Physicians still rely on medical journals but turn to the web when they have only 10 minutes

Traditional sources such as medical journals and conventions are physicians' top sources of medical information, but online search engines are most used when they limited time. Photo credit: Andy De/Creative Commons

Traditional media sources such as print medical journals remain key ways for physicians to stay abreast of new and rapidly changing clinical information, according to an annual new report by CMI/Compas.

In October, CMI/Compas, the media planning and buying company, surveyed 2,780 healthcare professionals in the U.S. across 27 specialties, and released a report that focuses on the findings of six: primary care, cardiology, oncology, neurology, dermatology, and pulmonology. The firm included oncologists in the report for the first time this year to address the rising development of products in the category, said Dr. Susan Dorfman, chief commercial officer at CMI/Compas.

What the company found is that pharmaceutical and medical device companies, when seeking to reach physicians, should choose different media channels based on their needs.

See also: Is pharma's access to physicians decreasing or increasing?

“We should never put our eggs in any one channel basket,” said Dorfman. “Doctors are in a multitude of places. For clients who have a limited budget, we have to focus our investments and decide where we can make the most impact on those non-personal dollars as opposed to spreading those dollars too thin.”

Source: Media Vitals 2016, CMI/Compas

Medical journals remain top sources for information but HCPs go online for immediate answers.

Traditional media sources such as print and online medical journals, medical conventions and meetings, and professional websites remain the top sources of information for physicians looking to stay abreast of medical developments and treatment options. The survey found that oncologists rank print and online medical journals equally important, with 70% of them using both.  And while other specialties did not rank pharma reps among their top sources of medical information, 53% of PCPs said they turn to pharma reps to stay abreast of medical developments and treatment options.

“I think PCPs are in many ways equipped to know everything that is happening,” said Dorfman. “You are their first point of contact. It's nearly impossible for them to read everything so having reps to share information ... may be a higher ranking source than other specialties.”

See also: When it comes to professional ads, print makes its comeback

However, those traditional media sources are ranked more highly when physicians have more time. When they have only ten minutes or less to answer a question, physicians across all specialties relied on the internet to find an immediate answer. The survey also found that 70% of HCPs across all specialties search online daily, with 46% of oncologists using online search engines for professional purposes at least four times per day.

“It used to be peers, but now they're searching the web,” said Dorfman. “Now we see that for certain specialties like oncology, peers don't even exist. There's no specific sources they go to though.”

With the internet as the main source of information for physicians when they are searching for an immediate answer, Dorfman said pharma companies should boost their search engine optimization to provide the information and content physicians need.

CMI/Compas found that physicians across all specialties visit brand-specific pharmaceutical or medical device websites to search for dosing information, safety information, and clinical data. However, the information is not easy to find.

See also: Infographic: How physicians share online info with patients and other docs

“We have to ask when we build our website, who are we building it for?” said Dorfman. “Rather than driving them to the website and forcing them to search, we need to deliver them that information because they have less than ten minutes.”

Drugmakers that are doing this well are bringing the user to the content by incorporating features like keywords, she said.

“We're just starting to work with agencies in sharing a lot of this information, but I haven't seen a brand.com that is constructed in a way that is meaningful to the user yet,” said Dorfman. “I think there are non-brand.com sites that are more geared towards that.”

Clinical efficacy more important than drug cost.

Despite growing criticism about how drugs are priced, the number one factor that influences physicians' treatment decisions across all specialties, except neurologists, is clinical efficacy data, the survey found. Neurologists ranked a drug's safety and tolerability profile as the number one issue, followed by strong clinical efficacy data. Of the six specialties, only PCPs – 47% of them – factor in a drug's cost to a patient when making a prescribing decision.

“It may have to do with the severity of the condition and the conditions that they treat,” explained Dorfman. “What those specialists are looking at is what is going to work for their patients versus looking at the possible cost. It doesn't mean it's not important. It just means that, in the ranking, it wasn't up at the top.”

See also: New consumer concerns harder for health brands to swallow

Oncologists, cardiologists, and neurologists are most likely to try new treatments.

The survey found that oncologists, cardiologists, and neurologists are most likely to prescribe new treatments for patients as soon as those therapies receive FDA approval, with oncologists being the most likely – 58% said they would try out new treatments.

“There is such a high unmet need to extend a patient's life, it's not surprising that they are most likely to try new treatments,” said Dorfman. “It's become much more important for us to be responsible for creating the awareness with these audiences. If we know there is a high propensity, it's on us to deliver relevant information to them.”

Source: Media Vitals 2016, CMI/Compas

Sales reps' access to doctors has stabilized or opened up but with restrictions.

The survey found that PCPs, cardiologists, and dermatologists were most accessible to pharma and device reps without restrictions, and oncologists and pulmonologists were the least accessible.

Looking at rep access over a four-year period, Wayne Obetz, CMI/Compas' VP of investments and analytics and decision sciences, observed a dip in accessibility, a trend also reported by ZS Associates in its annual survey, which found that only 44% of physicians will meet with sales reps.

See also: 4 Industry Execs Examine the State of Physician-Rep Access

“The offices that just flat out won't see a rep have bottomed up,” said Obetz. “The offices that are opening back up look like they are opening back up by appointment only, or within opening hours.”

“Even when the rep has access, the overall time is limited,” added Stan Woodland, CEO  of CMI/Compas. “So non-personal promotion becomes increasingly important in the success of a brand.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the participants of the survey. CMI/Compas surveyed healthcare professionals across 27 specialties and focused on six specialties in a separate report that surveyed oncologists for the first time.
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