A shortage of healthcare providers (HCPs) and an increased customer and physician demand for information related to conditions, treatments and products has significantly changed the healthcare market in recent years. The pharmaceutical sector still prioritizes a drug’s brand.com as the primary endpoint for its advertising even though these sites have remained largely the same search and scroll experience for decades and have on average an 80% bounce rate. With a conventional user experience (UX) framework, pharma companies miss out on the opportunity to improve customer engagement through an ask and answer format while in the moment of need that also allows marketers to uncover highly valuable information about their patients and providers.

Embracing virtual engagement tools

A recent survey titled “Pharma Marketers’ Insights: Virtual Engagement Tools,” conducted by Swoop/MM+M, highlights the critical value of embracing interactive virtual agents (IVAs) to drive engagement and high-value lower-funnel activity that ultimately leads to positive patient outcomes and valuable voice-of-the-customer insights.

The survey, which saw participation from 41 individuals across various industry sectors including pharmaceuticals, biotech and device/diagnostics, revealed that there is a consensus on the importance of immediate virtual customer interactions that are also medical, regulatory and legal (MLR) compliant.

Of those surveyed, 51%  are interested in using virtual engagement tools on their websites to drive more meaningful customer interactions than the traditional website experience including around patient education, HCP education, requests for more information or to speak with a rep/MSL, adverse event reporting, sample requests and to hear real patient stories.

Implementation challenges

Brands spend more than $8 billion on pharma advertising each year. If one of the primary goals is to drive consumers to brand.com for more information, then it’s vital that companies improve their sites to make their advertising budget more efficient and get better outcomes with IVAs.

Swoop/MM+M survey respondents cited lack of expertise (71.4%) as the top challenge organizations face in implementing virtual engagement tools followed by high costs (52.4%), regulatory compliance issues (52.4%), difficulty integrating systems (23.8%) and technological limitations (19%) indicating a critical need to work with specialized vendors.

Indeed, there’s a definition problem surrounding IVA awareness in the marketplace. Each IVA serves a distinct purpose and impacts how a brand not only interacts with a customer but also what information they can provide. Live chat, for example, is not a virtual agent and is only available when an actual person is. Alternatively, chatbots offer a limited button-driven experience for users. While generative AI understands natural language and intent, it creates a facsimile of unverifiable information that cannot be used in a highly regulated environment. Conversational AI, on the other hand, has been trained on specific information, is capable of understanding the intent behind questions — whether asked by a patient, provider or caregiver — and only responds with compliant messaging.

Patients and HCPs can engage with conversational AI in real time for a personalized and responsive UX. Conversational AI not only enhances the overall UX for patients and HCPs with MLR-approved answers to simple and complex medical questions, but also provides valuable real-time data so that healthcare brands can assess the effectiveness of their marketing and make informed adjustments to their campaigns promptly. The outcome is enhanced lower-funnel engagement, a safe, round-the-clock interactive experience and a unique first-party data source based on the voice-of-the-customer, ultimately leading to a more efficient and effective marketing program.

A critical engagement tool

Marketers understand the significance of IVAs to drive more impactful customer engagement and meet user expectations at an enterprise level. Pharma brands that don’t have the technology will ultimately fall behind the competition.

The majority of Swoop/MM+M survey respondents (65.9%) anticipate that their organizations will increase their investment in virtual engagement tools. Half of the participants said they had a dedicated budget for virtual engagement tools, and for the majority, that budget consists of new funds rather than reallocation.

IVAs are not simply a widget to put on brand.com. They offer access to valuable data, for example, indicating what information customers are truly seeking from brands, which messages are resonating and which are not, and how different personas engage based on their channel of entry. Marketers can then leverage data from these conversations to integrate direct insights into future campaigns, refining and optimizing media spend, channel selection and messaging. Unfortunately, one-quarter of the survey participants that use virtual engagement tools are not tracking the effectiveness of the data and losing the ability to transform their marketing programs.

Swoop’s conversational AI technology is built on more than 1.3 billion conversations with patients and providers, has been trained under the supervision of physicians and medically trained clinicians and has been implemented by more than 100 brands. It uses fine-tuned large language models to understand user intent and surface the most relevant MLR-approved answers to ensure compliance, accuracy and, most importantly, safety.
For more insights on how Swoop’s AI solutions are optimizing health outcomes and commercial success by improving the way brands connect with their audience, visit Swoop.com or contact [email protected].