Doctors are consumers too

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Pharmaceutical marketers spend a lot of time and effort figuring out what makes physicians tick. The assumption is often that members of the clinician community are wired perhaps a little differently than their consumer compatriots.

Admittedly, some of the anecdotal evidence is compelling. For example, in 2006 at the Digestive Disease Week conference in Los Angeles, nearly 2,000 physicians waited in line to play video games promoting AstraZeneca's Prilosec and Crohn's disease awareness for Elan Pharmaceuticals. 
And we've all seen physicians “fighting” over the last trinket or tchotske, branded pen or keychain—items that have seemingly little value to the rest of us.

When it comes to reading materials and med ed, the assumption has been that docs demand heavy chunks of science, reams of charts and equations and as many words as possible with which to describe them. And they want it in print, right?

But clinicians are consumers too. In fact, back in 2005, studies by Quantum and Copernicus Marketing found that DTC campaigns had at least as much impact on physicians than they do on patients.

And if consumers are online 24/7, then so are doctors. They may not have the time to communicate with patients all day by email, but they are there. In fact, according to a Manhattan Research study of physicians' daily online media use, 78% of doctors are using the internet to search literature databases; 70% for prescription drug information; and 55% for medical photos and graphics (page 53). And, according to the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education, close to 80,000 physicians participated in online learning in 2006.

Traditional journals continue to flounder. According to PERQ/HCI, ad revenues for medical/surgical journals fell by 7% overall in 2007 with a total spend below $500 million—less than what was reported in 2004. And the total ad pages for the top five journals (NEJM, JAMA, AFP, Medical Economics and AMNews) fell by a staggering 18%.

And even some specialty journal sectors have taken a battering. Recent data from MARS Medical show certain categories have seen sharp decline in revenue in Q1 2008 vs Q1 2007. Nephrology and allergies, for example, were down 35.3% and 32.5% respectively. 

There are many possible reasons for the demise, such as a dearth of genuinely new molecules, fewer approvals and other “cyclical” patterns. But it's clear that docs have moved on from just relying on print journals for their information. Like consumers, they are demanding information when they want it and in the format that they want it. And they need to be able to get it at any time of the day. And, being consumers, their time has become even more precious and they need information in relevant bite-size chunks.

The companies that already know this will be well-placed to take advantage of this shift. Good examples include Advanstar launching its portal, which integrates 16 primary care and specialty titles into one address; and Sermo adding publishers' links and developing a new CME component for its social media network. Plus, established journals are starting to find their feet online.

But those that are sitting tight, hoping to see out the drought in professional ad dollars, could be waiting a long time.
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