Taking inspiration from unexpected sources—from Travis Scott to Dr. Fauci to Jeff Bezos—CEO, Arun Divakaruni, and Managing Director of Medical Affairs, Sean Markwardt, review what hasn’t changed when it comes to engaging HCPs, help us understand what we can learn from markets outside healthcare, and explore new ways to approach and think about HCP engagement.
Dan Limbach: Hello everybody, I’m Dan Limbach, Producer of the PharmaVOICE Webcast Network. I’ll be your moderator today. Welcome to our event entitled the future of HCP engagement, brought to you by PharmaVOICE in partnership with our good friends at Avant Healthcare. We have an outstanding crowd today with executives from across the industry. Thank you for investing the time to attend. We will do our very best to make it worth your while. Before we get started, I’d like to take a moment to acquaint you with a few features of our webinar technology. If you can hear me, but are experiencing problems logging in to see the slides, you may want to try logging in using a different browser, and we recommend the latest versions of Chrome and Firefox.
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We’ll also have an audience poll during the presentation, so get ready to participate. You are going to be seeing and hearing a great deal of useful information today, and you don’t have to memorize everything during this live event or take copious notes because we are recording this session. We will send you a link to the on-demand archive in about 24 hours so you can re review the event at your leisure. Now that we’re through with the housekeeping details, let’s dive into the program. We have a very knowledgeable pair of experts with us today to share their views about what HCP engagement will look like in the future.
We’re very excited to welcome Arun Divakaruni, PhD, Chief Executive Officer at Avant Healthcare, and Sean Markwardt, PhD, Managing Director of Medical Affairs at Avant Healthcare. Both panelists have extensive industry experience, and we are very fortunate to have them with us today. It’s going to be a very interesting discussion. Arun is going to start things off today. Arun, take it away.
Arun Divakaruni: All right, thanks Dan. And thank you for everybody for joining us. My name is Arun Divakaruni. I’m the Chief Executive officer of Avant Healthcare, and I’m joined by my esteemed colleague, Sean Markwardt, who runs our medical affairs division. We’re going to do a little bit of age before beauty here. You’ll hear from me from a little bit, then you’ll hear from Sean, and then you’ll hear from both of us. But what we wanted to talk to you today was, what will healthcare provider engagement look like in the future? That’s kind of an open-ended question right now, but we have some thoughts and some experience in sort of predicting where the market is going and what we need to do as marketers to be there for our and clients when we need them.
But first, I really wanted to start with maybe kind of an obvious sort of question, but posed in an interesting way. This comes from Shoshana Zuboff, who is a professor emeritus at Harvard Business School, and she’s written many books about the age of technology and what that sort of means, and she’s written a fascinating book on the age of surveillance. What she sort of noted is that every century or so, there’s a fundamental change in the nature of consumption patterns that enterprises need to meet. That’s the job of companies like ours, Avant, is to help pharmaceutical companies act more like their consumers or their customers, and help bridge that gap between how their customers are behaving and how we’re acting as companies.
I think it’s pretty fair to say that the biggest change, I think, or the most important change in our connectivity as people, as human beings has been the adoption of social networks. We can talk about traditional Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, personal sort of social networks, but there is an emerging sort of set of HCP specific social networks that are just devoted to healthcare professionals. Against the backdrop of COVID, these sort of platforms have been heavily adopted or their adoption is increasing. If I can just sort of park for a moment and just sort of acknowledge the news yesterday about the development of a COVID vaccine, Albert Borea, the CEO of Pfizer, said it was the most important scientific advance in the last hundred years.
I’m not really one for hyperbole, but I do think he’s right. I think we’re at a watershed moment for us as an industry, and I’ve never been prouder to work for in an industry that value science and technology, and really helping people. We’re still in this sort of pandemic for the foreseeable future, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I do think that the combination of the increased adoption of social networks against … that’s been catalyzed by COVID will fundamentally and forever change our consumption behaviors moving forward. We’ve got a question for you. What do you think? How has your digital behavior changed as a result of the pandemic? Have you, maybe on one extreme end, just stopped looking at everything? Or for me at least, I’m on my phone more than ever. Let’s see where you guys stand. Sean, what about you? What have you been up to?
Sean Markwardt: I’m the same. I think you told me a few weeks ago or a few months ago, and told me to know that people are scrolling through the equivalent of the height of the Statue of Liberty on social media and Instagram every day. I feel that is ever the more true in the last six months. It’s an outlet. I think that will stick for a while.
Arun Divakaruni: My thumbs have become very strong during this pandemic from scrolling so much.
