Pharmaceutical companies have struggled to figure out how to best leverage telemedicine as an engagement channel, but recent COVID-19 outbreaks and the dramatic uptake in telemedicine have pushed pharma marketers to ask, “What now?” Will the use of telehealth continue now that quarantine restrictions are loosening? The jury is still out on the role of telemedicine in a post-COVID-19 world, but most experts agree that it’s here to stay at some level. The additional convenience telemedicine offers patients and physicians, coupled with the reduced cost for payers, has opened the eyes of many health professionals to the power of telehealth and telemedicine.
Pharma as an industry can’t afford to think of telemedicine as a short-term stop gap until we return to normal. According to a recent ZS study, patients and providers believe normalcy will return in four to five months, with an anticipated four-month time period until patients’ appointments are rescheduled, though “normal” will be more remote than before the outbreak.
Both physicians and patients say they’re highly satisfied with their experiences with telehealth according to our study, and many patients expect to continue to use telemedicine for their healthcare needs long into the future. Leading telehealth company CEOs also report an increase in calls from physicians interested in joining their staff. This leaves many companies wondering what telehealth might mean for them, and what opportunities does that now create for their brand.
With telemedicine here to stay in one way, shape, or form and with many of you starting to take your first steps in leveraging telemedicine as an upcoming channel in your tactical plans, there are several key missteps we have seen across the industry that we want to share with you and some best practices to help you maximize the potential opportunities that telehealth presents.
Myth #1: Telehealth is just a video call between patients and physicians
Reality #1: Telehealth is multi-faceted
Telehealth includes more than just the physician–patient interaction via a video interface. Telehealth is typically defined in three areas: physician–patient remote visits, remote monitoring and physician–physician virtual consults.
Thinking about telehealth more broadly helps expand the opportunity. There are also two ways physicians and patient engage in this virtual channel: through a telehealth platform to a new physician and through Zoom or video platform to their usual physician.
The marketing strategies for each are very different. Brands are creating digital materials and experiences for physicians to share with patients during remote visits. Other brands are partnering with telehealth platforms to offer patients a way to connect with physicians and creating more new “direct response” marketing messages to drive engagement.
Myth #2: Telehealth is mostly for urgent care and primary care
Reality #2: Telehealth is used throughout the journey for PCP and specialty care
Telehealth is being used at many different points along a patient’s journey. Some brands are using telehealth to help patients get diagnosed and obtain prescriptions for new therapies, while others are using telehealth to connect patients with physicians to renew their prescriptions.
Telehealth is also being used successfully for specialty care. There are several specialty virtual practices that are gaining traction, most notably Maven for women’s health and COVE for migraine health. Dermatologists are also mature telemedicine users.
Myth #3: “If you build it, they will come.” Telehealth doesn’t need promotion
Reality #3: Telemedicine requires a different approach to promotion
Telehealth requires a different approach to marketing and promotion than is typical in pharma marketing. Instead of building brand awareness and engaging patients in education and information, telehealth promotion needs to drive patients to take one specific action: call today!
Brands that bury the telehealth link on page 8 of their website or make linking to a physician one of more than 20 different calls to action will find low patient engagement and low pull through.
Telehealth itself should be a strategy and should be promoted actively and consistently, optimizing the steps to get patients connected to a physician in the shortest and easiest way possible.
Myth #4: Telehealth companies are clamoring to work with pharma
Reality #4: Telehealth companies are wary of pharma and the restrictions
Telehealth companies are either founded or have a significant culture founded in the technology company culture. They move faster than pharma is used to responding to market forces. Those that have worked with pharma have been frustrated with the regulatory and legal restrictions they have faced in working with pharma brands.
They are also concerned about the commitment that telehealth companies have to promote the telehealth resource and drive patients. Several leading telehealth platforms have stated outright that they are not interested in working with pharma.
A partnering strategy should first start with identifying telehealth companies willing to work with pharma companies. Telehealth companies can build specialty networks for pharma brands, but need assurances that the pharma company will drive patients to their portal vs. taking a softer promotional approach.
Telehealth is here to stay, and the brands that find the way to engage in telehealth will reap the benefits of increased engagement with patients and telehealth physicians. Knowing how to create the right approach for brands starts with understanding the needs it addresses and mapping out how it will get used. Then, you can develop your overall brand and commercial strategy for telehealth, grounded in helping to meet those needs of patients and physicians.