With the release of COVID-19 vaccines, there seems to be a promising future with movement toward a “hybrid” normal. Although we might like to see all activities pick up from where they left off pre-COVID, most agree that industries and markets have vastly evolved to meet consumers’ needs, while also abiding by state and local restrictions. Industries, including pharmaceuticals (pharma), have accelerated their shift toward a fully digital landscape during the past 12 months. And there is no turning back, as businesses and consumers have accepted, adapted, and now expect continual improvement in their own digital reality.
Pre-COVID, pharmaceutical representatives (supported by their respective call plans) represented the most successful channel when it came to omni-channel campaign measurement, leaving digital channels, such as email, banners, and targeted media, a distant second. The COVID crisis dramatically changed the omni-channel trends suppressing much of the power that call plans had, by virtue of their personal interaction. According to a March 2020 FirstWord pharma survey, “physicians appear to be relatively unconcerned that their awareness, knowledge and use of the most novel therapeutics in their area of disease specialty will be adversely impacted by any temporary reduction in face-to-face meetings with pharmaceutical and medtech industry representatives”.
This data suggests that digital (non-personal) is strengthening relative to in-person detailing. Although the trends may change post-COVID, it is unlikely they will return to pre-COVID levels. While pharmaceutical representatives may return to a reduced level of in-person HCP* engagement, the deprioritization of personal detailing highlights the rise of a hybrid model that is here to stay.
Hybrid Model in Healthcare
This hybrid model will be prevalent in pharma, as increasing numbers of HCPs and patients adapt to the new reality of virtual engagement. HCPs will be able to choose between personal or non-personal interaction relative to message, brand, and therapeutic consideration, and patients will be able to choose between virtual or in-person appointments relative to their needs and comfort level. This reinforces the need for a better, more optimized, and simpler online experience that is acceptable to segments of the population ranging from innovative early adopters to latter-stage technology laggards.
Rethinking HCP Communication
Not all HCPs have the same channel propensity and staff/technology support available to them. The key to a future successful marketing communication strategy is to provide information to HCPs when they need it, in a form which can be accessed according to their needs and preferences. For this reason, marketers have to rethink targeting, testing, and measurement. Test and learn is more crucial than ever to evaluate the impact of rapidly evolving alternative methods and sequencing of communications. Execution is moving toward a more complex decisioning orchestration solution, with algorithms predicting the next best action, preference, channel, and content for each individual physician. While personal interaction will still have the most impact when applied, by leveraging algorithms and informed message/channel cadence, pharma has the opportunity to support physicians in a more timely and individually relevant manner with both personal and non-personal interactions.
Pharma has started to evolve toward a more customer-centric campaign approach over the past few years, but there was no driving impetus to bridge the gap between personal and non-personal communications. However, COVID accelerated this need, and the potential for a solution exists within the realm of data transformation and informed predictive algorithms. The ultimate goal is to optimize real-time communications (personal and non-personal) that the HCP receives by message, channel, and touchpoint, and optimize them appropriately to yield the highest impact related to engagement, trial and/or treatment continuation. Utilizing machine learning, HCP-level event streams will inform probabilistic models to predict future behavior and generate probability of response.
Rethinking Communication with Patients
Historically, we’ve approached patient communication from a marketing perspective, or more specifically, using push messaging to reach out directly to patients. As virtual appointments become more prevalent and more of a patient’s choice, we need to rethink how the communications to patients will evolve from HCPs. It is likely that after a virtual appointment, an HCP’s office will follow up with the patient and send drug information, insurance coverage, product safety, or Rx reminders. How will the physician decide on the best content, message, and medium of communication to use with the patient? Again, machine learning algorithms can optimize this process and assess the next best experience directed from the HCP to the patient.
Connecting the Dots
The ultimate solution is one that positions the HCP’s office as the best source of continuing information, providing the best healthcare recommendations to the patient. The orchestration of actions, content and channels, the frequency and the cadence of communications, as well as “time of day” and “day of the week” are becoming critical elements in the creation of this journey. These developments ensure 2021 will offer an exciting opportunity to improve the pharmaceutical/Rx experience across the HCP, industry, and patient continuum, moving us all closer to attainment of the ultimate goal, which is to change the lives of patients for the better.
* Any reference to healthcare professionals (HCPs) in this article alludes to HCPs and their staffs.