2 truths & 1 lie: new insights into healthcare marketing

By McCann Health Canada

Healthcare in Canada has changed more in the last two years than in the previous decade. At McCann Health Canada, we keep our pulse on how our clients’ brands can play a meaningful role in people’s lives. It’s why we regularly conduct in-depth research studies with a diverse range of healthcare audiences, and then share the insights to inspire new ideas and better connections.

For this year’s study, we partnered with CRC Research to conduct in-depth qualitative and quantitative research with 100 healthcare professionals (HCPs) across Canada. Those involved included general practitioners (GPs), disease specialists, and practicing pharmacists. Demographically, we polled a representative mix from coast to coast, urban vs. rural settings, native language, and years in practice. The purpose of this document is share a few highlights of our latest study, "2 Truths & 1 Lie: New Insights into Healthcare Marketing."

Truth 1

COVID-19 was a reality check that exposed the flaws in our Canadian healthcare system and caused many to question its long-term viability.

Even before COVID-19, HCPs were facing incredible pressures in their profession. But today, the pressures to perform under constraints are enormous. COVID-19 pushed our healthcare system to a breaking point leaving many HCPs frustrated, stressed out, exhausted and pessimistic about the future.

At the same time, staying informed has become more complex than ever as the science continues to move quickly across multiple therapeutic areas. New drugs and treatments are constantly being introduced, algorithms get updated, and digesting all the relevant information can become overwhelming. As a result, practicing medicine—long seen as the pinnacle of professional success—is beginning to lose its halo.

  • 83% of HCPs felt that they are being asked to do too much. (This rose to 100% with GPs)

  • 92% of HCPs agreed it's becoming more challenging to keep up with the latest therapeautic advancements.

  • 3% of HCPs "strongly agreed" that they are optimistic about the future of healthcare in Canada.

  • 50% of HCPs would not encourage their children to follow in their footsteps and enter the same field. 

Our challenge

With HCPs being asked to do more with less, how can we, as marketers, provide better value to them?

Truth 2

The realities of COVID -19 accelerated changes that were already taking place in healthcare and marketing.

COVID-19 was both a "pause" and a "fast forward" in terms of change. Many of the HCPs we spoke to reported how the crisis of COVID-19 forced them to "speed up" in terms of adapting to large-scale shifts that were already taking place. These shifts included the channels and systems in which healthcare is delivered; and in the ways they interact with patients, colleagues and marketers.

Practices such as telemedicine and video consults, adopted by necessity during the pandemic, proved beneficial in terms of saving time and money and will continue (in large part) in a post-COVID-19 world. However, it won’t be a sea change. HCPs will embrace virtual interactions with patients as long as they are a compliment to, rather than a replacement of the “human touch” that goes into treating patients.

  • 97% of HCPs agreed that telemedicine is here to stay.

  • 7% of HCPs would prefer to see patients exclusively in person. 

And when it comes to how HCPs want to interact with pharmaceutical companies, the results are even more nuanced. Following an industry-wide pivot towards digital communications, HCPs are currently overwhelmed with marketing, and in particular emails. Often receiving dozens of promotional emails per week, many HCPs don’t open a single one. Key factors driving open rates are whether the information is perceived as being new and relevant, and whether it comes from someone they know and trust. So the implications for marketers go beyond just crafting the right subject line.

  • 2/3 of HCPs reported receiving >10 emails from pharmaceutical companies per week. 

  • 1/3 of HCPs receive >20 emails from pharmaceutical companies per week.

Our challenge

As technology in medicine is here to stay, how can we (as marketers) work to make it better—and not worse—for HCPs?

The Lie

Technological advancements will inevitably come at the cost of human connections.

While virtual medicine was a necessary "stop gap" during a time of crisis and proved beneficial for its convenience and efficiencies, HCPs emphasized that it can never truly replace the value of seeing patients in person. HCPs don’t want to be reduced to mere "order takers." While doctors acknowledge that certain tasks can easily be done by phone, they cautioned about the long-term implications of merely being prescription fillers.

When the country was on lockdown and HCPs were unable to travel, they appreciated being able to continue with their education by attending virtual lectures or attending virtual conferences. However, there is a strong consensus that these virtual events are simply not the same as in-person events. HCPs reported they are looking forward to seeing each other again in person.

  • 72% of HCPs indicated they plan to attend conferences  "frequently" or "occassionally."

  • 58% of HCPs find information from colleagues to be "very credible."

  • 72% for KOLs in their field to be "very credible."

HCPs are also looking forward to re-connecting with pharma companies to help stay on top of the latest advancements. HCPs genuinely value the relationships they have with most pharma companies and find the information they provide to be beneficial, though view sales reps differently from medical scientific liaisons (MSLs). But their overall preference is clear: keep it simple. HCPs are less interested in a "sales pitch" than about accessing the objective data that tells them what they need to know.

  • 80% of HCPs indicated that they plan to meet with reps in person either "frequently" or "occassionally."

  • 20% of HCPs find information from reps to be "very credible."

  • 50% of HCPs find information from MSLs to be "very credible."

Our challenge

How can we leverage the best aspects of technology, while ensuring that we don’t lose the human touch that HCPs value?

In conclusion

The research revealed four interesting tensions that healthcare marketers should bear in mind as they engage with Canadian HCPs:

  • Motivation vs. ability: HCPs want to provide patients with the best possible care, as well as stay on top of the latest medical developments, and feel frustrated that both have become harder than ever.
  • Access vs. attention: Technology has made it easier than ever to reach HCPs, and for them to access on-demand information and "attend" events from anywhere, but it often comes at the expense of focus and share of mind due to the competing demands placed upon them.
  • Individual vs. integrated: To navigate a time-strapped world, HCPs need practical support from other stakeholder (including nurse practitioners and pharamcists) to help shoulder the burden of diagnosis and treatment.
  • Convenience vs. connection: Healthcare communications are finally catching up to audience expectations for "everything on demand." While they welcome these efficiency gains, HCPs still value a "human touch" in their connections with peers, patients and pharma.