How can marketers effectively reach physicians online? It’s important to first understand their day-to-day reality. Pressure to see as many patients as possible, endless clicking through electronic documentation, a few minutes here or there to review new clinical research, balancing life at work and at home…their to-do lists are long and complex.

We all know that healthcare professionals (HCPs) are overloaded with too much to do and too little time to do it. Marketers must find ways to deliver content effectively on channels that these providers are already using to interact with peers digitally, review new medical information, and do research in their specialty. Application must be made simple and intuitive for easy transition into the daily clinical practice of HCPs.

A 2016 study showed that many physicians spent hours each day at their practice facing the computer, then went home each night to spend an additional one to two hours working to keep up. Moreover, 84% of physicians in a 2019 Univadis survey reported that the sheer volume of new clinical information and the breadth of sources available make it difficult to prioritize research that may affect their practice. In some specialties, physicians would need to read for at least 20 hours per day to stay on top of every new relevant study. The barriers affecting communication with this audience are daunting.

As we all become more accustomed to constant connection, HCPs are increasingly turning to digital information sources. This is due in large part to ease of access and the convenience of always available, on-demand digital content. This is even more pronounced in our new era of social distancing, and this accelerated shift to digital content consumption will likely persist long after the current crisis ends.

Additionally, physicians now actively seek information themselves more than ever. A 2019 survey by Decision Resources Group revealed that 49% of HCPs feel that they can always find an answer online to a drug, treatment, or other question they would have posed to a sales rep in years past. Furthermore, physicians overwhelmingly want healthcare marketers to provide educational resources rooted in science, not promotional content. McKinsey research reveals that two-thirds of HCPs feel as if they are bombarded with basic digital content from biopharma, rather than more personalized, tailored, and user-friendly information. The onus is on marketers to provide the educational content providers are actively seeking in order to build trust and impact clinical practice.

Where Are Physicians Going Online and What Are They Doing?

Healthcare marketers must deliver content on channels that physicians are already using to enable understanding, retention, and easy translation into daily practice. According to Kantar Media Healthcare Research, three-quarters of U.S.-based physicians that go online do so for professional purposes at least twice a day. They average about two hours each week reviewing medical content online in articles, news, videos, drug data, and other sources.

So what are those channels that physicians are using most? Let’s dive further into the Kantar data.

In the past six months, more than half of physicians across a range of specialties reported visiting broad medical sites such as UpToDate and Medscape. Clinical resources such as PubMed, Epocrates Online, Google Scholar, and the Mayo Clinic ranked highly as well. Medical journals are important, in demand sources of new medical information for physicians, so it’s no surprise that sites such as the Journal of the American Medical Association and The New England Journal of Medicine also attract significant physician traffic.

This covers multiple specialties, and geography plays a key role, so it is important that marketers segment data specific to their audience. Orthopedists, for example, prioritize resources from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons for specialty information and VuMedi for instructional videos, whereas the top sites that gastroenterologists visit are broad resources and the American College of Gastroenterology. Tools like TrendMD, a content suggestion engine operating within medical journal websites, allow healthcare marketers to promote sponsored content to specialists on these educational sites.

Looking beyond just the sites accessed, another important question is: How do physicians conduct research online? When researching clinical topics, HCPs start with a general search engine about half of the time, slightly more than those who begin searching on a professional publication, website, or portal. If the marketer’s goal is education around a clinical topic, professional portals are an indispensable channel.

However, medical product or service research is heavily slanted toward general search. Seven of 10 physicians start with a search engine, making investments in search engine optimization around specific products essential for healthcare marketers. In either case, paid search ads with precise keyword strategies can be highly effective to reach these HCPs in the research process and guide them toward the marketer’s content.

Physicians, Peer Interactions, and Education Platforms

Social media has become increasingly important in physician outreach, particularly because it is an important avenue for peer-to-peer interaction and education. Physicians research diseases and new treatments through journals and publications, according to McKinsey, but a surprising 61% of those using social media feel that it is either equally or more effective for finding answers to specific case-related inquiries. In Kantar data, the most frequently accessed social channel was YouTube, drawing two-thirds of physicians. Of those physicians, just under half access it for a combination of professional and personal use, including reviewing medical information, educational videos, and other content. High-quality video content is vital to reach physicians, as three-quarters report using instructional videos.

