Healthcare practitioners continue to embrace social media while marketers remain on the fence, missing an opportunity for more open dialogue to enrich marketing efforts.

Sales representatives have always played an important role in engaging healthcare practitioners (HCPs) . . . and still do. New technology, however, is rapidly changing the way we communicate with our customers, and as an industry we have embraced new platforms in varying degrees to reach HCPs. But while we push out content with static forums such as websites, online videos, and emails, and offer some dialogue via video conferencing, we struggle with leveraging the techniques of social networking as part of our marketing plan.

The emerging social networks represent a tremendous opportunity to provide our HCP targets with a free-forum venue for dialogue with our industry, but we are still avoiding them. Concerns over liability and privacy, and the lack of a ruling on what in social media is subject to fair balance regulations from the FDA’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion, keep us on the fence. In the meantime, our customers forge ahead, tapping into social media to communicate their concerns and find answers to their questions.

RIDING THE TECHNOLOGY CURVE

It doesn’t surprise me that physicians’ have shown an affinity toward technology and that their adoption of smartphone and tablet devices has outstripped the general population. Depending on whom you read, usage numbers of smartphones were as high as 81% in late 2011.1 Tablets, particularly the iPad, show adoption numbers growing even more rapidly, almost doubling since 2011 to reach 62%, according to the May 2012 Taking the Pulse Report issued by Manhattan Research.

When we examine how physicians are utilizing these technologies—communicating with peers, researching updates on treatment modalities and disease, communicating with patients via secure email servers—we can see how these point-of-use technologies are becoming the go-to resources versus more traditional information and communication outlets. These technologies offer HCPs exactly what they need and want—more rapid access to the latest information and a viable way to address pressing concerns immediately with peers throughout the globe; social networking plays an important role for many in this communication chain.

Physicians’ usage of social media has continued to evolve since these forums began popping up in 2007. Sermo boasts 125,000 licensed physicians. QuantiaMD the same. Doximity claims to reach 200,000 HCPs in 87 specialties. These sites come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors. There are strictly professional sites and ones focused solely
on lifestyle pursuits. Others offer software solutions, like Doximity or Ozmosis, or a blog format, like KevinMD.

ENGAGING TODAY’S HEALTHCARE PRACTITIONERS

All in all, these are pretty staggering usage numbers and represent a tremendous opportunity for us to engage physicians. Smartphones and tablets are already becoming important tools in our communication arsenal. Apps are on the rise and will continue to enrich the physician experience. However, we continue to falter in tapping the potential of free-form discussion venues. Some companies have put a toe in the water with physician customer service portals. Others place advertisements on the physician community sites. What we may be missing as part of our marketing arsenal is a true engagement platform where we not only push out content but also pursue a dialogue in the real spirit of social networking. In so doing, we can address the immediate concerns of physicians and use that dialogue to enrich and/or drive our other outreach platforms, resulting in better relationships as well as the brand recognition and scripts we strive to attain.

REFERENCE:
1. Dolan, Pamela Lewis. “Smartphones blamed for increasing use of health care breaches.” Posted Dec. 19, 2011. (http://www.ama-assn.org/amed-news/2011/12/19/bil21219.html)

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