Dan Limbach: All right. Let’s say last call on this and close the poll and let’s share the results and see where our audience is on this one. Yeah, 29%, 33 have stayed the same or slightly increased. Certainly nobody seems to be decreasing their social media activities. I think that’s pretty consistent with the expectations, wouldn’t you guys say?
Arun Divakaruni: I think so, and I think what that means is that, particularly that we’ve seen more than half of us increase our digital usage, that opens up tremendous opportunities for us as marketers, and we shouldn’t think that healthcare providers aren’t doing the same thing, because they are. All right.
Dan Limbach: Very good. All right. Let’s close the poll and you can continue.
Arun Divakaruni: All right. What does this mean for HCP engagement? As somebody like Jeff Bezos who’s managed through relentless change asked a really important question, and I’ll paraphrase what he’s saying here to say that, when people ask him, what’s going to change in the next 10 years? He says, the most important question is maybe the converse of that and what’s not going to change, because if you have something of stability, you can build a business around it. Sean, I’ll sort of ask you. It’s hard to predict the future, but are there a couple of things, can you tell us, that you don’t think are going to change in the next 10 years?
Sean Markwardt: Yeah, for sure. I think, Arun, that one thing that’s not going to change is the majority of relevant clinical knowledge and experience for any HCP will most likely come after their formal education from medical school or nurse practitioner school, and the latest edition of Harrison’s internal medicine is only going to go so far. With most medical schools having one, maybe two semesters at best of pharmacology means that I think that Pharma will continue to carry a good portion of responsibility and support for imparting that continuing relevant clinical knowledge and experience. As our slide now shows, the other thing is that I’m pretty sure that HCPs will not be robots. So, we can have conversations about big data and artificial intelligence and those kinds of things.
They do hold some promise for being great supporters and adding some context to that decision-making, but I don’t think we’ll be counting 100% on those things when it comes to our health. If HCPs are not going to be robots, and that’s certainly a bet that we’re going to make, that means that we need to treat them like human beings and in ways that they expect from, both other brands but also in other areas of their lives, outside of their offices and their patients. Next, I’m also quite certain that they’ll continue to prefer to receive information and learning from each other. I actually just had a advisory board last night, and we pulled our dermatology audience about how they get most of their learning and clinical guidance.
What rose to the top unequivocally was colleague conversations, and that ranked above every other option that we gave them out of a set of seven or eight options, and several even mentioned texting colleagues and professional friends throughout their day or their week. That was really enlightening. Arun, I think of those are some things that won’t change, let’s maybe indulge our audience a bit and take a leap into talking about what trends we think might change some things.
Arun Divakaruni: Sure. I think by looking at those constants, Sean, that you mentioned, we can begin to sort of think, what is going to change in the future? I think it sort of boils down to three things that we’ll talk about today. There’s obviously more. If any of you in the audience are interested in learning about what else we can learn beyond the things that we’ll talk about today, we’ll have a slide at the end that has some contact information, and John or myself, or any combination of the folks that we have here at Avant are happy to sit down and go a little bit deeper. But Sean, I’ll turn it over to you to sort of talk about storytelling and how we can tell our stories in new and different ways, given the sort of trend and move towards digital.
Sean Markwardt: Yeah. On that first trend, which is telling your story in a way that your audience expects, science and medicine are not the only kinds of content that your audience, our audience is paying attention to. I think that, that’s a concept that the New England Journal of Medicine has certainly picked up on. If you’ve noticed in the last few years, Medium is so much more than what it was a decade ago. I think it resembles what a news network, like the New York Times or Buzzfeed, for example, what they look like, more so maybe than what comes to mind when you think of a scientific journal. They’ve really expanded the way that they communicate to be more audience centric and contextual in the ways that their audience conducts their lives outside of their profession.
So, we can apply a bit more context to this idea. The complexity of medicines, the specificity with which those medicines are treating patients and more and more specific disease targets, and also in conjunction with some of the progressiveness of regulatory agencies that we’ve seen recently are increasing. What I think that means is that all of the information and data that could be valuable and meaningful to our audiences won’t necessarily be in the label or in a sales aid [inaudible 00:13:31] anymore. So, how do we see companies being able to adapt to that? One way is an increasing responsibility on medical affairs, field medical teams and MSLs. The ability of your MSLs and your field medical group to understand the needs of individual ACPs and to become better storytellers and speaking beyond the label, that’s going to drive a lot of progress now and more so in the future.
This is a trend that we’re willing to make some bets on and we’ve already done that. Arun has mentioned already that we’ve invested in specific solutions and services and customer centricity around medical affairs, aside from our marketing and promotional business. In the same way that New England Journal is trying to be more customer centric to their audience, we are trying to be more customer centric in focusing on that particular trend and adopting medical as one potential solution to that trends. Arun, I know you have some other trends in your pockets. I’ll turn it back over to you to go through those.
