Reaching, engaging, and educating physicians is often a pharma marketer’s main task. After all, physicians are the ones who make the decisions on which brands to prescribe—or at least they used to be. As more physicians become part of larger networks, accountable care organizations (ACOs), or integrated delivery networks (IDNs), they are starting to lose some of their prescribing power. For instance, ZS’ 2018 Provider Organization Partnership Tracker survey found that three out of four IDNs actively incorporate physician pharmaceutical utilization into reports and scorecards which are then used to influence a physician’s prescribing decisions. In fact, about one-third of the IDNs that used scorecards linked the results directly to physicians’ compensation.

“With the growth of ACOs and IDNs, pharma must broaden who they target,” says Aaron Uydess, EVP, Analytics, Intouch Group. “A complete office call will no longer only include a prescribing physician but expand to the nurse practitioner, physician assistant, office manager, IT for EHR info, and of course the C-suite staff. This complete office call covers decision makers at all levels. Reps will need to know how to sell the science of a product, how pharma services HCPs and patients, along with the business rationale of those decisions for full buy-in across all office stakeholder groups for impact.”

While not all physicians are operating as a part of a larger group, there is something many physicians are unfortunately feeling no matter where they work—burned out. According to Medscape’s National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report 2019, 44% of the more than 15,000 physicians surveyed felt burned out, which was defined as “long-term, unresolvable job stress that leads to exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed, cynical, detached from the job, and lacking a sense of personal accomplishment.” In terms of what has contributed to this feeling, among the most common responses were: 59% citing “too many bureaucratic tasks (e.g., charting, paperwork),” 34% saying “spending too many hours at work,” 32% blaming “increasing computerization of practice (EHRs),” and 30% saying “lack of respect from administrators/employers, colleagues, or staff.”

Alleviating Physician Burn Out

“Even though the administrative burden on physicians and practices continue to rise, educational needs are higher than ever with the proliferation of treatment options across disease states,” says Claude Bergeron, Vice President, Provider Education & Engagement, McKesson Life Sciences. “Biopharmaceutical and life sciences companies must demonstrate empathy in the form of knowledge and respect. Physicians perceive that pharmaceutical representatives are knowledgeable when it comes to their drug and the disease state, but much less so when it comes to understanding the physician’s world, including practice dynamics and challenges as well as broad industry trends.”

One way to address that, Bergeron recommends, is by engaging physicians when they have “blocked” time for education, such as at educational conferences instead of during their work hours. Bergeron also believes that with current and future changes in healthcare, Advanced Practice Providers (APPs) are becoming increasingly important in patient care. Yet, content is rarely tailored to them, and they are not typically the primary audience for educational programs—something Bergeron says pharma should change.

Meanwhile, Angelo Campano, Vice President, Point of Care Practice, Ogilvy Health says that even though physicians claim that EHRs are adding to their burden, pharma marketers need to help them see the value in EHRs. And that means utilizing EHRs for more than just one-way communication channels like display advertisements.

“Marketers need to look towards EHRs as an avenue to start a conversation that deeply engages the physician, while at the same time supplying the patient with the most appropriate information,” Campano explains. “This truly can help improve product loyalty, increase satisfaction, and make the brand matter to both the physician and the patient.”

To achieve this, Campano suggests using EHR conversational marketing, an emerging advertising channel that employs the highly personalized tool to deliver one-on-one conversations. Physicians can learn about and remember client interests through the highly automated EHR technology. The result—better targeted messaging that drives higher response and conversion rates during the time a prescribing decision is made.

Embracing New Technology

Engaging physicians in the EHR is not the only way to target physicians with more personalized messages. Using the power of artificial intelligence and predictive analytics can help to improve the effectiveness of sales teams by helping simplify information, automate manual processes, and identify key insights about particular products and the physicians who use them.

“Machine learning can sort customers into very specific segments which in turn can provide sales reps with warmer opportunities to tailor their interactions with physicians and make them more personable,” says Lisa Wolfington, Director, Hospital and Health System Marketing, Benchworks. “This can help sales reps connect with physicians on a deeper level, close deals faster, and make more of them—improving overall engagement with HCPs in the process. And in cases where there is historical data about physician preferences, promotional materials can be recommended ahead of time for sales reps based on previous interests mentioned by the physician. This saves valuable time and better prepares sales reps for their meetings with HCPs.”

Additionally, immersive media like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are delivering meaningful and measurable value to the sales representative channel, extending HCP engagement opportunities and improving education.

“VR and AR experiences help brands optimize storytelling and empower HCPs to engage with content in unparalleled interactive immersive environments, improving learning, evoking empathy, accelerating decision-making, and increasing retention of core content,” says Mike Marett, Founder & CEO, Confideo. “The content applications are limitless, but to name a few: MOA, MOD, data visualization, patient cases, KOL vignettes, facility tours, tutorials, training, first person POVs, etc.”

The digital age also offers pharma opportunities to reach physicians who are hard to see without sacrificing the sincerity and high-value relationship building that in-person meetings have historically delivered.

“More and more physicians are using apps to connect with their patients, particularly as a new wave of younger physicians become licensed in the digital age,” says Nariman Nasser, Vice President, Site Engagement, Continuum Clinical. “This opens up a lot of exciting possibilities for connectedness, particularly for physicians at research study sites who have clinical trial protocols to follow closely. To that end, the use of text messages and video chat technology will be key to having meaningful interactions in the future, and also to replace the old model of ‘popping in’ to the physician’s office hoping to get some impromptu face time.”

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