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Article: Driving and sustaining uptake of digital services in healthcare across APAC

Wan Ling Neo & Colin Tan, June 2021

shanghai-digital-tablet__shutterstock_634735913In APAC, where face-to-face interactions are the preferred communication channel for doctors and patients, the shift to digital caused by the pandemic has been challenging. Although many pharma companies are now giving a lot of attention to fully digitalising healthcare services, it is critical that, in this region especially, consideration is given to how they benefit end-users, ways to bring them on board, and methods to keep them engaged in the long term.

Attitude to digital healthcare services in APAC
Physicians in APAC value human touch, respect, familiarity and real-time responses associated with face-to-face interactions. Introducing a digital service to replace traditional face-to-face interactions that are no longer possible given COVID-19 restrictions, requires careful consideration and effort. In this region, digital services are often associated with the inconvenience of having to learn how to operate a new platform during the initial bedding-in period, and the need to change established behavioural routines associated with existing services in the longer term. This makes it difficult for end-users to see the potential longer-term benefits such as convenience and efficiency. Research has shown that users of new digital services show a declining level of activity and tend to drop out early in APAC, often within the first 2 weeks. This implies three things:

  • For service providers, there must be clarity about 1) What end-users want and value about existing or alternative services; 2) What added benefit or value any new digital service provides over existing or alternative services; 3) How new digital services can either compel end users to change their behavioural patterns or accommodate existing routines
  • After identifying what drives uptake and keeps end-users coming back for more, it is imperative to map the value of any new digital service to the immediate and longer-term needs of end-users as early as possible (ideally at the point of sign-up)
  • Digital services should consider built-in mechanisms to identify those at higher risk of dropping out and trigger interventions to engage and retain these end-users.

Challenges pharma marketers need to address
The pandemic and its resulting social distancing guidelines and lockdowns have resulted in an uplift in digital adoption, which has brought about a myriad of opportunities but also accentuated some challenges for pharmaceutical marketers. Given the investment in digitalisation, it is key that marketers fully appreciate these challenges and address them so the ROI (Return on Investment) can be maximized and their digital strategies and tactics can be both impactful and sustainable in the long term.

Digital fatigue
During COVID, digital interactions have increased substantially causing digital fatigue or burnout. For example, in an average working day a physician may receive an email with the latest updates around the developments in a certain therapy area, use messaging to discuss queries, attend a web call to be advised on the latest product messages by a pharmaceutical sales rep, attend an e-webinar for training and carry out other admin tasks digitally. All this digital activity can lead to an increasingly disengaged customer, which is the opposite of the intentions behind these digital initiatives.

Lack of differentiation

As all pharma companies are engaging through the same digital channels, information can easily get lost in an onslaught of outreach. Low view and click-through rates to content, delayed or even non-replies are on the upward trend as end customers become more selective regarding what, where, how and who they choose to engage with.

Cybersecurity issues
Increasing the use of digital means it is inevitable that cybersecurity issues become a greater concern. A report by Compliance Week showed that a data breach at a publicly-traded company costs $116 million on average, due to sensitivity of customer information stolen along with the length of time it took companies to report breaches

Beyond the financial impact, confidentiality and reputation are both critical values in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry and could be severely and negatively impacted.

There are a few key questions marketers should be taking into consideration:

  • How advanced are target customers with digital adoption? Seasoned users vs non-users will require distinct strategies as their motivations and barriers will differ
  • What is the objective of each digital initiative? Where and how does it fit in with a wider brand strategy and value proposition?
  • How can it be differentiated vs competitors’ offerings?

We recommend pharma marketers adopt a hybrid strategy in this new normal, allowing communication and interaction to take place through both digital and traditional in-person platforms. Each has unique benefits and drawbacks, and consequently, there will be circumstances where one will be more suitable than the other. It is vital for marketers to get an in-depth understanding of the value of each platform to their customers for each unique situation.

This is particularly crucial in Asia, where the human element of face-to-face interactions is still very highly valued due to the respect, familiarity and relationship-building element associated with this medium. The consideration for marketers is therefore how to maintain the human touch while leveraging the convenience of digital solutions to enhance value. We recommend you:

Ask the right questions
This will help marketers to identify needs and areas where a digital service can make a difference, understand nuances in the therapy area, and learn what drives uptake and continued usage to feed into go or no-go decisions.

Gather insights to optimise execution 
In order to implement the correct approach marketers should test hypotheses for digital service uptake and adopt prototype testing to fine-tune the service ahead of launch.

Evaluate the success and ROI of each initiative 
Lastly, as with traditional tactics, implementing a digital initiative is just the start of the process. There is a need to evaluate the success and ROI of the initiative and monitor reactions that can result in changes or tweaks to a wider strategy.

Digitalisation has increased greatly and continues to be on the rise. However, in order to maximise impact and sustainability, marketers need to ensure digital initiatives are developed and adapted with the end target customers in mind. Research Partnership can help pharmaceutical companies adopt a digital strategy and track progress of digital tools in a variety of ways. To find out more please contact us today.

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