John Theobald could be said to be a maverick. Starting with his first entrepreneurial venture in 1994, everything he has touched has been successful. So too is the company he began in 2001, Healthcasts, a digital video channel specializing in the healthcare/pharmaceutical space. Theobald’s devotion to bringing educational programs to physicians—where they are and giving them what they want—has, from the first year, brought double-digit growth to the company. In this interview, John shares the secrets to his success—and offers advice to others entering this field. Although fraught with challenges, he says, this field is wide-open to those who can deliver the goods.
PM360: You have a very diverse and successful background as an entrepreneur. My first question is: What drew you to the pharmaceutical/healthcare space initially and to physician education specifically?
John: Like many of us in this industry, I was pre-med in college and graduated with a BS in the sciences. I deferred entry to medical school to explore the field before embarking on the long journey into medicine. During that time I started my first company, an Internet service provider (ISP), along with my brother and three partners. To drum up business, I called on many of my pre-med friends from college who had gone into medical education. This is how I was exposed to the pharmaceutical/healthcare industry.
We subsequently built some of the first high-profile pharmaceutical “brand.com” websites and began to gain a valuable reputation within the pharmaceutical/healthcare industry. As Internet streaming technology matured, I recognized the potential for streaming medical educational seminars via the Internet and TV, which led me to start Healthcasts.
Up to that point most educational seminars were at physical locations and done locally. Each seminar might bring in a dozen or two physicians and had to be replicated across the nation over a period of months to garner any significant reach and at an enormous cost. With Healthcasts, we were able to broadcast the education nationally, provide tens of thousands of physician participants in a single evening, and at a fraction of the cost. We were soon broadcasting hundreds of seminars each year and doing business with most major pharmaceutical companies in the world. As we have grown and the needs of our audience have changed, our offerings are now on-demand—this better suits the needs of our members.
What do you think accounts for your double-digit growth over the past decade in terms of what your audiences are looking for in digital videos?
Although we were one of the first companies to take advantage of technology to broadcast and stream education to physicians, we recognized early on that the technology would constantly evolve and we therefore focused strongly on our relationship with our physician-members. We developed deep profiling data on our members, which now spans over a decade, and includes such things as viewing habits, feedback on programs, conference attendance, patient population and prescribing patterns. This data allows us to customize educational content to each physician while providing our clients unprecedented data/analytics and targeting.
How do you produce content that engages these audiences? I understand some of it is independent content, while you also collaborate with partners on content. Can you tell us a little bit about how and why you do that and how it makes a difference in the lives of your audience?
Aside from producing great content, some of which comes from world-renowned university medical centers, we strive to have a high degree of contextual relevance for all our content that matches our physicians’ profiles. Too often the industry will produce one-off pieces of educational or promotional programs without any contextual relevance or history with the physician. Physicians often view these stand-alone programs as little more than an infomercial.
Moreover, as a part of serving physicians with the most clinically relevant and customized content, it is imperative to collaborate with leading institutions/partners that are committed to content in the specialty areas that best serves the educational needs of the physician audience at hand.
In my opinion, this is why the industry has historically created a quid-pro-quo expectation among physicians where they must provide a dinner or other perk to get the physician to participate. We have found that by creating a continuous content stream throughout the year, around educational themes that are highly relevant to our members’ daily lives, practice patterns and patient populations, we can achieve a much higher degree of engagement and therefore influence. Given that physician-members are engaged in communicating their educational needs to us, we are creating content to fill those needs. Our physicians are guiding their content, not editors.
With a constant need for updated and new educational materials, do you believe this is a wide-open field? What type of advice would you offer someone looking to create physician education videos?
In certain therapeutic areas, like oncology, the data is breaking so fast that physicians are having a hard time keeping up. So to that extent, yes, I think the field is wide-open. However, the challenges are greater than ever too. There are trends among physician participation, as well as differences within specialties, that are important to factor in when creating educational videos or content in general.
As one obvious example, a primary care physician is more of a gatekeeper seeing a broad-spectrum of ailments so their educational needs tend to be broader but less in depth. On the other hand, a specialist tends to want education that is more focused and goes much deeper into the science. This affects a whole host of aspects of the video/content, such as length of run-time, KOL selection, access to studies, etc. Thus, delivering meaningful content that addresses the needs of the physician audience is the single most important factor in creating success and loyalty amongst such a diverse audience.
In order to meet varied and ever-changing educational needs, we expanded our offerings to include more than video. Physicians can engage in a wide range of materials, which gives them a more complete educational experience. Lastly, in an industry that’s known for being very traditional in the way it educates physicians, video education serves as a medium that’s more aligned with the world that physicians operate in today—one that’s digital and short on time. My advice to others is to educate your audience in a medium, whether that be in print, or video that best suits the platform it’s intended to be viewed on.
How do you think your company—and the digital video physician education market—will evolve over the next few years?
For Healthcasts, there will be a continued focus on data, analytics, technology, managed care and patient outcomes. Aspects of this will no doubt mirror the broader physician education market as healthcare reform forces more evidence-based approaches to treatment.
For physicians, this likely means the educational demands will grow stronger as they will be expected to learn more than just the science behind new medicines and treatments. Physicians will be expected to collaborate and coordinate treatment more