Matthew Dickinson - Dice

What does HCP engagement look like in a post-Covid world?

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by Matthew | 13 Oct Read Time6 min

About the writer: Matthew Dickinson, Managing Director of Dice, is an Economics graduate of Melbourne University, and entered the world of consumer advertising in Australia - working for global agencies DDB and Ogilvy. His experience drives Dice to deliver the best possible work for clients.

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HCP engagement has changed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, with pharmaceutical companies and agencies having to rapidly adjust to a new way of communicating. 

Digital channels have become critical and a new breed of online meetings and events has taken off. But how will this new landscape influence engagement going forward?

The rise in remote and virtual HCP engagement

According to a 2021 pulse report from Veeva CRM, the use of virtual meetings for rep-to-HCP engagement increased sixfold between January and October 2020, with reps also sending five times as many emails as they did prior to the pandemic. This tallies nicely with a 2021 engagement report showing 66% of HCPs wanting to receive relevant, compliant emails from reps. While these figures aren’t that surprising, they amply demonstrate the scale of change in the industry.

“While the rapid adoption and growth of digital engagement was primarily driven by the restrictions brought about by COVID-19, life sciences companies and HCPs are finding that a full return to in-person, business-as-usual approaches is no longer needed. They appreciate the convenience, efficiency and fewer interruptions that digital channels provide.”

2021 Veeva Pulse Report, Emerging Trends in Global HCP Engagement

Innovating new methods of HCP engagement

Of course, there’s a reason face-to-face meetings had long been the norm prior to Covid. More than anything, they’re a tradition that has stood the test of time, which hadn’t (until more recently) been significantly disrupted by external or digital forces. 

People often thrive on personal interaction and are far more able to read body language and reactions in a face-to-face meeting than in a video or phone call. The willingness to travel for a meeting can also establish a level of trust between parties. However, with the global pandemic effectively thrusting digital adoption onto HCPs, entrenched behaviours have been challenged, and changed.

While vaccinations have been rolled out at varying rates around the world, offices have reopened and some events have restarted in a limited capacity, the majority of conferences and 1-to-1 meetings continue to be held virtually. 

A blended approach?

With various countries either lifting restrictions on meetings and travel, or re-enforcing them where needed, it’s fair to predict this trend will continue until everyone feels safe. Beyond this, a mixed-channel approach to personal sales meetings – combining face-to-face, video, phone and email – appears a reasonable expectation.
Figures from Veeva seem to support this. Its APAC Veeva Pulse Data showed that face-to-face meetings dropped dramatically in the top five therapeutic areas – respiratory, cancer, infection, diabetes and cardiovascular – between February and April 2020, before increasing back to pre-Covid numbers by July 2020, when many restrictions were lifted at that time. However, use of Veeva CRM Engage Meeting, Veeva’s video conferencing software, increased significantly over the same period, implying a hybrid approach is here to stay.

Maximising HCP interactions and communication in the new landscape

With this in mind, pharma brands will need to consider how their interactions with HCPs may evolve. Successful HCP engagement will ultimately hinge on establishing channel preferences and delivering content that is both relevant and compliant.

HCP profiling: targeting and segmentation is key to engagement

One of the main benefits of greater use of digital channels for HCP engagement is the ability to use information about your audience to make your approaches more targeted. Any comprehensive CRM application will help you to segment your audience according to a variety of factors – such as location, specialisation, organisation, budget, etc. – as well as the channels they prefer to use.

A good example of this is in email, where you can customise lists according to a number of certain criteria. If you can segment your audience, you can be more certain your messages will land favourably with them.

HCP engagement management: software and platforms

As alluded to above, tools such as Veeva CRM Engage Meeting have grown in popularity over the past 12 months, giving reps a seamless and compliant means of presenting the same content to HCPs as they would in a face-to-face meeting. 

Being able to share documents, findings and links to other resources, like videos or case studies, at the same time as talking to people online can be an invaluable tool and lead to deeper engagement – perhaps in a way that feels less pressured than in a physical face-to-face meeting.

More time with HCPs = greater engagement

Virtual meetings save time that would otherwise be spent travelling to a traditional meeting, while also increasing the length of the meeting itself. Veeva Pulse data shows the average duration of sales calls rose from three minutes to 19 minutes during the pandemic, with virtual meetings allowing reps to spend more time with HCPs and build quality relationships.

Pharma reps should nevertheless be driven by HCPs’ preferred channels, rather than their own. If data isn’t available at an individual HCP level, understanding preferences at a geographic, practice or specialty level should be enough to inform a long-term engagement strategy. Comparing the average length of face-to-face and virtual meetings will also offer some useful insights.

How virtual pharma HCP engagement looks going forward

With Veeva stats revealing that over 30% of HCPs have joined a meeting from a mobile device since March 2020, one of the most major considerations in MedComms must be screen size. 

Content that was initially designed as a digital sales aid for desktop or laptop devices often won’t translate to a smartphone or smaller tablet. So reps should be ready to adjust their content according to HCPs’ device preferences.

HCP digital engagement strategies

Going forward, there are a few key approaches that MedComms professionals should consider:

Engaging HCPS via email

Far less intrusive than a phone call or meeting, but still a capable conduit for facts, documents, opinions and external references, email has the power to engage audiences, provoke responses and encourage discussions. 

While still being a low-cost and high-return marketing channel, email is also the preferred method of communication for HCPs. Veeva’s 2021 report shows 66% of HCPs want to be able to receive relevant emails from reps, and that emails from reps to doctors enjoy an average 35% open rate, far above commercial norms. 

Emails allow you to easily convey benefits, offer new insights, segment your audience, test formats and personalise your exchanges, and can be very powerful when used in conjunction with other channels. The greater your ability to start a conversation, the more likely you are to build a relationship with the recipient.
See our article on improving your email engagement for further insights and tactics.

Conferencing

As mentioned above, the conferencing world has been perhaps irreversibly changed in the wake of the Covid pandemic. HCPs traditionally felt that personally attending conferences in their field was non-negotiable. It was just the way it had always been done. However, we have now all seen that virtual alternatives are possible, often just as effective and in many ways preferable in terms of saving time and effort.

As events restart, perhaps in a more limited capacity, play to what your audience prefers and meet them where they are. It’s fair to say that while a large number of HCPs may be comfortable with the return to larger in-person events, many others will equally feel cautious and prefer to attend virtually. 

Accessibility is key, and the more people who can access your congress or events, in whatever form they chose, the further your conversations around disease and treatments will be able to spread. 

Meetings

Similarly to events and conferences, many HCPs are becoming more comfortable with a return to in-person meetings, particularly if they feel in control of their environment. But a significant number of professionals are still wary of personal interactions with people outside of their usual circle, or have simply found digital/virtual meetings to be preferable for a number of reasons. 

It all boils down to the effectiveness of communications. If you can build a relationship, gauge unspoken signals, present information and create a clear flow of discussion with another person digitally, you should still see success in your marketing activity. 

With more HCPs than ever now accustomed to communicating online in this way, using a trusted, pharma-specific and fully-compliant conferencing platform such as Veeva CRM Engage Meeting can enhance the experience and also provide the necessary flexibility to facilitate productive meetings, whatever your prospect’s preferences.

As a general rule of thumb, staying in tune with the needs of HCPs, while being prepared to convey information and messages across a variety of channels, should equip reps well to navigate the pharmaceutical landscape for years to come.

As a Veeva Certified agency, we have the in-house expertise to help clients get the most out of Veeva CRM Engage Meeting, so please get in touch if you’re looking to explore virtual meetings further.