Digital Marketing Strategy

A new age of direct-to-physician marketing

Marketing to physicians was notoriously difficult even before the pandemic made face-to-face meetings and conferences vanish almost overnight. Until recently, the best way for pharma companies to reach physicians was through “detailing,” a process that involves face-to-face sales and promotional activities.

Pew notes that of the $27 billion spent on drug promotion in 2012, 56% — or 15 billion — was allocated to detailing programs. At the time, digital ads didn’t even register as one of the top direct-to-physician (DTP) marketing expenditures, per the following chart: 

Source: Pewtrusts.org

Now, nearly a decade later, pharma brands allocated nearly 70% of their marketing budgets to digital ads, with both healthcare provider (HCP) and consumer budgets increasing in 2020. The shift to digital was already happening pre-pandemic, but the limited access to physicians throughout 2020 and early 2021 accelerated it. New telemedicine technologies that reach physicians at the point of care have added to this trend, making it easier than ever to reach doctors with targeted ads and messaging at the right time and in the right place.

The challenge of reaching doctors online

Ritesh Patel, the Chief Digital Officer at Ogilvy Health, understands the inherent challenges of marketing to healthcare professionals. Ogilvy Health is an agency within the Ogilvy group that operates a global network with offices in South Africa, India, Spain, France, Belgium, Italy, and Argentina. Patel’s team primarily works with clients in the pharmaceutical industry, with some medical device, life science, and animal/consumer health clients. 

“The bulk of our work is with pharmaceutical companies for new product launches or marketing and promotion of existing products,” said Patel. “I suspect that if you name a pharmaceutical brand or company, we’ve probably worked with them.”

About six years ago, Ogilvy Health created a point-of-care division in response to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that healthcare professionals digitize electronic medical record (EMR) systems. Said Patel, “We understood that there would likely be an opportunity to engage with doctors on EMR platforms, so we built a team that is now working with pharma clients to focus on how they can engage with the physician within the EMR systems.”

Patel’s team works with Doceree (pronounced dock-CARE — the name is derived from the Greek word for doctor) to create HCP campaigns aimed at reaching physicians across targeted websites, medical journals, and telemedicine platforms. Doceree was founded by Harshit Jain, MD, a trained physician who practiced internal medicine until 2006. He went on to work with McCann Health prior to founding Doceree in 2018. Doceree is an ad exchange platform targeting HCPs, but it’s also a measurement platform, focused on helping pharma brands measure the outcomes of their campaigns. 

“Doceree measures outcomes not just in terms of vanity metrics, but in terms of business outcomes,” explained Jain. “We establish the linkage of advertising exposure to script lift through our partnership with multiple data providers. We own the SSP and the DSP platforms which have been built from the ground up. Through our exchange, brands can buy exclusive inventory in an intimate ecosystem with partners focused on the point of care network.”

Engaging with doctors at the point of care

Through their partnership with Doceree, Patel’s team goes beyond standard digital media campaigns that use banner ads to engage with physicians on websites like WebMD. Said Patel, “We work very closely on creating behavior, product, and health system-based rules to reach physicians directly at the point of care.”

Sample of campaign setup options in Doceree

For example, a pharma company can reach a cardiologist at a specific hospital to alert them about a cardiology product that’s just been approved and added to the hospital’s formulary. The ad or message only deploys when the specific rules are satisfied. The following mockup provided by Doceree illustrates what an ad might look like within the telehealth platform:

Graphical user interface, applicationDescription automatically generated
Image provided by Doceree

The ad type that appears depends on the EMR/EHR system being used. Doceree engages nearly 700 systems, some of which only allow text messages and some that provider richer options including banners of varying sizes. 

“We’ve built a database that includes who the EMR players are and what they allow,” said Patel. “With Doceree, we can then customize the message based on the rule, the doctor, the patient profile, and the electronic health record system.”

Read next: Marketing the COVID-19 vaccine faced familiar challenges.

Point of care marketing lifts prescriptions

Patel notes that being able to reach doctors from within EMRs and other telemedicine platforms has been particularly helpful for his clients throughout the pandemic. It enabled them to alert physicians about important product updates and formulary approvals, educate them about newly released products, and ensure that messaging remained appropriate to a given situation.

The business rules that are applied to each campaign enable messages and ads to appear within the context of care. For example, a physician who sees a patient for ear pain and diagnoses an infection, may look up the International Classification of Diseases code for an ear infection. When that happens, they may then see an ad for a product that can potentially treat the malady. But point-of-care campaigns go beyond education and branding messages, to directly impact script lift.

“We do things like real-time benefit checking, prior authorization checking, and we’re increasingly promoting patient support, copay coupons, and copay cards when the physician is prescribing medications,” said Patel.

What this means is that if a doctor diagnoses a patient and is about to prescribe a medication, the system enables the provider to fill out a form and send it to the adjudicator to see if it’s covered and/or alert the patient that they’re eligible for a copay card for a given product.

Omnichannel physician targeting

While point-of-care marketing to physicians is deployed in conjunction with other digital marketing tactics, Patel cautioned that it’s much different than broader tactics like banner targeting. 

“If you treat it as part of an overall media campaign, it will fail,” said Patel. “But if you treat this as precision messaging from a relevance and contextual perspective, it will be effective. That’s why we partner with Doceree. They have the behavior data that we need to make that informed decision.

Patel’s noted that his team often incorporates point-of-care HCP marketing into omnichannel plans for  Ogilvy Health’s clients. Per Patel, “We look at things like search, social, and the connectivity to direct sales channels like Salesforce, e-detailing, and the CRM. We’re using custom messages to get to the doctor on a personalized level.”

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