Prior to the arrival of COVID-19, many doctors and health systems had already limited in-person rep access. In the last nine months, however, those same HCPs have proven even harder to get an audience with, owing to disrupted schedules and concerns around the safety of office visits.

To hear Sun Pharma SVP, head of ophthalmics, oncology and long term care Mark Hagler tell it, this change has been especially pronounced in the realm of cancer treatment. “Typically oncology patients are immunocompromised – and because of that, the way oncology practices are treating them has changed with COVID,” he explained. “In ophthalmics, there are still a lot of face-to-face engagements, all while practicing social distancing. In oncology, those are a lot rarer.”

So when it came time for Sun to rev up an education campaign designed to educate physicians about neuroendocrine cancer (NET), the company and its production partners at Hospicom turned the need for distance into an asset. The resulting seven-minute video tapped HCPs, advocates and patients for their experiences with NET. All commentary was recorded by the subjects themselves, which created an unusual immediacy and intimacy for a campaign of this sort. 

“The comments and responses were not scripted, so they came across as very heartfelt and very genuine,” Hagler said. “A lot of that has to do with the fact that they were shooting themselves in their own homes, via technology that they are comfortable with.”

The participants’ surprising enthusiasm might be traced back to the NET community itself. It’s a relatively rare disease: 12,000 people are newly diagnosed every year and approximately 175,000 people are currently living with it. Many patients, however, only receive a correct diagnosis after years of incorrect ones. As a result, the broader community understands the need for more and better education around the condition. 

“This is one of the most misdiagnosed diseases that exists, because the average NET sufferer goes through at least three wrong diagnoses before they are correctly diagnosed,” Hagler noted. “Getting patient advocates and patients and the physicians who treat them to participate was not difficult.”

The NET video marked Hagler’s second from-afar production (the first featured ophthalmologists and optometrists discussing their experiences with dry eye). It seems fairly certain that more will follow.

“COVID accelerated and forced the testing of new virtual tactics and strategies,” Hagler said. “We have done some ROI analysis of our virtual engagements and we have been surprised at how strong they were. We will continue to do these types of things, though that’s not to say that it will be the only type of engagement that we will do.”

As for the NET video, Sun has been encouraged by the warm reception from the NET community. “We weren’t tying this to any ROI metric,” Hagler continued. “One goal was to show the NET community, inclusive of NET treaters and advocacy groups, that Sun is not a flash-in-the-pan in this space. We have a long-term commitment and this went a long way in helping us demonstrate that.”