At a time when healthcare providers are barraged with information through digital channels — OK, make that every channel — you’d think medical marketers might be out of tricks. But despite the pessimism and increasing militancy of no-see policies, there remain a few reliable ways — some time-tested, most new — to increase engagement while dialing down doctor irritation.

The key is relevant content. Only about 20% of the content pharma delivers matches what doctors want, according to ZS Associates. From open medical education hubs and CME town halls, to geofencing technology and peer-to-peer social communities, here’s a look at four ways to make content more engaging.

Startup EvermedTV is betting on big growth in virtual congress attendance. Above, a look at what types of certified CME have been most popular among physicians.

1. Aggregate education

According to the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education, which tracks medical education, the med-ed activity type that has shown the greatest increase in the number of physician interactions since 2005 is “internet enduring materials,” which accounted for 37.5% of physician interactions in 2017. By comparison, live education over the web has proven less engaging.

That said, there’s a lot of room for improvement, and smart aggregation may help. Let’s imagine a cardiologist who wants to have virtual access to sessions from three leading associations. The problem? Each costs between $200 and $800, requires registration on multiple society websites, demands would-be participants mess around with different interfaces, and presents a lousy experience on mobile. Milosh Citakovic, founder of startup education aggregator EvermedTV, suggests attacking the problem a different way.

“Contrast that with a platform where content access is sponsored by pharma as their contribution to med-ed becomes universally accessible,” he says. “That cardiologist can register on one platform, with a beautiful interface and easy-to-search content, for free.”

Citakovic says the benefit of e-congresses extends to providers who physically attend conferences as well: “They may miss a session or two, or just need a refresher.” Besides, he argues just 3% to 5% of providers have either the time or money to travel to global klatches.

It’s a model already in use by Novartis with its VivindaTV, a virtual conference platform created to deliver on-demand content.

While early enthusiasm from the HCP world suggests the aggregated conference model can work, setting it up as an in-house function is problematic, says Bozidar Jovicevic, who started Vivinda before moving to Sanofi, where he is VP, global head of digital medicines.

“It’s challenging for pharma to own such things in-house and keep up with innovation,” he notes. (Novartis did not respond to questions about Vivinda.)

The EvermedTV platform is scheduled to become available this August, with its first medical conferences starting in October.

The appeal is obvious. Marketers, especially those working in the pre-launch phase, can build trust and increase awareness of product clinical data.  But both Citakovic and Jovicevic admit such platforms require pharma to diverge from its business-as-usual approach.

“The biggest barrier is this megaphone mindset, shouting and pushing products,” Jovicevic explains. “That has to change for providers to gain trust. And that can come through adding value via medical education.”

Dr. Peter Salgo (right), professor of medicine and anesthesiology at Columbia University Medical Center, New York, moderates the first myCME TownWall, an interactive live format on the topic of moderate-to-severe asthma, utilizing Pando’s virtual conference technology (courtesy Haymarket Medical Education).

2. Democratize participation

Another way pharma can add value is to make participation more engaging for providers. HCPs have long clamored for more KOL and peer opinions and insight, but there hasn’t been an easy way to ensure the best possible faculty are involved. 

To that end, Inception Digital has brought its Pando virtual conference technology to healthcare. Pando allows as many as 60 participants into virtual conferences, with potential for another 5,000 participating remotely, thus elevating reach and, with considerably more clinicians able to not only tune into an activity but also actively participate in discussion, quality.

According to Haymarket Medical Education (HME) SVP and GM Matt Holland, whose company has an exclusive license to use the technology in CME, companies such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca, and Novartis are already on board. Some of them, he adds, are supporting Pando events in more than one treatment area. (HME and MM&M share the same parent company.)

Traditional online education has actually made providers less engaged, argues Matt Giegerich, CEO of Inception Companies. “People think, ‘It’s just a web conference, I don’t have to concentrate.’ They put their phone on mute,” he says. “With Pando, you can’t lean back — you have to lean in.”

