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Pharma's informational source shift: from marketing to medical

Blue Latitude Health|21st May 2013

In our first post of the year, highlighting Blue Latitude’s predictions for pharma marketing in 2013, we identified an increase in prominence of medical information within the healthcare communications mix as a key change. This is based on three major trends.

Firstly, with significant reductions in sales force sizes resulting from budgetary challenges, the role of medical is taking on greater importance. Historically, if the healthcare professional (HCP) asked a question which the rep couldn’t answer, the rep would go away and speak with a medical representative, then provide the answer back to the HCP after a potentially protracted delay. Now, there is still demand for information but there is an expectation that it can be delivered in different ways, from call centres, to pharma websites and third party medical sites.

Secondly, the proliferation in new drugs resulting from blockbuster drugs coming off patent means there is a heightened need for scientific medical information. Despite an increase in medical information requirements being forecast, many medical information departments within pharma companies are still ill-prepared for these challenges. These departments have less experience and expertise in engaging with customers and providing excellent customer experience.

Finally, an environmental shift is taking place from push to pull messaging; or from pharma- to customer-led. This is based on three factors; reducing field force sizes, reduced opportunity for push messaging through a decline in print and tighter regulations with regard to both messaging and also paid for activities with HCPs.

Changing behaviours and expectations

There has not been a significant change in customer needs; HCPs have always had a need for medical information from pharma companies. The change is behavioural, in the way HCPs are searching for this information and their expectations in the speed of receiving it. Medical departments may be seen as service providers, providing detailed scientific information about a drug or class, medical education, or bibliographic searches.

Medical information can be accessed through multiple means, including EMR systems or third party medical websites. Despite the information being available through non-pharma sources, our research suggests an expectation for pharma to have the most detailed information about its products. This should be available through multiple touch points, including call centres or websites.

The importance of strategy

As a result of their increased prominence in the communications pathway, there are a plethora of challenges faced by medical departments. They are likely to have less-developed relationships with customers, have limited experience of customer experience and have historically been internally siloed. Perhaps the most important from a pharma perspective though is how to successfully integrate the medical information within the wider brand strategy. There will be broader commercial activity undertaken by the brand teams within which medical departments will have to integrate whilst staying compliant.

To do this successfully, internal silos should be bridged from the planning phase in order to understand the role of medical as a support outlet, rather than a push mechanism. There will be a role for medical to provide information at various points throughout the user journey. These points must be understood so that triggers to engage can be implemented, streamlining the customer journey.

It is important to note at this stage that just because content is deemed as medical, there still may be a need for a promotional approach to be taken to maximise the content’s benefit. There may be a disparity in the way HCPs define medical information compared with how pharma companies departmentalise medical activity internally. If appropriate, medical information and content should be approved for promotion in order to ensure its visibility amongst HCPs.

Delivering for the customer

Customer experience relates to any interaction a HCP has with pharma across any touch point. Clearly this could be marketing or medical activity. Having said this, medical departments have not historically been at the forefront of managing customer relationships and many lack the experience and expertise to do this effectively. Here, we will provide three factors to consider when delivering good customer experience from medical activity.

Firstly, listen to and understand the informational needs of your customers. It is important to understand the open questions HCPs have and their genuine informational needs about a product before creating content to answer these questions. Once this is understood, medical content should be created in tandem with a promotional strategy to ensure it becomes visible to your audience.

Secondly, the objective of medical information departments is to provide medical answers. In the past this may have been in the form of long scientific documents with a plethora of supporting information including clinical trial data, graphs and case study information. When presenting this information online or over the phone, it should be optimised to provide much more specific and relevant answers. At the same time, the opportunity to request further scientific data should be offered.

Finally, following the strategy being developed and an understanding of the touch points in which medical has a role to play are understood, these touch points should be optimised. Customers’ expectations at these points are likely to centre on receiving a response in a timely manner and through the channel in which the customer requests. Specific channels can be optimised based on the customer’s expectations by ensuring call centres are manned twenty four hours a day rather than just during work hours, or providing free text boxes on a product website to raise any medical issues and request further information.


From our experience, the increased role medical information departments are required to play in the communications pathway is posing challenges to pharma companies. Here are three key takeaways to begin addressing these challenges:

  • Listen to and understand the questions your key customers want answered about your products.
  • Define and understand the role and responsibilities of medical departments within the wider brand strategy.
  • Put customer experience at the forefront of any activity in order to meet customer expectations

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