There’s a sector of pharma communications sometimes overlooked as a crucial component to a successful marketing plan. Not long ago, when someone said, “medical education,” one might envision healthcare providers (HCPs) at a hotel discussing PowerPoint slides. Many considered medical education, or med ed, to be far less flashy, or as important as traditional healthcare advertising.
But times are changing, as are perceptions about med ed. During the pandemic’s early days, as reps were shut out of physicians’ offices and traditional dinner meetings and congresses were halted, the need for tailored and targeted med ed suddenly became urgent. Pharma clients required a way in the “door” to educate HCPs about disease states and products. Physicians were equally pressed to remain informed about treatments for their patients, and all were concerned with ensuring those who necessitated treatment would have a means to get it as patients stopped going to their physicians’ offices for fear of COVID exposure.
As med ed professionals, clients were looking to us to develop ways to creatively fill gaps formed by the lack of traditional HCP education. In creating novel approaches, each had to carefully consider several factors: disease state, data, product benefit/risk, access, patient accessibility, and more. The challenge was even greater for clients preparing for product launches. It was incumbent on med ed to help fill the significant education gap at the height of the pandemic.
- Digital programs – We were one of countless businesses pivoting overnight to entirely digital platforms. Live meetings and congresses had to meet virtually. Running digital programs is nothing new, but the ask from our clients extended beyond the tried-and-true interfaces. They wanted innovative platforms to differentiate from their competitors in look, feel, and user experience, all while trying not to overburden attendees with complex systems when everyone was already bombarded with virtual meetings. It was a time-consuming, delicate balance to keep the focus on education, while also delivering new approaches.
- Virtual congresses and booths – Converting programs into virtual symposia was easier. Most faculty were adept enough to set up camera equipment, but virtual booths were a different story. Driving booth traffic is challenging in and of itself in person, but without the free coffee and swag to entice HCPs, we had to create exciting virtual online experiences to draw them into the “booth” on their own time and keep them engaged. We had to find innovative ways to attract HCPs in an overcrowded digital arena and make our clients’ content stand out. So, we asked physicians what they wanted and created snackable content to address their feedback. We offered them the opportunity to select their own content based on their areas of need and interest. This approach of on-demand education has since become an expected option.
- Supplementing or replacing efforts of traditional reps – Beyond the regular multichannel efforts to deliver key messages, we had to ensure all efforts reflected an omnichannel approach. Since traditional med ed materials are typically delivered via long-form, our team was challenged to provide the same messaging in a way that better mimicked the succinct approach reps would use, while also ensuring the content was informative and well balanced. We needed to reevaluate not just the messaging, but where we were placing content. Physicians, like consumers, have specific online habits and it was up to us to identify where each physician typically goes, and get there first with digestible content to speak to his or her specific interests.
What we’ve observed as the pandemic waned isn’t entirely a surprise. Traditional med ed tactics aren’t going to revert to pre-COVID efforts. However, HCPs also don’t wish for things to be all digital anymore, as the “all digital, all the time” approach created online fatigue. “Hybrid” is now the norm and HCPs recognize they don’t need to pay to attend a meeting in person when they can do it virtually. Now clients can book that previously impossible-to-get speaker for a virtual drop-in, and HCPs don’t have to take too much time away from their practice to attend a virtual meeting.
Post-pandemic changes in delivery methods and adult learning behaviors forced med ed to up its game in numerous ways. Unsurprisingly, this has created the need for different talents, as well as expanding services and offerings. Because med ed helped fill the educational gaps in many areas, the result has been a quiet, yet clear shift in how the discipline of med ed is now perceived. This new perspective ensures med ed will continue to hold a prominent place at the healthcare communications table.