conduct and participate in programming because they are serving as true educators, delivering the translation of highly complex scientific concepts into applicable clinical practice knowledge.

Developing an effective medical educational program that bridges promotion and science may not be rocket science, but it does require a different mindset. Here are the core principles.

One: Engage Providers Early.

Who is better suited to help develop clinical content than therapeutic experts who are on the front lines? Their insights and clinical experience provide great value and are of interest to their peers. Content collaboration that begins early also ends with a stronger relationship based on trust.

But to make sure that the brand isn’t lost in the process, weave the “brand story” early in the development phase and keep the target audience firmly defined. This focused approach helps tailor the content specific to the needs of providers while meeting the marketers’ promotional objectives.

Two: Apply Adult Learning Principles.

This approach heightens participants’ ability to absorb, retain, and apply the knowledge gained. Incorporation of these principles increases the likelihood that participants will be motivated to apply the knowledge in real clinical situations. Best of all, using these principles naturally allows for sharing clinical experiences.

The best program formats are those that encourage participants to:

  • Share their knowledge and experience in learning situations,
  • Participate to maximize retention, and
  • Present relevant information they can apply to their daily practice.

Three: Choose the Right Format.

Scientific or not, an educational program can fall flat if the wrong type of format is chosen to deliver the content. Here are four types to consider:

  • Didactic presentations are useful for large groups. The flow of information is, however, unidirectional and may not encourage discussions or the sharing of ideas. In this format, choose an animated presenter who can bring life to generally dry content.
  • Discussion-based formats are effective in small-group settings and allow for more dynamic interactions between speaker and participants. Not every speaker has the skills to facilitate a discussion-oriented program, though, so select facilitators who are skilled and comfortable in this type of setting.
  • Paired presentation formats usually pair a national thought leader with a local speaker. Typically, the national expert would provide the scientific story, and the local speaker would lead the discussion on how the content can be applied in a clinical setting. When bringing two individuals together, make sure that they present well as a team.
  • Panel discussions are more appropriate for large-group meetings. They are effective not only in delivering critical information but also in sharing varied opinions from multiple speakers.

Four: Include Case Studies.

Case studies can help bring the brand to life by demonstrating how a product may fit into the clinical practice and the types of patients who might be appropriate candidates for treatment. When selecting case studies, try to incorporate different patient types, which can help providers better understand the brand’s utilization. Turn to presenters, who are usually the brand’s therapeutic experts, to help pinpoint the types of case studies to include.

Five: Facilitate Professional Exchange.

It’s no longer that easy for providers to travel to a live program. Time, cost, patient load, and overwhelming administrative tasks can keep them away from attending, no matter how valuable the program.

That said, peer-to-peer interaction can be a powerful motivator. Many providers favor live group discussions and one-on-one dialogues. In fact, according to independent research, one minute of peer-to-peer time is equal to 60 minutes of time with a sales representative. Some marketers may turn to digital media and the Internet to conduct their promotional medical education. Remember, though, these high-tech forms of delivery can’t replace the higher level of interaction and engagement that live programs offer.

So how should we bring providers together? Consider using satellite or web-based broadcast technology. These technologies allow participants to interact, ask questions and share knowledge in real time. They reap near similar benefits as those attending the live events and are more easily accessible. Web-based broadcasts can be accessed right from the office or home.


The industry can demonstrate its leadership through the development of promotional medical education content that has improved scientific rigor and benefits to participants. By applying approaches such as the Science Bridge to programs, savvy marketers convey that their goal is the same as the providers: to improve patient care. Marketers can accomplish this shared goal by developing content based in science with a compelling brand story. The principles required are thoughtful and strategic, logical and executable. The end result includes increased trust, greater brand knowledge, and healthier patients.

  • David Rear, RPh, is President at Advanced Clinical Concepts, a medical communications company that delivers scientific content to facilitate better clinical decisions and advance patient care.


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