Arun Divakaruni: Awesome. Yeah, and I think Sean, maybe if we can just pause here for a second, just the idea of scientific storytelling. We have, on the promotional side of our collective businesses, and on the more educational side when it relates to medical affairs, I was just wondering if you could just comment on a bit about creativity and good storytelling on both of those sort of sides of the coin of what we do, either as an agency or as a pharmaceutical company, biopharmaceutical companies.
Sean Markwardt: Yeah. That’s not only a great question, but I think for some people who have a long heritage and experience in science and being in medical affairs, it could be a little bit of a sensitive question as well. One thing that we have heard pretty consistently as we’ve been trying to come up with solutions with our clients, as we ideate through things and throw some potential solutions out there, what we’ve heard is that looks commercial, that feels too promotional, which is understandable. But same time, I think that aesthetics and making clear stories doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s promotional.
I think the charge for medical affairs professionals is … the ability of humans to perceive and understand information, and some of the design elements that we incorporate in some of our medical affairs solutions, those are all based on science. There’s no science that I’ve seen that says throwing 750 word on a PowerPoint slide is going to help your audience understand what you are trying to say any better. I do think that there is a place for creativity, more innovative solutions. We are beginning to see some progress. We recently launched an augmented reality app for a medical affairs client of ours. That really was a a pipe dream for us. We didn’t really think that was going to happen this year or even next year.
There are ways to navigate the perception of, this doesn’t feel scientific or doesn’t look scientific, and I don’t want to give our customers the wrong impression of medical affairs. Creativity and ingenuity and adopting some of those practices that might be felt as more traditionally marketing or promotional, those I think are going to be even more important in being able to the complexity that we’ve already talked about.
Arun Divakaruni: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I mean, creativity and ingenuity and good scientific storytelling are not mutually exclusive from accuracy. Not only is the story important, but the storyteller is also important. Our sort of next trend is to make KOL strategy part of your content strategy. We’ve heard a lot about content marketing and other sort of areas of discipline that are industry verticals, as you sort of mentioned. Maybe it’s because I used to live around the corner from Hamburger University, which is McDonald’s corporate headquarters, but if you read the industry trades, our industry, the marketing industry trades, there was a lot of hype around this promotion that McDonald’s did with the rapper, Travis Scott.
What they did was they created a Travis Scott meal. Essentially, they’d used existing products that they had in their line from French fries to their burgers and Sprite, and they paired it with an influencer, and this sort of influencer, too, carried a lot of cachet. Brought a whole sort of renewed interest in McDonald’s product line, because of who he was, and rallying around a certain individual made it really interesting because on social media, you would see people rolling up to the drive-through at McDonald’s and blasting a Travis Scott song, and those sorts of clips would go viral again. It was a really interesting way of pairing, not only a product in this case, which looks to me to be some sort of bacon cheeseburger, fries and Sprite combination.
Priced well, I mean, that’s a really important point of this, but with a person who would sort of add context and a little bit of socialness to this sort of campaign. There’s been a lot of talk about this in sort of consumer circles of marketing, but this is one area where I think we, as healthcare marketers, have been very much ahead of the curve. We don’t necessarily call our influencers, influencers. We call them KOLs, and we don’t necessarily lean on their, maybe social cachet, but rather their scientific expertise. Influence can be kind of … it’s a sensitive word for us, and maybe it’s a little bit of a dirty word, but I think what it means, in our context, when we look at it, is that there are people who can add an extra layer of perspective onto a piece of data, or who are working in a field where they can maybe take a step back and put everything in perspective a bit.
This is just an example of Dr. Jack West, who, for those of you who may be familiar with the world of lung cancer, is a very influential voice. It’s not so much aligning around a particular product, but around data and stuff itself. People, I think, have the ability to add that layer of credibility to it. The world is so much more complicated. Now there’s tons of information, particularly in cancer. I think that’s a good example, where we’re asking oncologists, not only do they have to be a treating physician, they have to be a molecular biologist, they have to understand all of the information that’s coming out about new biomarkers and treatments that are matched to it. They have to understand new modalities of treatment with immunotherapy, how to manage those sort of side effects.
What they do is they look to others to sort of say, to your point, Sean, about what you were saying in dermatology, they look to others to help them figure out what to do. There are sort of times where the individual person themselves can sort of dictate how a whole field sort of moves. I think I’m sort of old enough to remember, I guess it wasn’t that long ago, but when you look at how a particular person can influence medical practice, I’ll maybe give out a little bit of health information about my family. My dad has early mild diabetes. He was on Avandia for a really, really long time.
