Engaging physicians during COVID-19

Natasha Cowan | 03 November 2020

COVID-19 has drastically changed the lives of healthcare professionals. They are emotionally and physically drained and are under huge amounts of pressure. They need pharma’s help. Senior Consultant Pany Koizi outlines five principles for engaging with physicians during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has touched all of us, altering our ways of living and working – in some ways irreversibly. However, no one is impacted more than the physician and their patients. We know that doctors are experiencing enormous pressure. They have been pushed to the limit emotionally and physically and it is also likely that they will experience digital fatigue.

During the past few months, healthcare professionals have rapidly altered their way of working to halt the spread of disease. Three out of four doctors have increased their use of digital communications, with telemedicine use rising by 106% and video chat rising by 159%, according to one survey by AbelsonTaylor. This is an enormous jump, especially in a sector that has traditionally been slow to adopt digital technology.

For patients, coronavirus is scary, confusing and potentially lethal. Many are fearful of attending hospital appointments because of the chance of contracting the disease.

The length of time between prescriptions is also widening to reduce patient’s visits to pharmacies. This removes an important touchpoint between the healthcare professional and the patient, which can impact adherence.

Patients who have been prescribed medicine, especially immunosuppressing therapies, are unclear about whether the benefits of the medicine outweigh the risk of contracting COVID-19 while taking it. As such, healthcare professionals are fielding calls from worried patients and are reliant on information from pharmaceutical companies.

It’s clear that now more than ever, doctors need to hear from pharma, and they have said that they need evolving updates on treatment protocols during COVID-19.

However, in many cases, as this need has grown pharma companies have withdrawn. More than 80% of healthcare professionals haven’t received new information from pharma since social distancing started in March, and visits from sales reps, including tele-details and e-details, dropped by 63%. There are several reasons for this. We all know that it takes time for new collateral to gain regulatory approval. Additionally, pharma companies have also been left reeling by COVID-19, making changes to their internal structures, processes and pipelines.

Whatever the reason, it’s time to refocus and prioritize healthcare professional communications because doctors are crying out for help. Here, Senior Consultant Pany Koizi and Content Marketing Manager Natasha Cowan outline five areas of focus for engaging healthcare professionals in this new normal.

1. Add another layer to your mindset segmentation models

Having spoken to several physicians these past few weeks, it’s clear that they fall into at least two distinct camps.

The first includes physicians who have treated COVID-19 patients. They have seen patients, and perhaps more traumatically, their colleagues perish as a result of the infection. They’re shocked by the severity of the disease; isolated from their own families, and living in fear that they could contract, carry, and spread the infection themselves.

Many have experienced personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages that have led them to pursue their DIY solutions, from goggles to bin bag aprons. These extreme working conditions have led to physical and mental fatigue that will unconsciously and irreversibly change who they are as doctors.

The second are physicians who have not been directly treating COVID-19 patients. They’re concerned about the hundreds of other patients that have had to stay away from hospitals. Patients who have options now but who might not have options as their ailments progress untreated during the lockdown. They’re frustrated by government decisions to shut down entire wards and hypothesize that overall public health is suffering more as a result. They are seeking practical solutions to keep diagnosing, treating and managing patients. These two camps of physicians require different treatment. Their challenges are nuanced and our approach to engaging these two distinct camps needs to be equally nuanced. If you strike the wrong tone in your communications, you will risk damaging your relationships with physicians. However, if you get this right, you can elevate your position in the customer’s’ mind. For your messages to resonate, the content should be engaging, empathetic and, above all, valuable.

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