Do You Know What Doctors Do Online?

October 1, 2007

Pharmaceutical Executive

Volume 0, Issue 0

Physicians are using the Internet for much more than requesting an occasional journal article. But do they visit the brand.com sites? Yes, and at predictable times, according to ePharma Physician, a new study from Manhattan Research. Yet not all drug sites cater to docs' needs. What can pharma marketers learn from the sites that do get docs to log on? Pharm Exec spoke with Mark Bard, president of Manhattan Research, to find out.

Physicians are using the Internet for much more than requesting an occasional journal article. But do they visit the brand.com sites? Yes, and at predictable times, according to ePharma Physician, a new study from Manhattan Research. Yet not all drug sites cater to docs' needs. What can pharma marketers learn from the sites that do get docs to log on? Pharm Exec spoke with Mark Bard, president of Manhattan Research, to find out.

Mark Bard, president, Manhattan Research

Can you give me a little bit of background on the study?

The ePharma Physician is an online study of 1,438 US physicians. We use the term "data set" because we go back to the research and cut from it. For example, we'll look at how the oncologists answered. We'll look at what Web sites primary care physicians are visiting. Januvia's the number-one site—what's the significance of that?

Why the interest in what Web sites doctors are looking at?

We have a study on tech adoption. Eventually all the clients said, "Oh, that's great. But I need to go deeper."

Part of the challenge is, it's actually pretty hard to figure out if physicians are going to your Web site. Because a visitor's a visitor. Unless you have password protection, it's really tough to know if they're physicians. So we had a lot of clients saying, "I want to know what sites doctors are going to. Do they use product Web sites?" And we heard clients saying, "We're being asked to focus on the tablet PC." And, ultimately, that's becoming an interesting conversation, because these tablet PCs may, in fact, tie back to product sites and customer-service portals.

Top-10 Product Web Sites For Pharma, 2006

I know some people say docs still aren't very tech savvy, but what did you find?

The skepticism is, "I know they're online, but they probably use it sporadically, and I don't think they go to product Web sites." That's not what the data show. US physicians are online—99 percent, in fact, according to another study that we do. And one of the places they actually go—and this is a huge disconnect for most brand teams—is to the product Web site.

We track about 200 product Web sites. And our data for PCPs is showing that new products actually drive the top traffic. So it's not just the Lipitors of the world. Because the reality is, after a drug is on the market a couple of years, the physician reliance on product-level information declines, unless new data comes out.

We also noticed that the physicians are going to a lot of Merck properties. What you tend to see on the Merck sites on this list—Januvia, Gardasil, Vytorin—is a lot of healthcare-professional content. And this gets to this issue of the chicken or the egg, if you will. If you include physician content, does that mean doctors show up? Or does the fact that these are new products and physicians are going to these sites drive the content?

I think it's a little bit of both. There are other sites on our list, even in the top 10, with little to no physician-level content. Is it an opportunity that they could take advantage of?

Any surprising drugs or companies that have a bigger Web presence than they do a market share?

Well, is Gardasil the biggest product? No. It has a big potential market, but it's not a big product per se. Or Byetta: It's a very targeted diabetes biologic—relatively new, innovative medicine. Does that even compare with others on this list? I would say Chantix is not a big product yet, but that's in the smoking-cessation category, which is a big category. And are we talking about big in terms of dollar volume? A lot of these on the list are not the biggest products. They tend to be products with a lot of attention in the very early stage of their product life cycle.

Online marketers talk about the need for bells and whistles. What role do flashy Web sites play in capturing doctors' attention?

I think it's a balance. Physician's want to get in; they want the targeted content. There may be a relevance in the use of flash animation to show mechanism of action or something like that.

But where you tend to see a lot of the big investment in the flash animation tends to be on the consumer-focused sites. If you're going to spend millions of dollars on TV spots and you're driving someone online, you'd better have a really rich, interactive, deep Web experience. You can't get away with five-pages of static text. And I think, typically, the same agency builds both the consumer and healthcare-professional parts of the site. So are you going to make a really flashy consumer site and then a really boring and dull professional site? Probably not.

I know doctors want access to samples for their patients. Have you found any innovative ways to access samples on Web sites?

E-sampling is a very convoluted, complex situation. A lot of the top-10 companies have made a decision not to e-sample their high-value physicians. The theory is, "I don't want to take away that rep relationship." So companies have not been aggressive on rolling out e-sampling programs.

If they do roll them out, our research shows that physicians don't want to go to multiple product sites. If you're a physician, and you have a relationship with Merck, where would you want to go to get access to your e-samples? A Merck corporate site: a one-stop shop.

Well, Merck's one of the only companies that does that. There's a Web site, MerckServices.com, intended for a physician audience. It's everything from medical education updates to product information, and it's got a section focused on e-sampling.

Are there other places where doctors are still looking for improvement?

Yes, and it's a tough area: patient education. Some companies have embraced this, placing patient education on a lot of the sites. Other companies out there, and I can see the argument both ways, say, "It's not going to change their behavior whether or not we offer the patient education. We're going to focus on services that have an impact on their likelihood to trial a product."

Is there anything else you found fascinating about the survey?

One of the big ones, I think, is that the sites change from year to year. And you may say, "Well, of course they would change year to year." But with the big consumer sites, the top-10, lists don't change radically. What you find with physicians is, six out of the top 10 sites changed between 2006 and 2007. And this gets back to the notion we had earlier: It's not about the size or awareness of the product; it has to do with whether doctors need information.

And that seems intuitive, but that's very counter to what a lot of brand teams and marketers think. What it tells me is, if I'm in the prelaunch phase or I'm in the first two years of a product launch, I'd better really be thinking about how my site can be a resource for a physician. Because that's actually when physicians will go to the site.

What should pharma companies look out for when they're improving or retrofitting their site?

One is, what do physicians want in the consumer part of the site? So we'll look at those resources. But it's important to see what physicians want in a product, because those are going to be the sites that they're more likely to recommend to their patients. That's a big strategy. We want a site a physician will check out and say, "Oh, I'm going to tell my patients about this."

We also look at how to create corporate-level physician-service portals. The best examples I can give of this are of MerckServices.com and PfizerPro.com. These aren't focused on just one product. Essentially, imagine all the physician services for your products: patient education, e-sampling, everything else. Now put that in a one-stop destination site.