Current and future trends for developing digital medical communications

Evolving digital trends and user needs

Most if not all medical communications companies now see digital delivery as a must-have in their armamentarium, and we are all at pains to highlight the capabilities we have and make sure the words ‘digital’ and ‘innovation’ are liberally scattered throughout pitches and proposals.

Digi medcomms

Like any communication tactic, however, we have to ensure that digital products are helping us say the right thing in the right way at the right time to ensure our healthcare audiences, whether they are HCPs or patients, can fully utilise these products to help them prevent and manage illnesses and health risks. That, in turn, means understanding and meeting the rapidly evolving and diversifying needs of these audiences.

For example, given that 50% of all internet usage is now via mobile devices and 50% of all mobile content is video, any online piece would be facing an uphill battle to have reach and impact if neither were covered.

Likewise, there is an increasing need for personalisation of the user experience, enabling people to reach and access the content they specifically need quickly, along with the growing expectation of an enhanced, more immersive experience which means anything that is difficult to navigate, and only has standard graphics and layouts, will be seen as clunky and dull.

That said, we do also have to remember that we have a somewhat heterogenic audience to speak to and, while evolving digital tools will satisfy an increasing proportion of users over time, we must still combine them strategically with more familiar formats in the overall mix, in order to maximise the reach of content.

Key focus areas

Agencies understandably want to provide solutions to as many requests as possible. Who wants to be the person to say ‘no’ and lose out to an agency that said ‘yes’? But given the need to meet the specific and evolving user needs outlined above, saying ‘yes’ to everything carries a much greater risk of developing something that looks great on paper, but doesn’t ultimately do what everyone needs.

It would be foolhardy to try to persuade agencies to say ‘no’ more often in the digital space, but there is certainly an argument for taking a more strategic approach, for example, by identifying broad areas of focus for ad hoc solutions and ‘blue sky’ R&D investment.

This has enabled the identification of four key areas of strategic focus which we think form the basis of a large proportion of digital product development currently:

1. Big data to small data

‘Big data’ is one of those buzz terms that has managed to endure for years without any sort of sturdy definition (I’m still a scientist at heart). It is unclear if the volumes of data we deal with in medical communications would even qualify, but a consistent requirement

is for our agencies to distil specific and personalised content from larger data sets, often via smart technologies like natural language processing and artificial intelligence (AI). This enables quick access to the right content via efficient searching and content recommendation based on user habits.

Products that may fit into this area include KOL mapping tools (such as our proprietary expert identification and engagement tool called Nucleus POLAR), AI-driven personalised content websites and social media mining analyses. We have even been developing a site for patients
to learn about the clinical performance of oncology treatment centres, enabling them to search for specific metrics within a myriad of otherwise nebulous information.

2. Modernised learning

There are now rapidly evolving, evidence- based, technologies which are being utilised to enhance learning and comprehension across all industry sectors. In particular, micro- learning – bite-sized pieces of content focused on individual learning objectives – is now hugely popular and effective.

This is driving the development of products such as multi- format, SCORM-compliant e-learning and training platforms with meaningful metrics, as well as multichannel-optimised YouTube channels as essential offerings for our clients. Gamification is also often applied to these sorts of products for positive reinforcement and to help drive behaviour change.

3. Bringing content to life

Agencies have for many years utilised design and creative talent to optimise communication and data visualisation. However, we are now able to reach more users with enhanced experiences using immersive and interactive technologies, the likes of which are more widespread in everyday life.

Augmented reality is no longer restricted to Pokémon GO – it is now regularly used to provide supplementary information to publications and posters, such as author videos, animated infographics and MoA animations – and virtual reality experiences are now often easily applied to medical education.

4. Alignment and efficiency

We are acutely aware that beyond HCPs, pharma clients themselves are an audience. Having worked with them closely for years, we are able to devise and offer integrated platforms with enhanced admin and metrics that support global asset management, strategic alignment and roll-out.

Products such as a digital messaging platform with integrated slide sorter, closed-loop marketing platforms for global e-detailers and advanced training dashboards are essential tools to drive version control, retain oversight and allow selectively gated access across global product teams and franchises.

Future innovations – identifying the digital gaps

Effective and enduring digital products can take a long time to develop, so in such a rapidly evolving environment it is crucial that we also take time to look ahead and consider where the next trends are likely to be, particularly if we want to adopt a leadership position and help shape the way information is delivered and received.

However, innovation in digital medical communications is also both costly and risky, not words that sit comfortably with us business leads, so we need to do what we can to pre-empt trends.

In healthcare we can do this by looking for ‘digital gaps’ – techniques or tools that have taken off in our everyday lives but have not yet gained a foothold in healthcare. Two examples of this that may form the next wave of innovation for doctors and patients are voice and virtual environments:

1. The use of voice technology is increasing exponentially, with over a billion voice searches now conducted every month and predictions that 30% of all internet searching will be done without a screen by the end of the year. While this technology is perhaps currently more popular among younger audiences, these users are patients and will be medical students and doctors very soon.

We should be looking to see how we can deliver more content that is searchable and deliverable via voice, including things like narrated abstracts, case studies and disease backgrounders. Indeed, at the recent ISMPP 2020 meeting in London, an audience poll established that 96% of attendees had never implemented a voice-based solution, but that 76% thought is was a potential source of innovation within the publications space.

2. We seem to have been talking about virtual congresses for years, without anything coming to fruition. However, the stars may be aligning and when they do, expect things to happen very quickly. For example, content management within these platforms is now much more straightforward, with pieces of content in multiple formats being quickly (and therefore cost-effectively) dropped into pre-prepared spaces.

Users are also becoming more accustomed to first person perspective environments (there are now over 2.5 billion ‘gamers’ in the world, again many of them the doctors of tomorrow). Moreover, there is an increasing desire for companies to reduce their carbon footprint and, while no-one expects congresses to disappear, given the value they bring in face-to-face interaction, we might expect the number of meetings that are sponsored and attended to decline in the coming years, especially if a cost-effective technology exists as an alternative.

The recent outbreak of coronavirus has also highlighted a gap in online service provision, with congresses being cancelled but a lack of easy access through other formats to the materials that were prepared

In the ever-evolving world of medical communications, it is crucial that we embrace the latest technologies to deliver information digitally. To do this we must develop products smartly based on general emerging user needs and technological trends, establish key focus areas for digital medical communications to help concentrate R&D efforts and identify digital gaps in healthcare as a foundation for future innovation.

Crucially, we need to ensure that media formats and channels are used together correctly to optimise the reach and impact of the content. We may develop great products according to these trends and focus areas, but if they are not implemented strategically, they will fail to achieve objectives for the user.

To that end we need to look outside healthcare, even to corporations such as Disney, to fully learn how to create a successful omnichannel experience for doctors and patients.

Source PMLive