Strange how some bad ideas have a way of sticking around. Commercials in movie theaters, the cellophane they use to imprison DVDs and, in pharmaceutical marketing, online physician portals.

Over the past 10 years, most of the largest pharma companies have committed millions to build multi-brand repositories of marketing materials, clinical data and service offerings for doctors.

Portals make sense for Speakers’ Bureau participants and Key Opinion Leaders. But many of these resources were also intended to attract the general physician too. A general physician portal strategy presumes that doctors have some desire to go to a single company resource for marketing materials – but they don’t. According to Manhattan Research, the average physician portal gets a whopping four visits per doctor per year.

You could excuse the early attempts as failed experiments. Yet here we are in late 2009, and many companies are still investing in physician portals.

Pharma companies seem to be seriously addicted to their portals. And I’m here to stage an intervention—just say no! Creating a “one-stop shopping” website for people who have no need or interest in a pharma marketing Wal-Mart is foolhardy. And expensive.

In addition to the multiple millions it takes to build these resources, it can cost upwards of $100 to deliver a doctor to a portal for a single, completed marketing activity.

There are more effective ways to reach doctors with brand-building programs. But to be successful, pharma needs to reverse its thinking from a seller-centric model to a customer-centric approach. That means distributing knowledge and service assets where the doctors’ own information needs will take them: general medical sites, specialist sites, search engines and branded product sites. But it’s not just a question of where you deploy the assets. You also need to make it as easy as possible to answer their questions.

Using high-value, low-commitment techniques like interactive FAQs, self-guided e-details and, especially, online chat is the key to starting a productive exchange with physicians. And once they’ve had a satisfying experience with chat, you will have created an opening for the skilled customer service rep or MSL to expand the conversation.
This new model will transform the way doctors and pharmaceutical marketers interact, finally delivering on the promise of the digital channel, and belatedly closing the hatch on ill-considered physician portals.

Bill Drummy is chairman and CEO, Heartbeat Digital