NEW RESEARCH REPORT: The Future of HCP Engagement Impact

Pharmaceuticals will ramp up efforts to understand the information needs and behaviour of healthcare professionals in 2024 as they look to better demonstrate clinical impact from their HCP engagement activities, reveals a new study published by EPG Health.

The multi-stakeholder research finds that ‘HCP insight (needs and behaviour)’ is the industry’s number one strategic HCP engagement priority for the year ahead (cited by 57% of pharma), followed by ‘improving customer experience’ (47%) and ‘optimising content for digital consumption’ (45%).

The Future Of HCP Engagement Impact 2023 Cover

This marks a change in emphasis since 2021, when ‘a shift in digital culture or mindset’ was pharma’s top strategic priority amid the upheaval of the pandemic. Now, 75% of pharma survey respondents report advances in this area over the last 2 years, and HCPs are noticing the difference; close to two-thirds say provision of scientific information via digital sources has improved significantly over this period, the report, titled The Future of HCP Engagement Impact, reveals.

Sharper focus on HCP needs, but gaps remain

Growing focus on HCP needs and behaviour is indicative of some of the wider changes taking place within the pharmaceutical industry, not least the ongoing rise in importance of medical affairs functions.

For the first time, the study finds that medical science liaison (MSL) activities – listed as critical or very important for 84% of respondents – have overtaken sales force (77%) as pharma’s most important channel for delivering scientific information to healthcare professionals.

Aligned with this, there are signs that greater attention is being paid to HCP calls for greater access to disease-focused content. Gaps between HCP demand and industry provision have narrowed since 2021, and while supplying brand information is still pharma’s top priority over disease awareness, 27% expect future budget increases for the latter, versus 17% for the former.

However, regarding sources of scientific content, evidence suggests pharma is not always listening to HCP demand. Healthcare professionals consider independent medical websites their preferred channel for consuming this information, with 74% describing them as critical or very important. Scientific meetings also remain a high-value source of such content.

Despite this, pharmaceutical companies remain overwhelmingly focused on delivering their own content via their own channels; 74% expect to predominantly create their own disease awareness in 2024. Relinquishing some control of content message and delivery may be necessary to build credibility and impact, the report finds.

In addition, the study highlights that healthcare professionals have growing demand to consume content via social media; 41% now consider this important (rising to 64% among those <34 years of age), up from 33% in 2021. But pharma has reduced emphasis on social channels in the last 2 years.

Demonstrating impact presents key challenge

Going some way to explain the industry’s fresh emphasis on understanding HCP needs and behaviour, the survey findings indicate that pharma struggles to meaningfully measure the impact of its medical-led activities.

Demonstrating behavioural impact and outcomes’ is now the second most pressing challenge facing pharma’s digital HCP engagement, with 63% describing this as a major challenge (just behind demonstrating financial ROI, 69%).

As a result, the study shows that currently, primary focus is on ‘reach’ metrics for determining impact, and very few are assessing the fulfilment of educational needs or influence on behaviour in clinical practice.

  • Only 24% of pharma comprehensively collate and analyse HCP engagement data, and just 22% act on data insights
  • Fewer than 20% measure knowledge gain, behavioural change or impact in practice for most of their HCP education activities
  • Pharma service providers are on average twice as likely as pharma to measure HCP knowledge and behavioural metrics for most educational activities
Commenting on the findings, Jonathan Macdonald, Chief Operating Officer and architect of EPG Health’s Impact Outcomes Framework said: “Our study demonstrates that the industry is making good progress with its digital engagement efforts, and it’s interesting to see greater emphasis on medical rather than marketing-led activity for the first time..

“However, pharma recognises there is still a long way to go, particularly around the use of data and understanding the true impact of its engagement activity. Without going beyond the basic reach and interaction metrics that many still use to determine impact, you cannot assess whether real value is being delivered for healthcare professionals.

“It is now possible to demonstrate impact in a more meaningful way by delving into the learning behaviour of healthcare professionals online. We are doing this via Medthority, our independent medical education platform, using a digital framework for learning to assess the fulfilment of educational needs.”
Matthew Hellyer, Head of Insight, EPG Health, commented: “The industry’s shift towards focusing on HCP needs and behaviour is welcomed and apparent. With pharma strategic priorities having, on occasion, been misaligned to HCP demand, there is a clear requirement to build data strategies that will ultimately support deeper understanding of their digital behaviour.

“Moving towards metrics that demonstrate the value of engagement is an integral part of truly understanding HCP needs, behaviours and ultimately their requirements for learning. This step must be achieved before you can accurately demonstrate ROI.”

The Future of HCP Engagement Impact follows on from EPG Health’s 2021 study on The Gaps Between HCP Demand and Pharma Supply of Medical Information. The new report presents findings from global, multi-stakeholder surveys conducted with healthcare professionals, pharmaceutical executives and service providers. It contains comprehensive insights into:

  • HCP content needs and channel preferences
  • Pharma priorities for HCP engagement
  • The evolution of scientific meetings  
  • The role of websites 
  • Industry digital maturity
  • Leveraging data and measuring impact