Healthcare marketing and economics -- the logical discontent
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Healthcare marketing and economics — the logical discontent

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Healthcare marketing and economics often shy away from each other. Healthcare marketing is still about that personal rapport, recurrent sales rep visits, printed papers and a lot of money. Even as we are about to enter 2017, the industry is yet to show any sign of change. Why should it? There are multiple reasons: inefficiencies in processes, high cost, low competence among personnel, skewed data and longer sales cycle.  

Taking some examples from similar industries where massive disruptions have taken place, Nipun Goyal, Co-founder of social networking platform Curofy, writes about how better ways can be adapted by the healthcare Industry.

Traditional heavy sales industries like FMCG have taken the digital wave seriously. They have not only made the most of social media boom, but also tapped into growing e-commerce industry. They connect, interact and map feedbacks online with their customers on the internet and sell their products online. Moreover, to flourish business on e-commerce platform companies also run various campaigns like (think of Fog’s recent “Kya chal raha hai” ad), etc.

Today, industry stalwarts like P&G spend a whopping 30 per cent of their marketing budget to get active digitally. Although the industry has marked an amazing development, it was late in adopting digital marketing as a viable function within a company. Further, the companies have prioritised to gain digital footprint.

The hospitality sector has been disrupted by companies like Airbnb, Oyo and Treebo. The transport industry exemplifies how going digital can be beneficial for customers as well as companies. Service providers like Uber, Lyft and Ola are some of the successful examples from the industry.

Healthcare on IT platform

In a bid to get digital and serve the end-users, the healthcare industry is actively involved in digital revolution. Doctors being the centre of the action, the industry has been languid in its acceptance of technology. However, increased regulations and increasing costs are compelling the industry to move towards the digital wave. But their are major dilemmas like are the doctors there yet? Are the major stakeholders willing to take the risk?

For pharma companies, it is important to salvage their product from anonymity and establish it as a brand within the doctor’s community. They have their work cut out. The importance of this task can be gauged by the fact that in India alone there are 300,000 medical representatives, who shoulder the responsibility of reaching out to around 100,00,00 doctors. But even the keenest listeners in the doctors’ community are hard pressed for time. In the end, the spend on MRs, the first cycle of the sales process, crops up.

This in turn, year after year has taken a toll on the balance sheets of pharma companies. It has been projected that pharma companies spent more than $12 billion in 2020 on just doctor outreach. If you add other industry players like medical devices manufacturers, hospitals, medical publishers, health tech and FMCG companies, this spending on doctor outreach is projected to be north of $20 billion by 2020. Staggering, isn’t it?

Once considered to be an efficient way of promoting a product, this method has slowly lost its sheen due to significant time and resource crunch. These days, almost every doctor interacts with MRs regularly. Few doctors even interact with multiple MRs on a daily basis. Hence the number of MR interactions have definitely gone up.

But with an increase in interactions, their quality has suffered greatly. There are very few MRs who get more than few minutes to explain their product. This, in turn, causes a significant loss of information as an MR is not able to present all the pertinent information efficiently. Scientific data gets distorted and it is the company’s reputation that suffers.

Companies don’t want to create negative brand image just because their sales rep missed or forgot a piece of information, but they have not been able to find means other than annual conferences to engage with doctors directly.

If we calculate the average salary of a pharma sales representative to be around Rs 30,000 per month and he or she visits 60 different doctors a month, one visit costs as high as Rs2,500 if we assume a conversion rate for an average MR to be 25 per cent and standard overhead expenses including travelling, printing and incentives. Paying Rs2,500 to get few seconds of a doctor is insanely high. And that too with a very low frequency and low attention span.

Until recently, there was nothing that the pharmaceutical and other healthcare companies could do to overcome these inefficiencies. But with the rise of doctor networks, doctors have started spending significant time on digital platforms.

At least three of these doctor networks in India claim to have more than 150,000 doctors on their platform. This gives the pharmaceutical companies a central medium to engage relevant doctors digitally on a regular basis. The CPCs (cost per clicks) on digital platforms are significantly lower and much more efficient than an offline visit, both from perspective of educating doctors and generating leads.

These platforms also provide sales representatives a head-start and even making their life a lot easier by engaging the doctor deeper with the brand. Hence, it enables sales representatives to easily book an appointment with the doctors, saving a lot of waiting time.

This not only shortens the sales cycle but also increases the efficiency of workforce by cutting out recurrent field visits, complemented by frequent digital interactions. There is no doubt that personal touch is important for doctors while interacting with pharma companies, but now the doctors can request meeting with those representatives whose product information is intriguing enough based on material read on the digital channel.

Another advantage of using a doctor network is that only the relevant information gets highlighted, thus eliminating any kind of redundant or irrelevant information. Moreover, doctors also have the flexibility of interacting with pharma companies at their preferred time, unlike the case with visits by MR who often come to doctors during their OPD time.

Social networking sites are also playing a major role in marketing.

“Is the pharma industry any different? Well there are a lot of opinions floating around. However, for me, it’s an eventuality. Then there is the argument of the end user engagement. The traditional channels like Facebook and LinkedIn have been unable to entice the doctors.  The answer is vertical networks. There are a many of them today. With engaged user bases yet different value propositions, they hold the key to the next wave of changes in the healthcare marketing ecosystem,” says Goyal.

Pharma and other doctor-focused segments are estimated to have a market of more than $80 billion by 2020 and a significant percentage of it would be incurred in doctor’s outreach (25 per cent considering current estimates). The $20 billion market is up for a digital disruption.

For digital healthcare startups like us, we are already seeing a sea change in the approaches of the marketing sections of major stake-holders in the industry. We are seeing sudden surge in the projects and are in the running for entering in to budgets of major stake-holders in the industry. Yes, the industry is changing.

Authored by:

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Nipun Goyal, Co-founder, Curofy

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