When Steve Nissen published that meta analysis in New England Journal and several other sort of outlets, it was picked up by the Wall Street Journal. I remember my father telling me, he was like, “I can’t be on this drug anymore.” He walked into his doctor’s office with the paper and said, “Put me on something else.” That was a really early analysis of the cardiovascular sort of risk with these TCDs. In retrospect, when you look back on what the data was, it didn’t really do that much harm, but it didn’t do really that much good either, so it was kind of awash. What I would imagine now, in the future, is that when we look at these HCP social networks, how do we manage that flow of information?
We can respond to it much more quickly, and we’ll sort of see the things that played out in traditional social media channels, the ones that we’re familiar with, the ones that we use every day in the dissemination of healthcare information. When you look at, just picking three for simplicity sake, so let’s take a platform like Doximity, take a platform like Epocrates, an emerging platform like Figure 1. When you talk to the folks at Doximity, they talk a lot about newsfeed, and that sort of reminds me of Facebook. When we look at our Facebook page now, as it was maybe five, six years ago, we’re talking about using this platform as a vehicle to get news.
Facebook doesn’t want it to be that, but it is, nevertheless. When we look at Epocrates, they talk a lot about real-time information. That seems to me very familiar to Twitter. When you want to find out what’s happening right now, you go to Twitter because people are posting about it. I think it’s fairly obvious, when you look at a platform like Figure 1 that’s sort of image based and tell stories through pictures, that looks a lot like Instagram. I think, if we were to sort of predict what that looks like in the future, is an HCP social network post with a person and a particular message, the new banner ad? I think banner ads still have a really important place in disseminating information, but perhaps the KOL plus the piece of information is really what our field is moving to. I think that’s something to keep in mind. We’re talking about technology. So, I think it’s important for us to realize what the point of technology should be. We [crosstalk 00:26:03].
Sean Markwardt: Arun, just a quick comment before you move on to the next trends. As a tangible example of those social and digital platforms, and you talked about influencers. One of my scientific staff is a former physician who was in clinical practice, and she’s very in tune with social media and digital technologies and Instagram and things like that. She’s very active on Facebook and there are a lot of physician groups on Facebook, which was validated at this advisory board I was at last night. But she brought to my attention a website that was dedicated to giving information to physicians and other healthcare practitioners and clinicians access to what it means to be an influencer. There are a lot of clinicians out there, perhaps on the younger side or less experienced side, but they understand these kinds of trends and they understand what it means to be an influencer or a leader.
And they’re looking for ways to develop their own platform in science or in clinical medicine. When we get inquiries from potential clients, or when we receive RFPs about digital influencers and top thought leaders that’s something to look for, but I also think there’s an opportunity to help those who already recognize this kind of trend, and to either help them become more digital, for those who are already thought leaders, but don’t have that digital presence or platform. There’s also an opportunity to look for those who are not yet leaders but have great thoughts and are digital. We talk a lot about the top of this and the top of that, but I think there’s another population of clinicians and HCPs that we can look at to help drive the future of these sorts of trends.
Arun Divakaruni: Sure, absolutely. I think that’s a really great point, is that social media, or these HCP social networks, how we want to look at it are sort of the great democratizers of information. That’s a really sort of astute point is that there’s some good sides to that. We can hear, to your point, about the thoughts and opinion of somebody who may not yet have an established sort of following or platform or name recognition, but to hear what they have to say. The other flip side of that is that we’re giving an equal platform to maybe people who may not have something great to say. You know what I mean? That’s the new world that we’re living in. I think it’s important and incumbent upon us to help the best information rise to the top and be part of the conversation. [crosstalk 00:29:22].
Sean Markwardt: Excellent point.
Arun Divakaruni: Yeah.
Sean Markwardt: I think I brought up in a podcast episode that we just did, at Avant, I brought up the quote from Michael Scott of The Office, where he says Wikipedia is the greatest thing on the internet. Anybody can post anything about any topic so you know you’re getting the best information. I do think it’s important you know to understand the balance of that concept and, to your point, helping those who have the best things to say rise to the top.
Arun Divakaruni: Yeah. Let’s talk about … we’ve been talking a lot about technology. I think one of the great positive sides about technology is that we can use it to bring people together. Particularly in this pandemic. Sean, you and I, we talk almost every day, and I know both of you and I both suffer from a bit of Zoom fatigue, and it’s tough being able to just kind of live your world virtually, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel, as we talked about before. We will get back to whatever that next normal or no normal is supposed to be. But I think what is going to stay with us is an increased reliance on technology. I think it’s really important for us to look to see how our is our audience using technology in a way to help sort of bridge that physical divide that we’re living in today, and what’s going to sort of stick with us moving forward.
