Our healthcare providers (HCPs) are functioning under extraordinary strain. If we, as healthcare marketers, are trying to communicate with them as we’ve always done, we’re making a big mistake. Let’s talk about what’s happening and how we should adjust to face this reality.

A year into the pandemic, chances are we’ll all agree with this recent Atlantic headline: “Late-Stage Pandemic Is Messing With Your Brain: We have been doing this so long, we’re forgetting how to be normal.” Neuroscientists Mike Yassa and Tina Franklin told the Atlantic that the pandemic is exposing everyone to “some mild cognitive impairment” and “microdoses of unpredictable stress all the time.”

And, of course, for our healthcare professionals, the impact can be far worse.  Some have shown unimaginable resilience and, thus far, have been able to adapt and push through this pandemic with minimal difficulty, but the majority have struggled with incredibly difficult circumstances both at home and at work. To make matters worse, many physicians have seen their incomes fall as clinic appointments and outpatient surgeries were canceled during the pandemic, pushing many health systems and independent physician groups into precarious financial positions. A recent survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation noted that 62% of healthcare workers said worry or stress related to COVID-19 has negatively affected their mental health. Further, a Mental Health America survey funded by the Johnson & Johnson Foundation found that healthcare workers were experiencing (among other things):

  • Anxiety: 86%
  • Emotional exhaustion: 82%
  • Burnout: 76%
  • Work-related dread: 63%
  • Compassion fatigue: 52%

This lines up with anecdotal evidence that increasing numbers of HCPs are contemplating leaving front-line work. There is, as NPR’s Science Friday put it, “A Crisis of Health in Healthcare Workers.”

HCPs face superhuman demands, even at the best of times. And the professional and personal stress not only of a pandemic, but also a national reckoning with white supremacy (40% of U.S. healthcare workers are nonwhite) is, to put it mildly, not the best of times.

In the face of relentless trauma, we can’t act as though pharma communications could be comprehended the way that they might in normal times. Just as COVID-19 has accelerated existing trends across other sectors of medicine, it also has hastened the decades-long evolution of interactions with pharma reps — away from selling and more toward information exchange and supporting physicians in their efforts to care for patients.

So how can we convey important information more effectively?

  • Acknowledge reality. They may have missed recent information about a launch, for instance. Offer your understanding briefly and point to the useful information again, so they can get to it quickly and easily.
  • Add in telemedicine support. Investigate opportunities to serve up unbranded or lightly branded content for HCPs using telemedicine platforms.
  • Ask for advice. Talk to your key stakeholders to get advice on how to communicate best. Ask your HCPs what they need and how they need to get it.
  • Bolster patient services. In a still-struggling economy, samples, copay cards, and other tools are vital. Are there ways to make yours even easier to get to with links, PDFs, or other labor-saving methods of delivery?
  • Make your messaging even more simple and succinct. Know when to be quiet altogether. And consider how to streamline systems. Is there a way to make a sign-up one click instead of two? Audit your systems to see where drop-offs happen, and figure out ways to make them easier.
  • Be sensitive. This is not the time for sarcasm, flippancy, or fear-motivated messaging. Focus your messaging on patient-centricity: How can we help our HCPs better help their patients?

We must show up to be an aid, not a hindrance; to help, not to sell. We have an opportunity to build, improve, and sustain relationships with HCPs, if we can demonstrate understanding and usefulness now, when they need it most.

To learn more about effectively reaching HCPs, check out our recent post, HCPs Need More From Digital Pharma: Research Shows Dissatisfaction, Offers Insights.