Advances in analytics and machine learning have provided pharmaceutical marketers with a wealth of powerful tools, but these tools are only as good as the data marketers feed them.

As industry terrain continues to shift, pharmaceutical brands are being forced to reevaluate the ways in which they target, message, and engage with healthcare providers (HCPs). While HCPs still have the final say in most prescribing decisions, other stakeholders like payers, pharmacists, and even patients themselves are asserting more influence than ever over which drugs get prescribed, and when.

Complicating the issue even further is the fact that many HCPs have significantly reduced the access they grant to pharmaceutical sales reps over the course of the last decade. According to the American Marketing Association, the fraction of physicians classified as “rep-accessible” — typically defined as being willing to meet with at least 70 percent of sales reps — dropped from 80 percent in 2008 to just 44 percent in 2016.

In response to this increasingly uncertain landscape, many pharmaceutical marketers have adopted one of two strategies: they either adopt a one-size-fits-all approach, leaving precision targeting by the wayside, or they divert the vast majority of their attention (and budget) toward upper decile HCPs, in turn limiting expansion of their brand’s market share. But the truth is,  neither of these strategies is particularly effective — especially not in the long run.

Fortunately, pharmaceutical marketers have a host of tools and techniques at their disposal with which they can forge sophisticated, data-driven strategies in how they target and communicate with HCPs. In our digital era, marketers are able to leverage everything from decision science to machine learning to pinpoint the right HCPs to talk to — and the right times to do so.

Ultimately, however, this all starts with high quality data. With that in mind, here are five frequently overlooked data points that, in our experience, have the power to fuel better, more precise HCP outreach that can help any pharmaceutical marketer’s messaging break through the noise.

  1. Physician Demographics

At the end of the day, HCPs are consumers, and like consumers in other, less-specialized market niches, their demographics are often a good indicator of how they are going to behave. In our experience at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness, an HCP’s age and gender can often be predictive of certain kinds of prescribing decisions.

The medical community’s understanding of pharmaceuticals is constantly changing, and as a result, many millennial HCPs approach their prescribing decisions through an entirely different lens than their baby boomer or even Gen X colleagues. Similar differences can often be drawn along gender lines, as well. For example, in one of our campaigns, we discovered that of the roughly 100,000 physicians in our target segment, only 1,000 of the highest propensity HCPs were male, an insight that went on to shape much of our subsequent work on the campaign.

  1. Geographic & Socioeconomic Influences

In a similar vein, the geographic and socioeconomic characteristics of an HCP’s environment can have a significant impact on their priorities and on how they approach the practice of medicine — including, but by no means limited to, how they purchase and prescribe pharmaceutical therapies.

As such, pharmaceutical marketers must consider whether their target audience is urban, suburban, or rural, whether it is high or low income, uninsured or underinsured and whether its decision-making processes are influenced by local historical (or ongoing) events.

  1. Office Dynamics and Practice Characteristics

HCPs don’t make their prescribing decisions in a vacuum, or even within the strict confines of the patient-physician relationship. More often than not, the likelihood that any given HCP will choose a particular therapy is determined as much by corporate dynamics as personal preference.

Outside of the select few who run their own “one doc shop” or are part of a small group practice, very often HCPs are beholden to some sort of higher decision-making authority, be it a hospital administrative team or a sprawling integrated delivery network. These complex decision-making architectures must be taken into account when crafting a strategy for approaching a specific HCP segment.

  1. Prevailing Market Dynamics

Every pharmaceutical marketer worth their salt will start their strategizing with an in-depth analysis of their historical dealings with a given HCP segment, but the best pharmaceutical marketers recognize that such self-reflection is only the beginning.

Most HCPs have long prescribing histories shaped by interactions with countless pharmaceutical brands, and while it can be difficult to gain access to hard data on the activities of one’s competitors, making an effort to at least sketch the dynamics — both current and historical — of one’s target market is absolutely essential. If an HCP segment appears to be moving away from prescribing a certain class of drug, for instance, this might suggest that launching a new drug in that class would be ill-advised, at least for the time being. Identifying these patterns can be especially difficult when performed by hand — machine learning based techniques are especially effective in uncovering and driving value from these patterns.

  1. Patient-Level Behaviors & Information

As the internet has placed an ever-increasing wealth of healthcare-related information right at patients’ fingertips, patient data has grown to occupy a progressively more important place in pharmaceutical marketers’ calculi.

For example, according to research published in Risk Management and Healthcare Policy, of the roughly 49 percent of American adults who take at least one prescription drug, between 25 and 50 percent regularly fail to follow their physician’s guidance. Not only does this high rate of non-adherence have a significant (adverse) effect on the U.S. healthcare system at large, it also influences the way that many HCPs approach their prescribing decisions. If an HCP knows that an inordinately high percentage of their patients aren’t going to take their medications as required, the HCP might refrain from prescribing a particularly expensive drug or a drug whose intake regimen is especially complex.

A Foundation for the Future

The above are but five of the many HCP data points that pharmaceutical marketers should take care not to overlook. While demographic information like age or gender may not, at first blush, seem directly correlated with an HCP’s overall propensity to prescribe, creative applications of — and connections between — diverse datasets can reveal surprising insights into an HCP’s future behavior. Armed with these data points in conjunction with machine learning to predict future outcomes, marketers can be better positioned to communicate more effectively with physicians.

Engaging with this data doesn’t guarantee a place atop one’s market niche, but it does set brands up to craft better, more personalized messaging for each and every one of their target HCPs.

Written by Kevin Troyanos

I lead the Analytics & Data Science practice at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness. I have focused my career within the healthcare marketing analytics space, empowering healthcare marketers with data-driven strategic guidance while developing innovative solutions to healthcare marketing problems through the power of data science. I’ve worked to measure, predict, and optimize marketing and business outcomes across personal, non-personal, digital, and social channels. I’ve led engagements with brands that span all stages of the product lifecycle, with a particular focus on established brands. My role is to guide the departmental vision and lead innovation initiatives, effectively positioning marketing analytics as a competitive differentiator and organic growth driver for the agency at large.

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