I kind of wanted to pull up like three social networks or three sort of digital platforms or technology platforms that have seen a huge spike in usage during the pandemic. The first one is TikTok. Yeah, it’s sort of a place to look at people dancing to music and stuff like that, but what it tells us is that, I think the rise of TikTok as sort of a platform is not only is … because they’ve been able to combine a couple of things that people really want successfully. You’re able to do video editing very easily on TikTok, plus there’s a whole social network component that’s built into it, not to even mention the aspect of have access to a huge music library, which may or may not sort of violate some sort of copyright laws, but for now, we have the ability to take, hey, I’m going to make some videos, I’m going to combine it with music, and I’m going to be able to share it on a network.
You look at an app like Houseparty, and if you guys have ever used Houseparty, it’s a way that you can take video plus a gamification element to it, and sort of share an experience with friends that sort of bridges that physical divide that we’re living with today. I think for us, as pharmaceutical marketers and healthcare communicators, scientific communicators, I’ve really been impressed with how Disney has evolved their Disney plus platform, and with me with two little boys at home, this has been a great way to sort of keep them quiet while I’m doing webinars, but also, it’s a way that they’ve taken their vast content library.
Content is to Disney what scientific information is to a science oriented, or a life sciences company. What they’ve been able to do is sort of combine that with a social element. If you want to watch the new season of the Mandalorian, for those of you who don’t watch Star Wars, it’s a TV series based on Star Wars mythology that is on Disney Plus right now as a part of their original content. They’ve taken this story and the content around the story, and they’ve been able to socialize it so you can watch with your friends. Somebody can posit and say like, “Hey, you know what? I needed to go use the restroom or grab a Travis Scott meal from McDonald’s real quick, I’ll be back.”
But they’ve been able to take that isolating experience of sort of watching a movie and bridge it with technology to include other people. I think that’s really, really important moving forward, because I think what we’ve all sort of realized is that, and I’ll give it to us as maybe professionals in this world, is that we’ve been able to, more or less successfully try to manage the physical distance that COVID has imparted to us. What it’s taught us is that we don’t necessarily need to be in the same room to be together. Once we come out of this sort of thing, and yesterday’s news told us that we will at some point, I think that this is something that’s going to stay with us for a really long time, and it’s something that we’re seeing now.
Sean, I was just wondering if you could comment on some of the programs that we’re trying to execute for some of our clients that take sort of advantage of what we’re seeing in our own personal lives with this and what Disney Plus is doing to bring people together around specific points of information.
Sean Markwardt: Yeah. I think that anyone who knows you and me, Arun, is that we tend to speak a lot in these very high level conceptual ways. It’s also important to be able to apply those very conceptual, philosophical frameworks to, what do we do with that? How does Disney Plus and watching the Mandalorian apply to our business? One example of that we’re doing is it’s turning virtual advisory boards, which is now the new norm, at least for now, and probably for a while. Turning those into events and more of a shared experience. Instead of getting a text message or a Gmail invite from friends, HCPs are getting invitations and pre-programmed information from MSLs or from Salesforce. Then, during the program, there are ways to make those experiences and those events more engaging.
Then afterwards, instead of exchanging baby Yoda memes and gifs after watching the Mandalorian, they’re getting poll through and bonus content from that program, so creating a pre-experience, an engaging experience that is shared amongst colleagues, where the provider of that forum is delivering real value and connection to those who are attending. Although Travis Scott and French fries and Disney Plus might seem like abstract ideas, I think the way in which we think about these kinds of things can really make customer solutions more tangible. Again, this is really just one example. I think we’re at the end, but the last thing I wanted to just say that, while a lot of the focus in pharma and biotech and medical device industries has been on science, as well it should.
If I can encourage one key takeaway for all of you who are attending now, it’s that key takeaway is that, in addition to science and clinical medicine and data, in order to more successfully adapt to the future, it’s going to be increasingly important to understand and consider how people work and also to consider the context in which those people are living their lives. Not to take our eye off the ball in terms of the science and the data, but that is not the only thing that is going to help move our industry and our business forward. With that, Arun, I’ll turn it over to you for any last comments and [crosstalk 00:38:17].
Arun Divakaruni: Yeah, I think that’s a really important point that the information and what we’re saying is important. Who’s carrying that information and giving it validity is important, but also we have to be hyper empathetic about the way that people are living their lives right now. Our competition, let’s say if you’re brand X, it’s not only brand W, Y and Z who is in your space as well, it’s also the attention that maybe the physician or the nurse or whoever you’re communicating to is living with at home. We’re also trying to manage and juggle, not necessarily working from home, but living at work. For many of our doctors that … they’re still in the clinic and they’re still in the hospital, but some of them aren’t.
