Millennial doctors challenge the strategy of the pharma industry

Roger Riera

7 November 2019

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What should pharmaceutical companies offer health professionals? Which channels should they use to connect with them? Is it possible to align marketing and sales communication in an omnichannel, customer-centric experience?

There are many questions that the pharmaceutical industry has to answer, but what’s clear is that the way this sector relates to HCPs (Healthcare Professionals) is changing. A common industry practice is that the company’s sales team is in charge of visiting the doctor to convey the latest product news. Now, the Digital Revolution is changing the rules of the game.

According to data from the Regional Health Services, 50% of all doctors in Spain are 50 years old or older. This ageing of the medical community, along with the age difference between doctors who are now starting their careers in the sector and those who have been in it for years, changes the communication channels for each of these sections. And the techniques that are still effective for interacting with the more senior doctors are not as effective when it comes to the new millennial doctors; a community that’s 100% digitized, mobile-first and fascinated by social networks. The level of digitization in this generation opens up a whole world of possibilities for the pharmaceutical industry.  

According to another study on the pharmaceutical industry in Japan by McKinsey, 85% of doctors in the country can already be contacted through different digital channels. And not only that, the study also states that once the doctor is digitally linked to the company, the medical visitor only contributes to a 10% increase in sales. In this sense, Japan is changing the medical paradigm, focusing on developing a strategy that’s increasingly focused on digital engagement with the HCP.

A strategy focused on three pillars

Pharmaceutical companies need to start engaging new doctors via three key axes around which the digital transformation of the pharmaceutical industry revolves: 

Capturing: Reaching the HCP through the generation of knowledge

Attracting HCPs is vital in order to be able to create a database of doctors and develop a strategy in the ‘pharmaceutical industry 2.0’. However, this data is so valuable for both the company and the doctors that users won’t give it up for nothing in return. For this reason, there must be interesting and relevant content to attract them. 

Novartis, for example,  understands the need to capture data from the millennial doctors. To this end, they have created the BRAIN4BRAINS event in which they offer the opportunity for young neurologists, who finished their residency less than 10 years ago, to participate in a conference to design and implement their most innovative projects in the field of neuroscience. To be able to participate in these conferences, doctors have to register for the event and answer a questionnaire. In this way, the pharmaceutical company is able to enlarge its database and get closer to the youngest neurologists via a digital platform.

Another interesting example is BIOGEN‘s NeuroExpert portal for doctors, where healthcare professionals can not only find information about the company’s products, but also find online courses and training to stay up to date with their field. 

Identifying the Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) in the sector is also relevant when it comes to analysing who is leading the conversations on a particular illness or disease and helps give greater visibility to the actions carried out by the pharmaceutical company. One example of this is the project we carried out for the pharmaceutical company Otsuka, in which we searched for and identified which digital KOLs were leading the conversation in the field of schizophrenia. 

Engagement: Generation of a linked digital community

Once the company has generated this database, the next step is interacting with the doctors through private areas where you can find updated information on illnesses, drugs, sectors, amongst other things. More and more companies in the industry are creating spaces specifically developed for doctors, but the majority of these only serve as a repository of documentation prepared by the company and often do not dedicate sufficient resources to nourish these spaces with content relevant to the doctor. Millennials are a curious generation that loves to share. That’s why creating forums in these spaces for doctors to share their advances or cases can be so relevant to this community. Doctoralia, the website for searching for specialists and requesting appointments online, is an example of a community in which doctors, healthcare personnel and patients coexist on the same platform in which they share information about illnesses, treatments or drugs.  This example reflects how it’s possible to create a space that’s relevant for all audiences, and companies in the pharmaceutical industry could use this as a reference. 

In addition, offering online training to the HCPs (like in the case of BIOGEN) can also have a good acceptance rate amongst this generation which seeks to be digitally up-to-date.

For the pharmaceutical company Almirall, we have carried out different analyses of the topics and conversations surrounding different illnesses in order to analyse which are the most relevant topics. The more a pharmaceutical company knows its audience, the more segmented and relevant the content will be for the audience.

Conversion/Loyalty: Offering services beyond pharmaceuticals to build doctor loyalty

A survey carried out by EPG Health Media shows that 90% of the doctors interviewed seek, at least once a month, information on new diagnostic tools. The pharmaceutical industry is no longer just a business focused on the sale of drugs, but also has to adapt to the demand of its customers, providing them with the tools they need for their practice. More and more companies in the sector are investing in platforms such as VisualDX, developed in collaboration with the pharmaceutical laboratory Leo Pharma. This tool combines an endless number of images of different illnesses and allows HCPs to make a more precise diagnosis, as they can access different images and clinical results to compare different diagnoses and find the one that most closely resembles the patient’s problem.

A new generation implies a change in strategy

The objective of the pharmaceutical sector until now has been to focus its attention on the doctor, and thus create new experiences that respond to their needs and demands, providing them with information, tools and solutions that help to provide a differential, excellent service.

New doctors no longer demand the same. On the one hand, the contact points with the millennial HCP have changed and in the future this will affect the role played by the medical visitor in an increasingly changing environment. On the other hand, pharmaceutical companies will have to adapt to the demands of these new doctors and meet their needs. Beyond offering new drugs to combat different illnesses, the industry will have to develop services and tools that help doctors in their daily tasks and improve their processes.

The race to get closer to these new doctors has already begun and the company that understands which new tools and services physicians demand still has the ability to gain a competitive advantage. Who will lead this space within the pharmaceutical industry?