PM360 asked industry experts how to improve engagement with healthcare professionals based on the lessons learned during the pandemic as well as the best ways to identify key opinion leaders (KOLs). Specifically, we wanted to know:

  • What are the biggest lessons to emerge from the pandemic about how life sciences companies can improve their approach to HCP engagement? How have HCPs needs/wants from the industry changed? What areas of engagement/education are still lacking from an HCP perspective and require life sciences companies to do better?
  • What is the best process for identifying the right KOLs for your brand to work with? What kind of data or information is most important for making this determination? How is the rise of digital opinion leaders (DOLs) and more virtual speaker programs and similar events altering your approach?

Donal Cumiskey

The pandemic both accelerated change and reinforced HCP engagement preferences. Expert-led learning was and remains the most preferred method for HCPs to obtain treatment information. Speaker bureau engagements continue to be the most impactful educational and promotional channels in organizations’ commercial toolkits. However, considerations for channel preferences have increased significantly.

For example, large variations in preferences for live versus virtual engagement are found across HCP specialties and demographics. We see a clear demand for elevated, tailored, and engaging content in addition to on-demand content in presentation, webinar, and podcast form. IQVIA’s analysis shows that HCPs are now seeking the same level of engagement in their professional lives as in their personal/consumer lives.

To meet the expectations of your audience, you need coordinated touch points within and across the channels that HCPs use. Delivery of information must be coordinated through digital, speaker bureau, rep detailing, and conferences, as well as sequenced with the optimized follow-up and measured impact. The ability to move to this dynamic, orchestrated, and tailored approach will determine success or failure when engaging HCPs.

Natalie Yeadon

Moving from primarily in-person-based HCP engagement approaches to 100% virtual at the start of the pandemic has taught us several lessons. First, there is no (and never will be a) one-size-fits-all approach to HCP engagement. Instead, pharma teams are learning to be flexible, agile, and responsive to their customers’ needs and preferences. In practice, this might mean that HCPs are engaged using a variety of asynchronous (over-time, anytime) tools throughout the year, along with synchronous (real-time) meetings, either in web or hybrid form. The days of having in-person meetings with no option to attend virtually are over. Sure, for some meetings everyone will be physically present, but HCPs now expect to have that choice.

Second, the vast majority, if not all, HCPs are now veteran web meeting attendees. Compared to 2019, their expectations are much higher. That’s not to say they want “flashier” web meeting platforms; it could be as simple as having a well-designed agenda, engaging speakers and moderators, and behind-the-scenes strategic and technical support to ensure a seamless meeting. For asynchronous activities, HCPs appreciate interactive platforms that let them collaborate and share best practices with their peers, using tools beyond just surveys and discussion forums.

Erica Rivera

When the pandemic drove pharma to replace in-person rep visits with increased digital assets and virtual contact, HCP engagement focused sharply on how information was delivered. But today, we need to focus more on what information is exchanged.

Content personalization is the key to HCP engagement success in this new era. It’s vital to appreciate that HCPs consume material uniquely, make clinical decisions in varied ways and within different timeframes, and communicate differently than pre-pandemic. Winning teams will develop a cohesive brand story that’s relevant to the singular HCP at hand by understanding his or her brand knowledge and needs. Farewell to one-size-fits-all email blasts and materials that can only be hand-delivered by a rep. Sales and brand teams must build holistic experiences that allow HCPs to move through their individual brand journeys in a way that fits their particular needs, preferences, and timing, regardless of how they’re exchanging information.

The good news is that this is entirely doable. The data exists and the tech exists. The open question is if the mindset for marketing to HCPs can make the shift. Welcome to the HCP-First era.

Read Roberts

When identifying KOLs, it’s important to take an objective look at how experts in the field are actually involved in the industry rather than just taking internal suggestions. Three important factors to look at are: leadership positions, relationships with other pharmaceutical companies, and social media impact. Social media impact provides a great read on influence—even if the thought leader isn’t active in online forums, impactful KOLs are highly discussed on public channels. Looking at discussions across the major platforms and attributing them directly to the experts gives a real-time look at whose work is being talked about the most. Best of all, the metrics are completely objective, making it easier to compare experts in the same field.

When it comes to DOLs, you can dive deeper into social media metrics. Unlike traditional KOLs, this new breed of experts actively maintains accounts across digital platforms. Three main factors to consider when determining their level of impact: reach, relevance, and impact. An expert who scores highly across these three areas, relative to a specific therapeutic area, would definitely be considered an important DOL to watch (and connect with!).

Jeff Vaughan

The methodologies for identifying KOLs have evolved to an examination of not only publications, scientific conferences, clinical trials, and possible payer data to include social media, individual practice and hospital websites, blogs, and patient reviews as key metrics. To remain relevant today, KOLs are undeniably adopting a digital presence. As a result, pharma has a richer, constantly evolving, quantifiable data set to help understand the full market—how people are interacting, how the message is being shaped within the market, and who makes up the top tier influencers.

By leveraging the power within AI, we now have the ability to tap this richer data set to uncover the requisite KOLs, many not previously identified, but who are actually critically important today as digital opinion leaders. AI has the ability to cull through these large data sets to build digitally inclusive, comprehensive influencer lists based on specific criteria, saving MSLs countless hours of manual list scrubbing. This up-to-date technology can also constantly re-rank lists based on pre-set criteria. As a result, we can see who is relevant, and who is changing at any given moment giving MSLs the ability to position themselves at the right place and right time.

Jackson Rist

Nearly every pharma brand is enticed by the prospect of DOL partnerships in 2022, chasing a viral, culture-defining campaign. The question then isn’t should social media be a part of this plan, but how will social media be a part of this plan?

Social media innovation must be at the forefront of how brands partner with DOLs, as much more can (and should) be done beyond a traditional in-feed content to make an impact. If you’re already spending time, energy, and funds on tapping into a DOL’s expertise, it only makes sense to get the most out of this partnership by tapping into engaging and community-focused aspects of social media. Recommendations should incorporate experiences in addition to content—activate your community through real-time events, whether that be video, audio, or another format.

Approaches to DOL partnerships should also move away from viewing these voices as “influencers” and towards viewing them more as “creators.” They possess more than expertise on a certain clinical area—they understand how to make waves in today’s oversaturated digital landscape. Though pharma brands need to ensure compliance with any third-party partnership, their vision should be trusted and enabled, rather than diluted through regulatory red tape.