The pharmaceutical industry offers lessons for chief medical officers in getting physicians’ attention

In 2008, a study by two York University researchers estimated that the U.S. pharmaceutical industry spent almost twice as much on promotion as it did on research and development.

The Congressional Budget Office reported in December 2009 that the industry spent at least $20.5 billion on promotional activities in 2008. The report went on to say that "Detailing [the industry term for sending sales reps to talk to doctors and other providers] to physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants cost $12 billion, accounting for more than half of that promotional spending." Industry sources say this trend only continues to grow, despite recent cutbacks due to the economy. Pharmaceutical companies still devote big dollars to detailing and other marketing efforts.

Chief Medical Officers (CMOs), too, need to get information in front of busy medical staff on an on-going basis. Luckily, they can borrow some of the pharmaceutical industry's proven techniques for successful physician communication.

Common Goals
Communication with physicians is important to pharmaceutical companies and CMOs for many of the same reasons:
• sharing vital information about programs and services,
• providing updates on important news,
• differentiating the organization from the competition,
• growing brand awareness,
• building business, and
• fostering ongoing relationships and loyalty.

For CMOs, these issues have taken on increased emphasis, particularly with the many ongoing changes in the delivery of health care. The challenge for the CMO is keeping medical staff informed of the hospital's news, programs, services, and specialists to ensure quality care, compliance with hospital operations, and a continued flow of patients.

Common challenges
For CMOs and pharmaceutical companies, the barriers to reaching physicians are also similar. Getting access is the first hurdle. It can be a real challenge cutting through informational clutter. Faxes, emails, postal mail, calls and other forms of communication all vie for the physician's attention and are at risk of not being seen or heard. Often doctors are also their own best gatekeepers and quickly make decisions as to what's important to focus on. Just stop by your hospital's physician lounge and watch what the doctors do with the contents of their mailboxes.

Other common challenges faced by CMOs and pharmaceutical companies alike include:
 Creating credibility. Often there's a need to overcome a negative perception that the intent of the contact is to just tell physicians something that they need to change or review what is not going well.
 Building strong communication skills. It's not enough for CMOs to be personable, they must also be experts in how to deliver information in a simple, direct way that grabs a physician's interest. This is a very different skill set from the leadership skills that have earned CMOs the respect of their peers.
 Dealing with short attention spans. A CMO may have a short window within which to deliver their message and make it meaningful.

CMO advantages and opportunities
CMOs have one significant advantage – they are known to their medical staff and communication coming from the CMO will more likely break through the clutter.

The caveat here is that the information must be relevant and shared in a timely manner. Decisions by committee, waiting for a monthly publication (or just missing the deadline for the latest one), lacking discretionary resources for communication activities – all delay the dissemination of important information.

Keys to Successful Communication

Data is a key resource for pharmaceutical companies in communicating with physicians. They know what doctors are prescribing their drugs, and they know how much they are prescribing. They know when the patterns change. They analyze the data to drive and shape their decisions. Pharma knows that communicating with physicians must be data-driven and highly targeted to be successful. CMOs generally have less sophisticated methods of data collection to understand what their physicians know and don't know, or what communication channels individual physicians prefer.

Physician Relationship Management (PRM) software can be invaluable in tracking referral patterns, issues, preferences and liaison interactions with physicians.

PRM products can be expected to evolve as CMOs increasingly focus on communication initiatives. Newer communication tools that track physician interests and preferences can be integrated with PRM and allow for even further targeting of communication with physicians.

Use of "opinion leaders"
Testimonials are very powerful – and not just in traditional communication. Pharmaceutical companies have been very successful in involving trusted physicians in traditional advertising and direct marketing to other physicians. CMOs have these resources, as well, and should take advantage of them. Physician thought leaders can be positive influencers in getting one's message across and /or reinforced.

A carefully crafted message
Many key issues for physicians can be summed up with one word: Time. Anything that saves a physician time would therefore be very valuable, so CMOs should practice delivering quick, concise, targeted messages. An example in e-communications is to write with the "skimmers and scanners" in mind. Highlight the key points of your message with a high level overview, and then link to more information for those who want a deeper dive. You may only have the physician's attention for a short period of time, so make the most of it.

Some questions to ask as you hone your message:
1. What's in it for the doctors? Doctors must see value in the CMO's information and quickly understand its application.
2. What their peers are doing? CMOs should know their doctors. Who are the physicians whose opinions other physicians value and what are they doing? This is why many drug companies use experts and opinion leaders to influence physicians.
3. Identify the barriers for getting a physician to change behavior once information is delivered. What's keeping this doctor from acting? Is it time? Is it money? Is it their peers? Determine the barriers and find the resources to overcome them.

Piggyback on Existing Behavior
Communication should be tailored to the physician's current behavior. Many CMOs are finding success when they "drive information into physicians' daily routine and leverage their existing online habits," according to Victoria Petrock, author of the report, "Marketing to Healthcare Professionals Online." Physicians are moving more and more to the Internet for everything from how they get their journals, to conference and meeting coverage, to how they get their continuing medical education credits.

In fact, Manhattan Research's Taking the Pulse study, conducted in 2010, found that physicians spend an average of 16 hours each week online (eight hours for professional purposes), and 35 percent spend 20 or more hours actively using the Internet or email. In addition, the study reported that 77 percent of physicians are using online professional education resources in their daily practice, and more than 60 percent are obtaining online CME consistently on a weekly or monthly basis.

New physician communication tools piggyback hospital news and information onto breaking medical news by specialty and / or CME activities, thus leveraging time the physician is already spending.

So, bottom line – what makes a physician e-communication program successful? How do CMOs get physicians to see, hear, understand, and act on their messages?
1. Although your physician communication strategy must be multilayered and multimedia, e-communication is critical. Remember it is one of the only communication channels that is not "filtered" through others. It can also easily be customized and individualized to one's physicians.
2. The success of CMO communication strategies are all enhanced if his / her messaging:
 Piggybacks onto current physician behaviors whenever possible.
 Provides something of on-going value to physicians to continually break through the clutter
 Communicates on an individual basis whenever possible.

Daniel E. Ansel is president of Private Health News (PHN), a Cincinnati-based firm that provides electronic and interactive e-communication solutions to engage physicians. PHN's physician e-communication program, MedNews Plus, is currently used by over 350 hospitals throughout the U.S. with over 85,000 medical staff users. He can be reached at 513-731-6700 #17 or at

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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