The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly altered the way doctors engage with their patients, and in turn, in the way that pharma companies approach doctors. The growth in remote healthcare in the past few months coupled with the fact that normalcy is unlikely to be restored anytime soon will require new engagement models by pharma companies to cater to the current paradigm.
While the virtualisation of healthcare has been underway for some time, the pandemic has proven to be a tipping point. According to a recent Accenture doctor-patient research which surveyed 120 doctors and 700 patients in India, as patients avoided healthcare facilities, 73 per cent of them said that they learned new ways of managing their condition and communicating with their healthcare providers during COVID-19. The survey also found that the doctor community has embraced virtual tools such as online chat, telephone and video conference to better manage healthcare outcomes for their patients. While patients appreciated the virtual interactions and the convenience of being able to manage and monitor their care from home, they also felt that the quality of care declined due to reduced access to healthcare providers.
As COVID-19 impact continues, doctors will continue to use virtual tools in the future due to the behaviour shift in patients. However, there are concerns related to patient interaction which need to be addressed. For example, nearly 50 per cent of doctors surveyed shared that they faced challenges communicating empathetically with patients. Majority of the doctors (54 per cent) surveyed feel that the volume of information sent through digital channels by pharma companies has significantly increased in the wake of COVID-19. Despite the increase in digital engagement, nearly 50 per cent doctors surveyed believe that while the pharma companies understood their evolving needs and expectations for patient care to some extent, they would like them to improve further.
A key aspect that needs to change is the core nature of the relationship between doctors and pharma companies. The outreach by pharma companies needs to go beyond just communicating product details. With digital disruptors raising the bar on experience, doctors’ expectations have evolved as well. Today, pharma companies need to re-evaluate their digital engagement for a seamless, consistent, intuitive and simplified customer experience.
To deliver a superior experience and transform the existing engagement model, pharma companies need to focus on four key aspects:
- Curating differentiated experiences for doctors – As the number of physical touchpoints reduces, there is a greater need for intelligent, closed-looped communication with doctors, powered by the right tools and personalisation, along with content management and improved digital marketing capabilities.
- Collaborating with doctors for effective patient management – As the doctor-patient interactions increase over various digital platforms, both the stakeholders require each other’s support to enable a superior patient and practice management. At the same time, pharma companies need to facilitate doctor-patient interactions in a way that fills the existing gaps – lack of empathy, delayed diagnosis and patient privacy.
- Harnessing analytics to drive continuous improvement – As the engagement moves towards hyper-relevance, pharma companies must invest in better intelligence to derive data-driven, actionable insights to get a deeper understanding of the needs of doctors and their patients.
- Defining new sales structures for efficiency – With customer needs becoming more nuanced and granular, pharma companies must gradually depart from conventional sales or business unit structures and define new sales structures that help in servicing customer needs more efficiently.
The COVID-19 pandemic has acted as a catalyst for pharma companies to accelerate their digital transformation journey at scale. The key to success in the future lies in harnessing the power of new tools and digital technologies to deliver high-quality and hyper-personalised patient and healthcare services, while also improving business outcomes and resilience to weather future disruptions. There is a need for pharma companies to proactively anticipate and respond to external influences or risk being left behind in the next era of doctor engagement.