The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting quarantine caused severe restrictions on in-person examinations among clinicians of all specialties, including oncology. This “new reality” has rapidly accelerated the use of and reliance on virtual engagement and telemedicine among HCPs. 

 As COVID-19 vaccines roll out and the world gradually reopens, clinicians and health systems alike continue to adjust. But which adjustments are temporary, and which changes are permanent? Magnolia Innovation, a life sciences–focused market research company, explored this seismic shift in a 2020 market research survey focusing on oncologists and their use of virtual engagement with patients and pharma sales representatives. 

The survey, Oncologists’ Attitudes and Outlook Toward Industry Engagement, explored themes such as:

·  To what degree might telemedicine overtake in-person patient care?

·  How do oncologists vary in their willingness to engage virtually?

·  What drives differences in attitude and behavior among oncologists? 

·   How will a field-based sales force remain relevant moving forward? 

Magnolia Innovation’s survey found broad agreement in a few general areas, such as the value in attending congresses, and setbacks in business because of the pandemic. But a deeper look at the findings revealed 3 distinct segments among oncologists, largely defined by their willingness to embrace virtual engagement. 

These findings offer marketers the opportunity to incorporate “segmentation attitudes and insights” into their oncology customer engagement strategies. These learnings can help refine and optimize current and new tactics by gauging how each customer segment may or may not embrace virtual or in-person engagement activities (or a combination thereof) based on their specific beliefs and preferences. 

By understanding how to best interact with each segment, marketers can balance in-person and virtual engagement strategies, helping oncologists effectively and successfully treat cancer patients post pandemic.

Magnolia Innovation’s Survey

Characteristics of the 3 segments of oncologists 

The online survey involved 200 practicing oncologists who allow in-person access to sales reps. Participating oncologists came from a representative sample across geographies, subspecialties, and practice types/sizes. 

Each of the 3 segments represents about one-third of the oncologists surveyed, and each has clear and actionable characteristics that showcase segment attitudes as well as needs and wants from pharma representatives. 

Strategic Engagement Within 3 Segments

Applying insights to strategic engagement 

The survey offers data-based conclusions and takeaways that can be applied to strategic engagement within each of the 3 segments. Marketers can discover how to broaden their thinking and tailor initiatives to each segment. 

Addressing each segment with the right approach in the right channel with the right message can lead to increased engagement and better results. Based on the survey results, here are a few suggested approaches that could be effective when engaging with each segment. More suggestions can be found in the Magnolia Innovations full report. 

Segment 1, Virtual Champions: “The Trailblazers”

The Virtual Champions view themselves as pioneers and innovators. A virtual engagement roadmap should include multiple virtual touchpoints designed to empower and enable the oncologist. By appealing to this sense of “trailblazing,” the following initiatives could be considered:

·  Be active in oncology education: Offer KOL advisors the opportunity to nominate peers or mentees who might be interested in virtual advisory board experiences.

·  Be a leader of new thinking in oncology: Target this segment first for pilot programs involving innovative products, tactics, or eDetails. 

Segment 2, Face-to-Face Purists: “The Guardians”

The Face-to-Face Purists view themselves as the enforcers and protectors of good medicine. They resist the idea of eliminating traditional, in-person human interactions. The strategy here is to ensure opportunities for direct, in-person engagement. By emphasizing that virtual engagement is NOT meant to replace live interaction, the following programs could be considered:

·  Be a modern participant in a future built on tradition: Offer virtual speaker programs with content focusing on in-person, physical patient-care strategies and educational initiatives.

Segment 3, Adaptable Partners: “The Solution Seekers”

The Adaptable Partners don’t embrace either extreme (online versus live interaction). While they don’t want all in-person interactions replaced by virtual platforms, they will embrace virtual if it meets their need for information gathering. While they recognize a place for virtual engagement, they feel hindered by their institutions. By appealing to their sense of being flexible “solution seekers,” the following programs could be considered:

·  Be flexible while staying attuned to the new paradigm: Invite select HCPs to a virtual program or convention, giving them a first-hand red-carpet experience that shows all the elements a virtual event from a pharma company can offer. 

·  Be a part of the KOL pipeline: Establish a KOL mentorship program in which current KOLs are partnered with up-and-coming KOLs. 


There’s a perception that clinical care (along with the rest of the world) is going 100% virtual. This research shows that is not the case. The results of the Magnolia Innovation survey provide marketers a high-value opportunity for customized segmentation marketing to optimize virtual customer engagement with oncologists. 

The output of the study reaches deep into the attitudes and perceptions of the oncology audience while considering the unique circumstances of how COVID-19 has affected (or not affected) their behaviors. 

The study results are meant to inform and employ the most meaningful engagement tactics across a continuum of oncology customers, thus enabling marketers and sales reps to build long-term relationships driven by customized interactions that are dedicated to improving patient care. 


Find out more—which segment is most likely to reduce on-site rep visits, which segment finds sales reps most trustworthy, and which segment is most likely (and least likely) to think telemedicine is equal to in-person interactions. 

Get your copy of Oncologists’ Attitudes and Outlook Toward Industry Engagement

Call: 646-586-3080 

Email: [email protected] 




Magnolia Innovation is a consulting and market research firm focusing exclusively in the life sciences. Magnolia has decades of combined experience building, launching, and redefining biopharmaceutical brands to drive innovation through insights. 

For more information, please email us at [email protected] 

or call us at 646-586-3080. 


Richard Veal, MBA, is an Associate Partner with Magnolia Innovation; he partners with biopharma organizations to understand and enter complex health markets. 

Andrew Stokesbury is an Associate Director with Magnolia Innovation, focused on leveraging advanced analytics to generate actionable strategic insights for biopharma manufacturers.