Insights in health & wellness branding


AT’s COVID-19 survey – Round II

13 July 2020   |   Amanda Hartzmark

Physicians and patients quickly reacted to the COVID-19 crisis, but they now face a great deal of uncertainty about the best route to continued financial stability for their practices. Initially, physicians and patients adopted telemedicine and delayed care when possible, resulting in a short-term decline in practice revenues driven largely by fewer patient visits. As we move beyond the initial phase of the crisis, physicians are being forced to re-evaluate how to maintain a high level of patient care, shift the number of patients they see, and share crucial information with partners and peers in order keep their practices financially stable. This represents an unprecedented opportunity for brands and pharmaceutical partners to innovate and experiment with ways to help physicians manage this uncertainty.

Perhaps the largest force driving uncertainty for physicians is the shift in their revenues. 87% of physicians surveyed reported a decline in practice revenue due to COVID-19. Physicians signaled that patient volume is the primary driver of practice revenues, followed by procedures and diagnostics. How much patient care will be needed after the pandemic also fuels physicians’ uncertainty. In June, the CDC noted that emergency room visits had declined by 42% as a result of the early COVID-19 pandemic and other public and private research suggests that important diagnostics and screenings have been postponed or skipped altogether, leading to suggestions that patients may need more care later. Many annual visits or check-ups that were postponed may be skipped altogether, and as screening and diagnosis return to normal levels, physicians will likely need to treat patients at a greater than pre-pandemic rate. As physicians cannot predict what this greater rate of usage will be, they cannot prepare their practices for it. This provides an opportunity for brands to support physicians as they look for ways to reconfigure their practices for financial success, efficiently integrate tele and digital health into their practices in ways that maximize patient outcomes and provide ways to see a greater number of patients once demand increases.

Physicians have increased their use of telehealth on average by 72% versus 2019, but they remain uncertain about how they will leverage telehealth beyond the immediate crisis. Most physicians in our survey are reasonably satisfied with the quality of care and patient outcomes that result from telehealth appointments. However, 52% of physicians surveyed did not feel they have adequate access to diagnostic tools to make a differential diagnosis virtually. Based on their experience and clinical data, brands can help physicians develop a set of best practices for telehealth by offering materials on diagnosis in a remote setting. They can also assist by providing patient guidelines for getting the most out of telehealth appointments and integrating digital health data and analysis into a telemedicine visit.

These results provide a crucial follow up to our findings from an initial survey conducted in March with 500 physicians from nine different specialties. AbelsonTaylor began quantifying the effects of the pandemic and found that social distancing had interrupted the flow of information among physicians, their patients and their pharmaceutical partners. Physicians responded to the pandemic by increasing their use of telemedicine, addressing concerns over patient adherence, and looking for new digital patient materials and tools that put key information at their fingertips. Telemedicine was embraced as a short-term solution to the crisis and allowed physicians to continue providing patients with critical information, but longer-term use for patient care presents a challenge.

Our second survey fielded and analyzed in May and June shows that physicians are still looking for assistance from pharmaceutical partners to connect with their patients as they are remain uncertain about how they’ll provide the best possible care in the current environment. Our survey of 550 physicians in 10 different specialties indicates that physicians believe virtual chats, digital tools and apps would help them engage with patients. Physicians’ choice of virtual chats and apps underlines additional findings from our research, that physicians are looking for materials designed to live natively in a digital environment. Physicians are looking for innovative ways to pass on critical information to their patients and they realize that digital materials appeal to patients creating stronger and more influential connections. Digital materials allow patients to access information on demand, without risk of losing a physical brochure or written instructions, helping physicians to encourage adherence. Patient materials can also be improved over time by examining data on usage, presenting brands with an opportunity to help customize materials based on patient interaction and physicians’ treatment goals.

Physicians are unsure about how and when they will interact with pharmaceutical representatives. The pandemic forced them to revise their standard practices and pushed them into a hybrid in-person and digital model. Over the summer, 52% of the 550+ physicians surveyed said they will not open their practices to for in-person meetings with pharmaceutical reps but that they will be more inclined to do so in the fall and in 2021. Physicians estimate that they will attend roughly 5 tele or e-details per week towards the end of 2020, even as they begin to see reps again in person. By leveraging your data to find the right balance of in-person and digital contact, brands have an opportunity to adapt to physicians’ desires and optimize their communication strategies.

Physicians’ ability to exchange information with peers is also unclear, driving uncertainty about how physicians will connect with colleagues when they are unable to meet face to face. Peer to peer programs are and will continue to be critical for disseminating clinical information and educating physicians on new treatments. When asked about interacting with peers, physicians predicted that some events will remain digital into 2021, suggesting the hybrid in-person and digital model they see going forward among themselves, patients and reps, will also transfer to interactions with peers. Brands have an opportunity to facilitate digital peer interaction and information sharing. They can innovate new ways for physicians to connect with one another and apply learnings drawn from digital data to craft more engaging experiences in the future.

The current crisis brings with it an opportunity for brands to leverage their own data to optimize their communications with physicians and look for ways to reduce uncertainty as physicians move into hybrid in-person and digital model of rep relationships, peer contact, and patient care. Join us at an upcoming webinar to hear more from our survey and gain further insights on how to help physicians manage their uncertainty as healthcare evolves in the post-pandemic world.

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About the Author

Amanda Hartzmark provides data-driven insights and analyses of healthcare trends as AbelsonTaylor’s Sr. Director of Marketing Intelligence. She joined AbelsonTaylor in 2018 with 14 years of experience in qualitative and quantitative research. Amanda holds a Ph.D. and a master’s degree from the University of Chicago and a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.