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Reaching Doctors In The Virtual World

It’s the great migration to digital. And as civilization makes its move, the pharmaceutical industry is trying to figure out how to reach out to physicians. Pharmaceutical reps are slowly becoming a thing of the past. Branded medication portals leave most doctors cold. Email outreach is marginal.

Pharma strategists ask me how to reach doctors in the new world. I don’t have an answer. It isn’t that I can’t come up with an answer. It’s just that a good one doesn’t exist. Why?

Doctors aren’t anywhere right now. They’re stuck somewhere between the analog and digital. Socially they’re nebulous. Their virtual communities are non-existent. Public social networks are sparsely populated. When they participate they watch and rarely create or discuss. Our profession is going through a lot right now and it’s evident in anemic digital adoption.

Selling to doctors may be a thing of the past. Physicians are becoming ever-so-slowly irrelevant when it comes to medication decisions. Case-in-point: Moi. As a gastroenterologist I use my share of proton pump inhibitors. But it’s officially reached the point where I have no input regarding which acid suppressant my patients receive. Doctors, it seems, recommend and a third party decides.

Selling to patients may be the thing of the future. If you suggested 25 years ago that large pharmaceutical companies would be marketing to patients you’d have been locked up. Smart organizations like Johnson & Johnson understand that in the world of diabetes, for example, the money’s with patients and e-patient opinion leaders. Patients are increasingly playing a larger role in determining the products they want to use within their “disease state.”

So reaching doctors in the virtual world is impractical if not impossible at this point. But consider these likelihoods:

  • The divide between the physician online and offline will close.
  • Doctors will appear in greater numbers in public networks.
  • There will be a dominant physician social platform.
  • Medicine will evolve to embrace a social mindset and design.

I suspect that the future relationship between providers and industry will revert to involve more trust and, ironically, more of a personal connection despite the digital medium. As the world goes virtual, the hunger for real connection will grow. And those who reach us in some personal way will hold market advantage over those who don’t.

It’s hard to pull off now but ultimately the doctors will arrive. Stay tuned.

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

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