By Christa Toole, Partner, Search and Analytics, Greater Than One 

Christa Toole, Partner, Search and Analytics, GTO

The onset of COVID-19 has caused huge behavioral changes, with some changes that may be persist long past the outbreak—and that is having an impact on how we reach out to healthcare professionals (HCPs).  In many ways, our industry is adapting well to the change, in some ways driving it, and we believe that the industry will ultimately be better because of it.  We continue to be mindful of the impact this virus has on our clients’ businesses and assess each situation individually.


First, what’s changing? 

  • Many clients’ sales forces are grounded, and therefore forced to explore alternatives to replace face-to-face interaction with HCP customers
  • Brands and publishers are turning to different methods to reach HCPs with sales forces and conferences out of commission
    • EHRs
    • HCP social (P2P chat rooms and sessions)
    • Virtual HCP roundtables
  • Physicians are turning to their peers for resources during this time, virtually
    • Between the first 2 weeks of March, Skipta, a social media platform for HCPs, experienced a ~225% increase in average weekly traffic. In the last 2 weeks of March, that went up to ~470%
    • Doximity, another social platform for HCPs, has experienced 40 times growth in traffic over the past month
  • Many conferences have been canceled or are going virtual
  • Across the board, traffic to HCP sites is skyrocketing
    • HCPs are engaging on Medscape more than usual. They are seeing significant increases in traffic on KOL blogs, videos, perspectives, opinion areas, and news. Traffic has increased by 20%. Frequency of visits per day has also increased. Medscape is seeing a broadening of digital campaigns—a lot of clients who previously worked just in tight target lists are expanding to full specialty and running first-right-of-refusal sponsorships
  • WordStream reported a 34% increase in search traffic across pharma and a 47% increase in engagement:
    • Searches for more serious conditions have increased in particular
  • Product launches are being delayed or hindered, either by the manufacturer or due to supply issues caused by broader restrictions
  • In times of change and uncertainty, people (including HCPs) often seek the safety in the “known.”  Brands with high awareness, eg, those that are top of mind or associated with significant positive experiences, become safe havens
  • Doctors’ visits will decrease in the short term
  • HCPs who treat patients with serious conditions will still need to connect with their patients and work to keep them as healthy as possible
    • Patients seeking a diagnosis for a certain condition or certain prescription may not be able to come in for required testing
    • Where that isn’t the case, patients may still talk to their doctors remotely to get a diagnosis or prescription
    • American Medical Association (AMA) states that 70% of doctor’s office visits can be handled over the phone and 50% of ER visits are non-emergencies
    • Some HCPs have been setting up proactive wellness appointments
  • Significant increase in news and entertainment consumption for immersion and escapism
  • Fees for services associated with walled gardens are being waived
  • Some HCPs are being redeployed to help fight COVID-19 (location, practice setting)
  • Some offices are having to close due to lack of funds derived from non-essential procedures
  • People are losing their health insurance
  • Increase in technology-based connection between patient and HCP, HCP and reps, etc.
  • Accelerating current trends like telehealth
    • Telemedicine usage up 1417% over the last 2 weeks according to claims data
    • MD Live and Teledoc, 2 large telemed firms, saw a 1000% increase in subscribers since March 1
    • RXNT, a telehealth-friendly EHR tool, has seen an increase in impression levels across all specialties—in fact, there have been spikes, which means that there hasn’t been a slowdown in patients going in for their office visits
    • Some clients have been asking to increase impression volume to offset the lack of sales reps visiting HCPs
    • Sharecare launched a free platform to enable providers in the United States with telehealth


How is the industry responding to change?

  • Exploring technology-driven solutions to facilitate sales rep/HCP discussions
    • Here is an article on how brands can train field teams for effective remote engagement:

  • Reduction in rep detailing has led to increases in non-personal promotion for some clients
    • Some publishers are also offering products, including KOL video programs, as ways to augment face-to-face activity
  • Repurposing NPP assets to distribute via the sales force through Veeva (eg, Medscape’s patient exam room videos)
  • Some condition categories have pulled back activity overall as revenue streams shift or they become more uncertain
  • Digital or virtual conference sponsorships are increasing in demand
  • Publishers are expanding their virtual opportunities
    • Virtual meetings with enduring digital on demand: Medscape launched in Q1 2020 a virtual roundtable that can be flexible with more than one speaker. It can include polling, Q&A, etc. The event is posted online for additional recruitment
  • Clients are building content to address the acute needs of their customers and, as possible, offering support and counsel
    • Pharma companies have added content related to COVID-19 to their websites to proactively address HCP inquiries
  • Market leaders with long-term vision are continuing with select programs to build market share as business will likely consolidate with those leaders
  • More emphasis is being placed on getting current patients the products they need
    • Shoring up search around brand, treatment inquiries
  • Agencies may be shifting media mix towards digital, virtual channels
  • Companies are offering free products or vouchers
  • Brands have an opportunity to connect to telehealth technology via sponsorships
    • RXNT has partnered with SnapMD and is currently launching with All HCPs who have an RXNT license can access software on their platform during virtual appointments
    • Populus is working to insert video content and advertising within
  • Brand leaders are responding to the shift authentically, with category commitment
  • Digitalization of content—all assets that may have been in print need to be translated to digital


What possible trends/opportunities should we begin to think about longer-term?

  • The sales rep and HCP relationship may continue to embrace a digital-led model
  • A broader trend may rise for customized content based on real-time conditions and utilize artificial intelligence
  • While launches may be compromised in the short term, this is a time to demonstrate leadership
    • Consider expanding advocacy efforts to highlight leadership in the industry
  • A surge in doctor visits after shelter-in-place orders are lifted will likely occur. At that point, and a few weeks before, it may be fruitful to heavy up in point of care, search, etc to amplify the sales force efforts and augment them
  • Brands should review their content via a new lens in a post-COVID-19 world
  • Substitutions for face-to-face interactions—eg, 3D photography, 3D video, use of sound—will probably continue to be primary modes of communication
  • Advertising within telemedicine platforms will be more prevalent
  • At-home testing/diagnosis could become the new normal
  • More patients could have remote monitoring devices that could help HCPs track patients’ health remotely and possibly aid in diagnosis
  • Increase in video conferencing (Zoom/Teams)—expansion of these tools could be a leading indicator of broader telehealth adoption
  • Usage of hands-free devices such as assistants and smart homes will probably become more prevalent as concerns about germs will remain high for some time
  • Location may become less important for visiting specialists as remote options will have been further utilized


GTO is here to assess how to best support our clients after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides and the sales force has redeployed, and we’ll put together comprehensive plans for driving the best results based on each client’s goals and situation.


About the author:

Christa founded and leads the SEO, paid search and web analytics practices at Greater Than One. Christa and her team have provided strategic search and analytics services over the past 20 years. She can be reached at [email protected]