How Time-starved Physicians Prefer to Get Information

Doctors of all specialties are voracious information gatherers in their quest to “keep up” and better serve their patient populations. With so many media choices and content types, publishers and pharmaceutical marketers alike must be experts in understanding MD preferences in order to provide the information they want in the channel(s) and formats they prefer.

Frontline Medical Communications engaged with roughly 1,700 physicians in 16 specialties to find out more about their practice-related multi-media information consumption patterns, as well as future trends. We uncovered some big-picture takeaways—some of them a bit of a surprise—as well as considerable details at various levels: Specialty, age, channel/media source, and content type.

The Big Picture

  • Cardiologists are in a class by themselves in terms of multichannel utilization and willingness to try new modalities.
  • Hem-Oncs and neurologists (and, to a lesser degree, internal medicine specialists) are of a similar ilk, but are not quite as progressive as cardiologists. IMs are more like cardiologists than family practice docs in their content consumption patterns.
  • Emergency medicine physicians and general surgeons are outliers—with dermatologists close behind. All are less conventional and eager to try new media.
  • FM and pediatric MDs (primary care) seem overwhelmed (too much to know?)—and often do not have enough time for print or alternative media.
  • OB/GYNs appeared in the “use least” category of many channels/content types.
  • Rheumatologists are among the least digitally focused—although it is a mixed bag. They are leaders in accessing information via eNewsletters.

The Details of Multichannel Engagement

At 208 minutes a day, Electronic Health Records/Electronic Medical Documents are far and away the most “engaged with” information/media source—with older physicians spending an average of 40 minutes longer then their younger counterparts. Organic search engines (42 minutes a day), medical websites (34 minutes), and indexing sites such as PubMed (31 minutes) round out the top three. Print publications/journals and newsletters are close behind at 25 and 21 minutes, respectively.

The survey inquired about 14 distinct media sources that physicians tend to use; here is snapshot of just a few key sources:

Approximately 89% of physicians engage with print publications and journals in some way as part of a multichannel strategy to obtain information. Cardiologists (42 minutes a day!), hematologists-oncologists, neurologists, and IM docs engage with print the most, while general surgeons (17 minutes a day), emergency medicine docs, OB/GYNs, and pediatric physicians engage the least. On average, while cardiologists, psychologists, and hematologists-oncologists are much more likely to increase than decrease print usage in the next 12 to 24 months, infectious disease docs, endocrinologists, and general and orthopedic surgeons are most likely to go in the opposite direction.

Print in the Digital Era

When asked about print viability in the digital era, 40% of physicians said they prefer using print and digital as part of a multichannel strategy to procure information. Thirty-four percent said print was necessary for “lean back” reading outside of the office and 26% said that, in the future, they will have no time for print given time demands and a preference for digital sources.

Digitally speaking, virtually all physicians visit medical websites during the course of their day, with hemotologists-oncologists, (42 minutes), IM doctors, cardiologists and neurologists engaged the most. General surgeons (25 minutes), psychologists, dermatologists, and infectious disease docs use medical websites the least. Regarding medical eNewsletters, fans tend to be older physicians in general and cardiologists, gastroenterologists, neurologists, pediatricians, and rheumatologists specifically. More than 25% of EM docs, pediatricians, and orthopedic/general surgeons do not engage with eNewsletters at all. And that’s not a typo as it relates to pediatricians!

Podcasts are gaining steam, although close to 40% of all MDs do not engage at all. Cardiologists and EM physicians are the biggest users, followed by IM docs and psychologists. About half of all physicians use some form of social media professionally—appreciably less than the top media sources as per above. In the case of Twitter, for example, dermatologists, neurologists, and cardiologists lead the charge with this type of engagement, although they use it only sporadically.

Future Trends

In looking at future use of all 14 media sources, we asked physicians if they plan to increase use (10-, 20-, or more than 30%), decrease use (10-, 20-, or more than 30%), or “remain the same” in the next 12 to 24 months. Many docs told us that they plan to remain the same on many counts—from a low of 56% for medical websites and print publications/journals to 70% for podcasts and more than 80% for videos. The largest “expected” increase in use was in online search, medical websites, and mobile apps, while the smallest increase was in medical supplements and social media.

While younger doctors (under 45 years of age) generally plan to increase use of online indexing searches (e.g., PubMed or UpToDate), medical websites, podcasts, and “commentary” videos the most, older physicians plan to increase use of organic search (Google), medical eNewsletters, and MD-only social networks such as SERMO. Every specialty plans to increase usage of medical websites. Cardiologists expect to increase use of podcasts, eNewsletters, and Twitter—a trifecta for an information-hungry specialty. Neurologists are not far behind in this rarified air, with hematologists-oncologists increasingly engaging with podcasts.

  • Jim McDonough

    Jim McDonough is VP, Marketing and Customer Advocacy at Frontline Medical Communications. At Frontline, Jim is the official spokesperson and advocate for the customer—both advertiser and HCP.


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