Physician-only Search and Social Platforms Open the Door for Marketers

Over the past five years, the pharmaceutical industry has cut its sales force by 30%1 while marketing budgets continue to dwindle. Simultaneously, pharmaceutical sales reps are facing greater challenges accessing physicians as more practices are acquired by hospitals and health systems with restrictive policies that ban sales visits. According to Kantar Media, 46% of U.S. physicians currently restrict access to pharmaceutical sales representatives.2 As physician payment incentives are shifted by health reform and reduced pharmaceutical sales forces are tasked with greater demands in an increasingly regulated landscape, a growing urgency exists for pharmaceutical marketers to reassess how they reach physicians with promotional messages and redefine strategies to rebuild critical relationships.

Physicians are also changing their preferences within sales and marketing channels. In the past, searching for clinical information and staying abreast of medical trends was restricted to print journals and other offline resources. When seeking a peer opinion, physicians were limited to those they could access by walking down the practice hallway or picking up the phone. Manhattan Research’s 2012 Taking the Pulse study reported that physicians spend an average of 11 hours per week online for professional purposes.3

Mobile technology also enables healthcare professionals (HCPs) to access clinical content at the point of care. On average, 14.7 clinical questions arise each week during patient encounters prompting a physician to seek medical information.4 In turn, 71% of doctors access the Internet during a patient consult and 96% in their office environment (before, after and during the patient consult) to research a specific patient condition.5

Pharma marketers need to reassess and reallocate their marketing mix to tap into this digital channel preference to grow brand awareness, drive online visitation and increase sales without in-person visits. In other words, if regulations and restrictions do not allow for a presence in the brick and mortar hallway, marketers must leverage the digital channels that influence physician behavior online.

Understanding Physician Behavior Online

As pharmaceutical companies transition their marketing efforts toward digital channels, it is important to understand the factors that drive physicians online, as well as their search and networking behaviors, in order to develop a cost-effective strategy for outreach. Over the past six months, 97% of primary care physicians visited at least one HCP content site.6 These websites save physicians valuable time that can be spent on patient care by eliminating the need to filter through Google search results in an effort to find information they can trust.

Physicians are also showing increased demand for HCP-only social networks to connect, share experiences, find referrals and seek answers to clinical questions. HCP social websites are reaching 50% of physicians online and show the largest growth visitation of health websites in the past year,7 proving physicians’ online behavior is rapidly evolving. A large share of visits to these social sites is from high-prescribing physicians, offering an opportunity for pharmaceutical marketers to reach their top target audience at a time when they are making clinical prescribing decisions.

Although physicians are encouraged and repeatedly reminded to proceed with caution when it comes to participating on mainstream social networks, physician-only social networks offer a safe place to network with other validated healthcare professionals. Having the confidence that they are interacting only with peers, physicians can build networks, seek clinical opinions, discuss medical news and find referrals quickly and safely.

Reaching Target Physicians at the Point of Care

Physicians are continuously looking for opportunities to improve their workflow. This will include seeking platforms that combine the two activities they are most actively engaging in online—clinical search and secure social networking. Platforms that integrate peer collaboration with clinical search present an opportunity for pharmaceutical marketers to reach physicians when they are making diagnosis and treatment decisions at the point of care.

At a time when marketing budgets are scrutinized and shrinking, it’s crucial to make the most of each dollar by reaching your relevant audience(s). Clinical search and social platforms allow pharmaceutical marketers to send targeted and relevant information to physicians by monitoring their online behavior with more precision than ever before. Profile data allows marketers to target by specialty, subspecialty, formulary data and even NPI (National Provider Identifier), ensuring that a promotional message is relevant to a physician’s individual clinical needs. The effectiveness of marketing efforts can also be measured using these analytics to determine a true return on investment—a measurement difficult to accomplish through most other media channels, which is light years ahead of ad recall studies.

EHRs and Social Integration

It’s no secret that many physicians are dissatisfied with the cumbersome operations of electronic health records (EHRs). However, federal incentives related to Meaningful Use (MU) and recognition of EHR advantages have resulted in a significant growth in physician adoption. Per the 2013 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, 78% of physicians have implemented an EHR system.8 As EHRs mature, clinical content and physician-exclusive social networking platforms will—and some already do—offer the ability to integrate with EHR systems. This makes it possible for HCPs to access the convenience of a professional search tool and social community within their daily workflow, thus allowing more time with patients and less time searching for clinical answers.

Driving Conversion with Compelling Content

A multi-channel digital strategy offers the opportunity for pharmaceutical brands to increase conversion by driving physicians to a variety of destinations where pharmaceutical marketers can provide digital content and tools. Pharmaceutical brands can evolve their role by creating credible resources to help physicians make informed decisions that can improve patient care and deliver value beyond the pill. On January 13 of this year, the FDA finally released its draft Guidance for Industry: Fulfilling Regulatory Requirements for Postmarketing Submissions of Interactive Promotional Media for Prescription Human and Animal Drugs and Biologics. This document provides much needed direction for healthcare marketers on their digital efforts, particularly in social media.

To ensure conversion and keep physicians engaged, website content must accommodate the needs of the target audience. Personalized content can include electronic sampling, video detailing, disease-specific information and patient education information.

Consider the shift in physicians’ preferences for accessing information and connecting with peers online as an opportunity to overcome budget and healthcare challenges to reach physicians. By leveraging insights provided by search and social platforms, pharmaceutical companies can customize and target their outreach and connect with HCPs on channels they are using to maximize revenue and improve patient outcome.


1. Staton, Tracy. “Big Pharma Overhauls Its Marketing Methods.” FiercePharma, January, 10, 2012.

2. Kantar Media: Non-Journal Media Study December 2013.

3. Manhattan Research: Taking the Pulse Study, July, 2012.

4. CE Outcomes, LLC. 2013.

5. Kantar Media: Sources and Interactions Medical Surgical Edition March 2013.

6 Kantar Media: Website Visitation and Qualitative Evaluation Study Medical Surgical Edition December 2013.

7. “New Study on Physician Online Behaviors Shows Health Care Professional Sites Reach 4 out of 5 Physicians, While Electronic Medical Records Show Highest Engagement,” ComScore, December 3, 2012.

8. Modern Healthcare: 2013 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, January 20, 2014,


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