This lean-in engagement involves a TV studio that projects the images of participants on a giant screen. “They are all almost literally in the room,” Giegerich adds.

“What’s more democratizing than a practicing clinician getting to be on the wall with thought leaders from major institutions? It levels the playing field,” Holland notes.

Another one of the newer ways marketers are targeting content to clinicians involves leveraging location-related data points.

3. Leverage location data

While location-based data is still relatively new, media RFPs often include geofencing, and smart healthcare marketers are layering it on top of other data. For instance, geofencing outfit Sito specializes in using real-time location data to create customized audience segments among HCPs.

“We can look at people who attended a certain conference, special events, and continued education,” explains Matt Murphy, Sito’s VP of product marketing. Then, via spatial clustering, Sito can “isolate providers from patients and provide an additional layer of audience segmentation for future opportunities.”

“It opens up the door for precise targets,” says Ron Scalici, SVP of digital experiences for Haymarket, which has an exclusive license to use it with HCP audiences. By way of example, he references people going into a hospital every day. “Even though their information is private, we can use geotargeting technology, so a nurse working in a cardiac facility is more likely to be open to messages about cardiac care.”

While using that information on an individual level isn’t allowed, Scalici stresses, by tapping location information from mobile devices and layering it upon other digital information, marketers “can see patterns and make a deterministic match.”

A specialist on VuMedi’s platform advises viewers on the steps to doing a pediatric thyroid exam (courtesy VuMedi).

4. Go native 

Gregory Levey knew Figure 1, a social media network for doctors, was a hit. But he says he didn’t realize its full impact until a nurse in Haiti used the site to post a picture of a newborn’s rash.

“She didn’t know if it was communicable, or if she should let the baby go home,” says Levey, the organization’s CEO.

“Very quickly, we had hundreds of doctors weigh in.” The baby turned out to be just fine, he notes, “but [the experience] made such an impression on me about how powerful and heartwarming the technology can be.”

Almost all of Figure 1’s content is created by providers for providers. Many post photos to ask for help with a diagnosis. Some posts present medical oddities, the kinds of once-in-a-decade cases in which doctors revel. Some, it seems, are mostly to show off.

“Doctors don’t trust pharmaceutical companies, but they do trust each other,” Levey explains.

Figure 1 is subsidized in part by sponsored content from companies such as Novartis and Shire. However, Levey argues this content provides value to users, and reports “six out of 10 of our most engaging posts have been sponsored.”

Some of the network’s most popular features include Figure 1 on 1, which has more than a little in common with a Reddit “ask me anything.” Figure 1 on 1 participants might feature a chief physician of a leading hospital or the editor of Grey’s Anatomy. “A random doctor in Boise, Idaho, does not usually have access to those people,” Levey says.

Another feature, Grand Rounds, provides hospitals with an opportunity to showcase themselves. Quizzes, including a recent post about chronic idiopathic urticaria (super-itchy hives), also resonate with the target audiences, Levey reports.

The network’s most unexpected sponsor? The Department of Defense, which is using Figure 1 to recruit doctors. Levey says 75% of medical students are on the app. VuMedi, another social media network beloved for its procedural videos, presents opportunities for marketers looking to forge a more organic connection.

Eric Pepper, VuMedi’s SVP and head of sales and customer success, touts his company’s potential by noting the days of the blockbuster drug, are long gone. “Most blockbusters were easy to prescribe,” he explains. “These newer meds are much more complex and focused, and providers want more help. If you’re just a community oncologist, how do you keep up?”

Pepper believes more complex and varied content is essential. “It’s the nexus of education and marketing,” he says. “We can all do well by doing good.”

For both Figure 1 and VuMedi, the trick is helping marketers develop long-form and native content in ways that are least offensive to ad-avoiding providers. “If you’ve got a slickly produced one-minute promotional video, it’s not going to resonate, no matter how great the medication is,” Pepper explains. “Doctors come here to learn.”