Co-Founder of The DHC Group, Mark Bard, held a 20-minute expert panel discussion on HCP Communication Innovation, focusing on how COVID-19 is accelerating the shift to digital in pharma marketing, what we are witnessing and what we are learning in the process.

1. COVID-19 is accelerating pharma’s shift to digital and changing the way it engages with HCPs.

Derek Choy, Co-Founder of Aktana stated the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated some of the key trends in how pharma engages physicians. Digital is the only way we can engage with physicians, so teams are enabling digital channels faster than ever before. As we head into 2021, the priority will be focused on using the right channel, the right seamless handoffs, and obtain responsive and timely engagement

Ozgun “Oz” Demir, Director of Digital Strategy at Novartis, focused his view on the mindset that we do not need more digital, we need smart digital communication.  We need to be thoughtful about the messages we choose to show physicians and make sure they are relevant to the customer. We need to make use of data and past experiences and look at who is engaging with what content so we can send them personalized communication. We also need to be especially mindful right now about our push and pull strategy.

R.J. Lewis, Founder and CEO of eHealthcare Solutions, centered his discussion on this digital-first mentality and how it needs to be viewed on both sides of the equation – on one side there are the pharma marketers and on the other side, there are the physicians. During this pandemic, physicians have become hostile about the idea of in-person meetings with reps. Physicians are now in control of what content they want, how they want it and where they want it. R.J. highlights that this is the perfect time to capitalize on physician-level data (PLD) to gain insights on what the right content is for a particular physician, when the right time is to show it, and where. Reiterating Oz, R.J. asks, “how can we become smarter about understanding the customer profile in the absence of in-person reps?”

Heath Morlok, Senior Director of Everyday Health Professional, says digital is quick and easy and HCPs will find their go-to’s. He agrees with R.J. about the importance of a brand’s use of PLD to find out where that new “digital office” is and where HCPs are now living online.

2. Events are greatly impacted by COVID-19. The way we frame our digital strategies will be more important than ever before.

Pharma need to digitize content that was previously meant for conferences that now needs to be communicated online. Heath feels the new biggest trend will be how is pharma bridging the gap to the digital-first mindset. For at least the next year, the majority of targets are going to be present virtually, so the key question is: how can we take advantage of that digitally?

3. The lack of rep access gives rise to AI’s capabilities to facilitate the rep-physician relationship, but AI cannot succeed alone.

Derrek explains perfectly how companies are taking the leap to AI from the theoretical to the practical.  Where there once was hype around AI, there is now acknowledgement that AI is valuable, but also the realization that AI providing value at scale is a major challenge. AI holds the opportunity to help reps make sense of this new world by offering contextual suggestions and insights on who reps should consider engaging with, what kinds of content they should consider, what the right channels and the right times are. However, AI is highly critical and to be implemented effectively, it must leverage expert systems and business rules to place real-world constraints and it must continually optimize from there. For this to be truly effective, there also needs to be a focus on human factors like change management and cross functional transformation.

4. Privacy laws and cookie targeting are changing and will be a major challenge for pharma to deliver on some of the value proposition that digital has to offer.

Mark calls on R.J. to tackle this topic, since this is his sweet spot and where a lot of his expertise lies. One of the biggest changes, in addition to the privacy changes, is the removal of 3rd party cookie targeting that is coming to Google Chrome. Right now, there are huge technology innovations happening in the space of data management and customer data platforms. Fingerprinting technology and others are evolving in an attempt to replace the targetability of the 3rd party cookie. Advertisers will need to ask themselves how they are going to adapt to  these privacy and targeting changes, whereas publishers are going to be empowered by these changes because they already have first-party data and trust established with physicians. Therefore, marketers will need to utilize the publishers who have the data more than ever before.

5. With rep access lost right now, the biggest learning curve will be how to replicate the power of face-to-face interactions in new, but equally effective ways.

Oz concludes on this topic. Positives on the digital shift include timing and accessibility; HCPs have an abundance of information readily available at their fingertips. However, that falls short when intentional conversation is not present with a rep. Without the rep, there is no conversation and no natural pivots that take place during face-to-face discussions to understand what the physician is looking for or needs. We need to learn how we can understand the path that the physician is heading and how will can pivot conversations in real time to bring the physician where they need to be.

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