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Omnichannel engagement opportunities in the pharmaceutical industry

Healthcare end users are becoming savvier and have more control over their choice of treatment and medication. With the numerous sources available on the internet, medical information is never more than a click away. Cutting through the noise and building end-user engagement should be a major priority for any pharma company, but for many, there is still a long way to go. Organizations that capitalize on these opportunities will enjoy better customer outreach and more successful campaigns overall.

Why Focusing on Digital Makes Sense

Beyond the shift in healthcare consumer behavior and activity, there are plenty of other reasons for pharma companies to prioritize engagement through digital channels. One of the most pressing factors is how restrictive pharmaceutical sales practices have become -- particularly in regard to how much contact physicians will allow.

According to a 2015 AccessMonitor and ZS jointly-published report, 53 percent of physicians in the United States place moderate-to-severe restrictions on pharma sales visits, marking the first time that figure had exceeded 50 percent since the organizations began tracking data in 2008.

In fact, the AccessMonitor and ZS researchers revealed that figure steadily decreased each year between 2008 and 2015, and they did not expect that trend to abate anytime soon.

"The pharmaceutical industry is in the middle of a fast, steady decline in physician access -- and we expect this pattern to continue for the foreseeable future," said ZS managing principal Pratap Khedkar. "Even traditionally rep-friendly physicians now limit sales rep access."

There are several factors at play here, but perhaps the most disruptive has been the industry's increased mergers and acquisitions activity. Physicians who once had total control over their practices' policies on sales rep access now acquiesce to decisions from their ownership groups.

To cope with these changes, AccessMonitor and ZS researchers recommended that pharma companies move away from their traditional sales and outreach models and invest in multi-channel strategies. Those include digital platforms like social media and mobile applications.

Going Digital in Pharma

Despite the clear call to make digital engagement a priority, many pharma firms continue to heavily rely upon old sales models. According to McKinsey & Company, pharma brands routinely spend as much as 60 percent of their sales budgets on field representatives.

By getting more strategic with budget spend, targeting digital channels and leveraging available audience and end-user data, pharma companies can chart a path through all of this industry upheaval.

As McKinsey & Company noted, pharma firms already have a great deal of data to work with before investing in any data management and analytics solutions, so they're building on a rock-solid foundation.

Driving Healthcare End-User Engagement

This may feel like uncharted territory for the pharmaceutical industry, but there's an incredible opportunity here to considerably increase end-user engagement across digital channels. To capitalize on current circumstances, companies need to provide people with the information and guidance they're looking for. Econsultancy recommended taking an outcome-based approach to digital engagement, giving users informed, holistic treatment recommendations, even if they don't necessarily push a specific brand.

It's all about building up consumer trust and industry authority. If end users believe your brand will give the unvarnished truth regarding healthcare treatment and medicine, they will keep coming back whenever a question arises. Consumers will view your brand in a positive light and associate it with strong medical expertise. That will prove invaluable when it comes time for patients to choose their course of treatment and medicine. People are more informed than ever when walking into a doctor's office and can dictate some of the specifics when it comes to their healthcare.

By collecting data on end-user behavior and preferences, pharma companies can make every interaction more personalized and targeted. No one wants to feel like they're dealing with a faceless organization, especially when it comes to their health. Data-driven engagement strategies can provide a personal touch that has been severely lacking in the industry to date.

Getting Over the Regulatory Hump

More so than other industries, healthcare and pharma companies face major regulatory hurdles at just about every corner. The comprehensive protections placed over electronic healthcare records and patient data can dissuade pharma executives from dipping their toes into the analytics pool.

Although those concerns are certainly justified, they shouldn't stand in the way of end-user engagement. According to McKinsey & Company, 30 percent of pharmaceutical executives believe compliance practices will adapt to make multi-channel engagement practices more tenable in the future.

But why wait? Digital engagement success can be achieved now and today as long as companies use software tools and work with vendors that are HIPAA-certified themselves. Akamai's customer identity and access management (CIAM) platform, for instance, supports compliance with both HIPAA and HITECH regulations, making it an ideal central command center for healthcare data management needs.

The pharma world is going digital, and there's no turning back. With the right tools to meet unique industry challenges, any organization can find a path to success and strong end-user engagement.