There’s just an increased demand and pressure given everything that’s happening with COVID right down. We’re seeing cases spike, and yes, we have a vaccine, but it’s going to be a while before it’s widely distributed. Give them something of value. When they engage with your content, they’re getting something that’s hyper relevant and can help them in their lives sort of today, and that’s sort of a topic that we explored earlier this year with PharmaVOICE and one of our sort of physician advisors, Dr. Chris Bojrab. I think it’s even more relevant than it is … It’s becoming even more and more relevant as time sort of goes on. We’ll open it up for questions now. I will say that we have a white paper on how to succeed on these new sort of maybe new ish HCP social networks that’s in the Bitly below. So, please come to our website and you can download it and sort of get sort of our thoughts.
If you would like Sean, myself, or anybody else from the avant team to sort of sit down with you and have a more detailed conversation, you can do that by emailing email@example.com, or coming to our website. There’s a link there, but we can sort of open it up for questions now. We’d like to have sort of a conversation with you.
Dan Limbach: Absolutely. That was a great presentation, lots of interesting and topical information, which we’re always looking for. We are going to go into the Q&A, which is always a popular segment of our web seminars. We’ve already got a bunch of great questions, but there’s still time to get your questions in, so if you’re sitting on anything that you’d like us to go into more detail on, type your question into the control panel questions area and send it to us. Just note that, due to time constraints, we may not be able to respond to all questions submitted, but we’ll get to as many as possible. Let’s get to it. Shall we? All right.
Here’s our first question. As engagement types evolve, do you think that the traditional workday will, as well, such as greater access to visits driven by technology make times for calls happen outside of the 8:00 to 5:00 or the 9:00 to 6:00 workday? What do you think, Arun?
Arun Divakaruni: That’s a great question. I would say that there are increasing demands on, and even increasing barriers on how reps are even able to access physicians. Right now, we’re living in a world where virtual engagements has gone up because you don’t want to, in the time of a pandemic, bring a rep into a place where healthcare is being provided. One sort of maybe macro trend that we can sort of lean on is that, like Disney Plus, it’s on-demand content. I think it’s incumbent upon biopharmaceutical companies to make the information that otherwise would be, let’s say, delivered by a rep available on demand so a physician can go out and find it, and they need to know it’s there.
Likewise, I think we had a webinar earlier this year about how the role of the rep may be changing to be one of like, I’m going to help deliver samples and be that sort of personal concierge to the great information that, that pharma has. I do think that our traditional sort of like 8:00 to, well, maybe 8:00 to 6:00 sort of world of being able to physically access HCPs is going to change a lot in the future.
Dan Limbach: Excellent. Okay. Next question. This goes back to, I think something you referred to with some of these social media channels, how does a company resolve different functional groups owning different channels, such as Twitter or Doximity?
Arun Divakaruni: Well, I would say that a good story doesn’t care about our internal swim lanes. We make these divisions within our organizations of who handles what, but the way that an audience or a physician or HCP experiences a brand, they don’t care, or do they know about what’s happening behind the scenes. It requires a lot of coordination. Let’s say, for example, the Doximity channel may be owned by the HCP marketing function of a company, whereas Twitter may be owned by the corporate relations function of a company, and it’s incumbent upon us to make sure that we’re delivering a full and rounded customer experience.
Sean, as somebody who help straddle the divide between medical affairs and maybe the promotional aspects of this business, I’d be curious to your thoughts about how our customers perceive a brand of a company, even though there may be some internal divisions and sort of bright lines drawn between functional groups.
Sean Markwardt: Yeah, it’s a great point, and this is one of those questions that doesn’t have an easy answer and will probably vary depending on who you are and what business unit you’re in and at what company you are working. I think the one key unifying concepts around this is, it will be important to be a little bit more proactive in planning. I think, some things that we’ve seen recently is sort of companies realizing that they might be a little bit behind the ball, or they have this huge opportunity that they need to take advantage of immediately and before the end of the year. So, while that thought process is great, there are a lot of considerations to be had in different departments in different functional units and how they will interact to bring something like a Doximity or Figure 1 program forward.
There are ways to do that, but then you need to be considerate of the context and the environment that you are in. We’ve seen a lot of joint efforts between medical and marketing for some of these digital things, and then we’ve seen others that are completely isolated, and either medical or marketing doesn’t have any sort of say or stakeholdership in what that functional unit is doing. Although, it may be unsatisfying, I think my answer is, it depends.
