Face-to-Face, Virtual and Hybrid – Engaging Physicians Now and Past COVID

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By Ariel Katz, CEO & Co-founder of H1

A consensus has emerged: experts across the life science industry seem to all agree that the engagement model of the future is hybrid. Face-to-face interactions between medical science liaisons and healthcare providers, key opinion leaders and other external experts were the norm before COVID. Then – basically overnight – companies had to adapt to virtual-only interactions. Asked about post-COVID engagement, nobody expects things to swing back entirely. Instead engagement will be hybrid, that is part in-person and part virtual. 

How exactly this hybrid model will play out is unclear. One thing that is certain, however, is that the right mix of in-person and virtual engagement is not a set number. Depending on the therapeutic area, location, type of information and personal characteristics of each healthcare provider (HCP) this balance can vary considerably. 

Finding that balance between virtual and in-person 

Both the challenges and opportunities of the hybrid model come down to that balance and ultimately the question: when to engage HCPs with what information using which channel to provide them the best possible, personalized customer experience?

The opportunity of the hybrid model allows MSLs to finely tune how they interact with HCPs: content, frequency and channel of communication can be adjusted depending on the HCPs preferences. Some physicians will prefer more frequent, short, highly data-driven virtual interactions, while others might be looking forward to resuming face-to-face meetings with MSLs that provide the opportunity to discuss the information in detail and in context. Some will want both – each at the appropriate time.

Accommodating these preferences and delivering the right information at the right time in the right format and channel constitutes the greatest opportunity for medical affairs to deeply engage an HCP and give them an improved customer experience. 

This level of personalization, however, also presents a formidable challenge. Not only does the same information need to be available in different formats for different channels to meet the needs of different HCPs, but MSLs also need to develop a good understanding of each HCP’s content and channel preferences in order to be able to reach out proactively in a way most likely to elicit engagement.

The two main challenges to hyper-personalized content delivery are:

  • Moving away from the one -size-fits-all information approach in favor of creating content in different formats that meet the needs of different HCPs. Content generation is an infamously slow process in the pharmaceutical industry mostly due to regulatory and data privacy concerns that make it virtually impossible to react quickly and flexibly to requests. The speed with which information can be made available therefore is a factor that so far limits the usefulness of virtual channels that thrive on quick interactions. 
  • Understanding the HCPs needs and preferences with regards to content, frequency and channel in order to provide the personalized experience HCPs want and the hybrid engagement model is well-suited for. 

Content generation is difficult to speed up but with the hybrid model in mind, the same content can be generated to fit different communication channels reducing turn-around times. Proactively understanding the HCPs’ needs can also help to guide the content generation process.

Know your HCPs – but How?

To deliver the right information using the preferred channel, MSLs need to understand their HCPs’ needs and issues. Channel preferences are fairly quick to communicate but they have profound consequences on the type of information an MSL provides.

Jointly working through a slide deck allows the MSL to learn and adjust as they go. Data that prompts follow-on questions by the HCP can be expanded on, and information that does not hold their attention can be rephrased in a more relevant context or deemphasized if it is not relevant to the HCP’s work.

An important part of getting to know physicians better is to listen to their voices wherever they share them. Traditionally, knowing which conferences they spoke at and what publications they (co-)authored were the go-to sources. While these sources provide good information, they offer little insights about HCPs who actively treat patients and have no time to publish or present regularly.

Fortunately, additional data are available to help better understand the work of those HCPs.

  • The pandemic has moved more HCPs into the virtual world. Social media, especially Twitter, has become a standard way for HCPs to interact. Listening to what they share on social media can provide insights into their current needs, topics they are interested in and challenges they face.
  • Claims data can draw a detailed picture of what type of patients an HCP is seeing regularly and hint at what information might be useful for them. Following claims over time can provide insights into trends that allow an MSL to share information highly relevant to the patient population a physician is treating.
  • Referral data adds to that picture by highlighting which HCP is trusted by their peers to take optimal care of a specific patient population. Analyzing referral data is a way to tease out specializations that might take years to become obvious in other ways, e.g. through publications, clinical trials, or speaking engagements. 

All of this data combined help MSLs piece together a profile that allows them to share highly relevant and targeted information with an HCP proactively without having the benefit of an in-depth, in-person discussion. 

Personalizing HCP interactions requires a deep understanding of their needs and the ability and willingness to engage them on their terms. In the hybrid world of engagement we are about to enter, data will be critical to personalized interaction. 

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