Additionally, just over half of providers have used Facebook recently, and one-third have used LinkedIn. This Kantar data reveals that over half report accessing LinkedIn for professional use only, whereas Facebook skews much more towards personal use alone. With significantly more professional use, LinkedIn is a more effective open social platform for professional engagement and education than Facebook.

Use of professional social media networks has expanded rapidly in recent years, with two-thirds of physicians reporting use in recent months, according to Kantar. Closed platforms, like the most popular channels Doximity and SERMO, allow for both branded and disease-state education outreach through content posts, case studies, and videos. Doximity offers a network of more than one million medical professionals, including more than 70% of all U.S.-based physicians. The platform has various offerings for sponsored content to appear in their users’ news feed. SERMO, on the other hand, functions like a virtual doctors’ lounge that facilitates medical collaboration and crowdsourcing, with much of the content focused on patient cases and questions. Membership includes more than 800,000 verified doctors in more than 150 countries. Skipta is another professional network that offers engagement opportunities to subsets of physicians.

All of these professional social platforms provide opportunities for life sciences marketers to deliver clinical content that is timely, relevant to, and easily digestible by busy providers. Sharing videos by physician opinion leaders, for example, can simulate peer-to-peer learning. Patient-oriented videos highlighting disease-specific information and patient cases can be easily incorporated directly into patient visits.

A range of other, less well-known professional portals and networks can be leveraged in outreach campaigns. Figure 1 is a company with a newer platform that focuses on clinical cases and disease-state education. It allows marketers to engage and educate HCPs through quizzes, cases, and posts, while measuring engagement through polling. It is also more visual, like an Instagram for physicians. Quizzes or games work well if the marketer’s goal is education and information retention. QxMD is a global platform with an app that allows physicians to find, read, and share research, and it offers opportunities for marketers to sponsor content such as article summaries so that it appears in user reading lists. ReachMD is an on-demand platform for HCPs that provides broadcast content in the form of audio podcasts and video features around topics such as medical news, clinical practice, continuing education, and meeting coverage.

Preferences and Data Should Guide Campaign Planning

It’s important that healthcare marketers understand their audience’s channel and format preferences to develop successful outreach campaigns. These inclinations vary considerably across specialties, so conducting research using internal, syndicated, and other data sources is a key step in building HCP engagement plans. Consider what the audience’s primary sources of information are, the types of content they engage with most, the needs in the market, and the frequency and reach of different media channels.

Clearly articulating the objective—driving awareness, educating, or seeking specific engagements—will also inform the right mix of tactics and professional portal, social media, journals, and other channels for the audience the marketer is trying to reach. Different types of content will simulate or foster peer-to-peer interaction, educate more effectively for longer-term retention, drive specific actions such as downloads or physician sign-ups, or create awareness. Retargeting campaigns, for instance, harness cookies to track the movement of a physician after visiting a site, providing a way to serve them with additional sponsored content on other sites. This allows the marketer to serve educational content elsewhere in a provider’s digital path to boost engagement and reinforce messaging.

At the end of the day, physicians seek education. The internet may feel like a vast and endless place, but detailed data on where physicians are going online is available to inform campaign planning. With the audience’s preferred channels in mind, content developed with education prioritized first will help marketers reach and engage HCPs more effectively.

Sources:

Kantar Media Healthcare Research, Univadis, Decision Resources Group, Texas Heart Institute Journal, McKinsey & Co.

  • Cassie Stox

    Cassie Stox is Senior Director, Media Strategy at MedThink Communications. Cassie has spent more than 15 years working with healthcare clients, including hospital systems, pharmaceutical companies, and healthcare IT clients. She has marketed drug product launches, disease-state education initiatives, hospital rebranding, hospital partnerships, and multiple service-line campaigns to healthcare professional, C-suite, and consumer audiences.

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