Arun Divakaruni: Fair enough. Nothing is really black and white.
Dan Limbach: Okay. That’s a good segue into our next question based on what Sean was saying about medical and marketing. The question is, how can medical affairs and commercial teams better collaborate when there is a firewall between them
Arun Divakaruni: That’s a great question, Sean. Why don’t you go ahead and take that.
Sean Markwardt: This is probably another one of the, it depends, answers. Again, in our experience, I think that there are varying degrees of what firewall means. That’s sort of the first thing to consider is, at your specific institution or organization, what are the parameters of that division? Is your company a little more conservative or are they a little bit more leaning forward into that collaboration? We certainly have a lot examples of, I’ll bring up our augmented reality platform. That was a medically owned project, but there were commercial stakeholders involved in that. Not because there were dictating anything, but because it was important to bring them along. So, I think that this is like any other sort of human scenario, where you’re trying to make something big happen.
You have to consider who your stakeholders are, the people that can help you move forward, the people who might be holding you back and how you can keep them involved and bring them on board with you. There’s a lot of humanness to taking on something that is unfamiliar that hasn’t been done before, but doing those things and planning for them and involving those who can help get it done, those are the things that are going to move firms into the future and being able to close that complexity gap that professors Zuboff talks about. It can be scary, but not a reason to not think about them or not attempt to get them done.
Arun Divakaruni: Yeah. If I could add just one thing. We’re coming off in an election season right now, and I think we can draw an analogy to the politics of it is, super PACs and campaigns necessarily can’t coordinate with each other, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t have a singular intent. I think it’s really important that both of the medical side of an organization whose job it is to educate impartially and a promotional side of an organization whose job it is to increase, script lift and all of that stuff, those intents may not necessarily be misaligned. Once you sort of align on intent and what you need to accomplish, then you can lean into, what’s the functional part of the organization and what they need to accomplish.
I think it’s, to your point, Sean, I think it’s really important to align on intent, establish what those bright lines need to be between the two sort of functions based on the context of the organization, and then diligently execute on both sides of that coin.
Dan Limbach: Okay, excellent. Let’s go on to our next question. This is about apps, and the question is, how about a company specific app? Would this make easier for our customers to access this information at their leisure?
Arun Divakaruni: I’ll start first, Sean, and then maybe you can provide some thoughts?
Sean Markwardt: Yeah.
Arun Divakaruni: Okay. Building followership for a specific app around a company is possible, but what you have to do, I think in my mind, is sort of look at the apps that you look at every day. I’m looking at my phone right now, and it is an absolute disaster. It’s so disorganized and I got tons of apps on here, but there’s probably about 10 or 12 that I use all the time. The ones that I use all the time are the ones that provide very specific value. for example, if it’s a news app, like the journal or The Times, like it’s updated consistently with new information. If it’s one like my telehealth app, it connects me to somebody who can help me with a particular health problem for me or my family.
What I would really sort of focus on, if you’re considering developing a company specific app, because we know for us, in all reality, this would become very expensive and complicated endeavors, is that, if you’re talking about an app that gives information about content, then it needs to be refreshed constantly. Like a podcast is not a podcast, unless you have an episodic sort of feel to it. If it’s something, an app that can connect a doctor to a rep, then make sure that it works every single time. The app has to create value for your customer. Otherwise, it’s going to be seen as sort of useless. You’ll get some spike and engagement beforehand, and then people will exhaust the value, and it’ll just sit there on their phone like many of the apps do right now. All right, Sean [crosstalk 00:52:13].
Sean Markwardt: That’s exactly my line of thinking. We are not in Field of Dreams, so apps are not, if you build it, they will come type of scenario. There is a adoption curve that needs to happen. Making sure that what purpose that app is serving is meaningful to who you’re trying to reach with it is of utmost importance. You can’t just put something out and expect that people will use it. So, really doing the homework beforehand and clearly understanding what gap you are filling or what service you are providing is critically important to build out before you even think about figuring out who can help you build it. I’m probably suffering from recency bias right now, but again, I’ll go back to the advisory board from last night.
Most of our attendees didn’t have any slightest clue what Figure 1 and NeuMeDx were. But on the other hand, most of them had Epocrates on their home screen and were using it probably daily. That is filling a gap that the other platforms were not filling a gap. So, it’s important to find meaning. There will be an adoption curve. There will be challenges into getting the word out, but if it is meaningful, then I think something like an app creates what our digital guru at Avant, Craig, calls stickiness. That stickiness is valuable to those who are on the other side of the app, but that needs to be met and earns with value and meaning to your audience and customers.
