New Research Reveals Three Ways Pharma Can Better Prioritize Payer Audiences

The pandemic had a huge impact on the way population health decision-makers (PHDMs) navigate our industry, and now that it’s clear many of these shifts are here to stay, pharmaceutical manufacturers need to adjust accordingly. Results from Spherico’s annual PHDM survey point to an evolution in how payers want to communicate with pharmaceutical companies and what they want to talk about.

According to our survey respondents, payers are dealing with many of the same challenges in 2023 that they faced in recent years. Notably, a range of cost considerations and shifting organizational priorities seem to be top of mind, including:

  • Managing the cost of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments: The federal government is phasing out their funding of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments in 2023, which will ultimately shift much of that cost responsibility to payers to provide access to consumers. PHDMs are faced with the challenge of adjusting to this shift while also managing the downstream budget impact.
  • Covering high-cost therapeutics: The utilization of new, costly therapies entering the market continues to increase in 2023. In 2022, more than half of the 37 novel drug approvals by the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) were approved to treat rare or “orphan” diseases versus just seven approvals for biosimilars which are often priced at significant discounts comparative to widely used current therapies.1
  • Addressing the growing emphasis on health equity: This year, our survey respondents indicated an increasing priority placed on health equity in their organizations. While conversations are ongoing about how payers can create impact in this space, it’s clear this is a new area of opportunity for pharma to help shift transactional relationships to collaborative ones, working together to help address this public health need.

PHDMs know contracting alone won’t be enough to solve these challenges. The decision-makers we spoke to are looking to take a more hands-on, holistic approach to assessing product value—and they’re looking to pharmaceutical manufacturers to help them do it. That’s why an evolution of communications strategies is necessary.

Based on our findings, manufacturers should be looking to reassess and reshape their approach to communications with payers that will better meet their needs. More specifically, this means developing an expanded approach to non-personal communication with a more balanced focus on contracting and clinical insights.

Empowering “Tech-enabled” Account Managers

The new reality for PHDMs is that the workplace is now a digital-first world, and the ways we are best able to communicate must continue to evolve and adapt. Finding new ways to empower “tech-enabled” account managers is an important first step.

Our research shows that while face-to-face meetings are increasing in payer offices, they’re still nowhere near pre-pandemic levels—nor are they expected to return to that frequency any time soon, if ever. For most survey respondents, less than a quarter of their meetings take place in person at this point. This means that when account managers are able to have face-to-face conversations, they need to be able to make the most of them.

Equipping account managers with the tools and resources to engage in digital spaces will not only help manufacturers continue to nurture and build their relationships with PHDMs, but it also increases cost efficiency.

Reshaping Digital Content Strategy

Successfully adapting to these ongoing shifts toward non-personal communications will also require ongoing adjustments to your digital content strategy.

More than ever before, payers are finding themselves on manufacturers’ websites in search of information on everything from real-world evidence and health economics and outcomes research (HEOR) to patient assistance programs. Unfortunately, most of the content that exists on manufacturer websites currently is geared toward patients and HCPs.

One survey respondent said: “I feel like that’s kind of a big area for improvement… I would say information is highly variable among manufacturers in terms of population health data available, but more of that antiquated prescriber-focused website.” This presents an enormous opportunity to create a more tailored experience for the payer audience instead of letting them sift through pages of content that were not created for them.

Making your payer audience a priority in your digital content strategy also means you need to make this tailored information easy to find. According to our survey results, the latest trends in payers’ searching habits are:

  • Search engines are the first stop: More than any other channel (e.g., online journals, print journals), payers are seeking information using search engines.
  • Newsfeeds are a growing source of product news: Payers referenced more newsfeeds in 2022 than the previous year and they referenced them more often too.
  • LinkedIn is social media of choice: Payers don’t leverage social channels as often as other spaces, but when they do they go to LinkedIn.

Translating Data into Value

One of the most impactful aspects of a digital content strategy is how well you leverage data to tell your story.

Despite common perceptions, payers are interested in content and clinical evidence-based data for products that have a value story to tell—not just contracting. And our research shows payers want help understanding real-world evidence data and guideline changes to better assess the value of potential contracts for their patient populations.

As one medical director who participated in our survey put it: “Any data that a manufacturer wants to share with me that purports that there’s a cost or therapeutic benefit of their product versus alternate products is something I’m very interested in. We get so little comparative effectiveness data from pharma.”

Providing engaging content and resources that help translate these data into value for payers is especially important as they face the challenge of managing high-cost therapeutics.

Prioritizing Payer Audiences

The bottom line is that payers are an evolving, engaged audience—short-changing them by only building content geared towards patients and HCPs is a missed opportunity for pharma manufacturers. By creating effective digital and tech-enabled communications strategies to better reach their payer audiences, manufacturers can truly transform their relationships with payers in a collaborative, productive way.


1. “New Drug Therapy Approvals 2022.” FDA. Published online January 10, 2023. Accessed March 23, 2023.

  • Adrian Garcia

    Adrian Garcia is EVP, General Manager of Spherico, a division of GSW. Adrian has spent 20 years overcoming the challenges associated with the payer customer. As the general manager of Spherico, he leads a team focused on supporting both in-market and pre-launch brands. By strategically developing and implementing marketing plans tailored to population health decision makers, he helps brands “future-proof” their value to key stakeholders.


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