Dan Limbach: Excellent. Okay. We’re going to tackle one more question before we go into our end game, or did you have something else to add, Arun?
Arun Divakaruni: No. No, not at all.
Dan Limbach: Okay, good. Okay. The next one is about KOLs. Is the impact of a KOLs opinion affected by the KOLs participation in an industry sponsored program versus an independent program?
Arun Divakaruni: That’s a great question.
Sean Markwardt: [crosstalk 00:54:50].
Arun Divakaruni: That’s right. Yeah. We give this it depends answer a lot. I think that there’s nothing inherent about an industry sponsored program that will make it less meaningful. I think, where we have a job to do as an industry writ large, is make progress in terms of our intent and reputation. That’s something that’s going to take a lot of time for us to sort of fix. You’re going to have physicians that exist on the spectrum of whether or not they believe that what we do as an industry is to, either push our own particular medicines and products and profit forward, to those who believe that, and the opinion that I share deeply, is that we’re part of a scientific ecosystem that includes public and private and independent sort of agencies and companies and enterprises that are trying to advance science forward to improve the lives of patients.
Ultimately, like with an app, like with an industry sponsored symposia or independent symposia, it becomes about utility. When we talk about the medicines that we make, the technologies or devices that we develop, I think if the intent is to give the physician a better understanding of the product and the medicine, then you’ll get to where you need to go. There’s sort of a place for all of these sort of things. Let’s look at our own personal lives, for example. Look at the infomercial, is probably the most branded thing that a company can do. They’ve developed a television show that’s all about their product. Infomercials do have their place.
I will say that I’m, not that I want to endorse particular products on this, but I’m a big fan of my NutriBullet, and it mixes up my vegetables and so I can drink them down with some juice. I bought it because of an infomercial. But I’ve also looked at things like, on the New York Times, where they take all of sort of the … they look at it completely objectively, and they’ve looked at all of the different products, and I’ve made purchasing decisions based on those. Likewise, I think as it relates to our industry, there’s a particular role for branded conversation to go deep about a particular product and other places where you can look at the field writ large and make sort of objective judgments.
That doesn’t mean those two things need to … one is good or one is bad, or one works better and one doesn’t. They just work differently. Depending on where a product is or a medicine is in its life cycle, what the landscape looks like, we’ll have to find the right mix of those different activities.
Dan Limbach: Indeed, the perils of not being able to sleep at 3:00 in the morning, right? Next thing you know you have a nonstick cookware at your door.
Arun Divakaruni: Yep.
Dan Limbach: Sean, did you have anything-
Sean Markwardt: [crosstalk 00:58:22] good point. As an example, I might sound like a broken record here, but again, I think this is a scenario where it’s important to consider the context and also human behavior. For example, a lot of residency programs and academic institutions don’t permit interactions with pharma. So, there are a lot of new physicians out there, I think, that are having three, four, five or more years of experience thinking in the back of their minds, I was told that I wasn’t permitted to do this, or this interaction wasn’t allowed. When they come out of that program, they’re thinking, well, there must’ve been a good reason for why I wasn’t allowed to do this, and so they may be a bit more skeptical as if they were approaching it with a fresher perspective. To Arun’s point, there is a lot of work to be done, but intent and purpose can start to help turn some of those things around.
Dan Limbach: Fantastic. Okay. That is going to do it for our Q&A, and I encourage you to contact our experts after the webinar. Use the information that’s on the screen. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and they’ll be happy to get back to you. We’re just about at the end. Arun, do you have any final thoughts or words of wisdom before we close?
Arun Divakaruni: Well, I think part of, with this Q&A, I think there’s a lot of these solutions that need to be customized. There’s no one size fits all solution. So, please reach out if you have any questions. That’s kind of why we’re here, and we’ll be happy to answer anything, or go a little bit deeper as it relates specifically to your business. But I would just say that this is … we’re living in a sort of watershed time for biopharmaceutical communications, scientific communications right now, and it’s incumbent upon all of us to seize the moment and show the power of what we can do to help improve the lives of people around the world.
Dan Limbach: Absolutely. Well, I hope you all enjoyed this event and have taken away some new insights. If any of your colleagues missed this presentation, once again, it has been recorded and it will be available as an archive in about 24 hours. You will receive an email with a link to that recording. I’d like to, once again, thank our friends at Avant Healthcare for partnering with us on such a great event. I’d also like to encourage you to look for future web seminars by visiting pharmavoice.com/webinars. Thank you for your time and enjoy the rest of your day. The event is now over.
This year’s Digital Transformation Journey for Medical Affairs conference was a dynamic and engaging event that...