As a general population, COVID-19 has made us reassess how we engage with our communities. Gone are the days—at least for now—of live engagements and in-person interactions. We’ve embraced digital communications more than ever before, lighting up each other’s devices with the latest TikTok video, building an online shopping cart to have our groceries delivered, and “hanging out” with our loved ones via video conferencing platforms.
All this to say, if consumers weren’t already connected to the digital world, they are now—and brands are forced to keep up. There’s no reason to believe that pharmaceutical companies are exempt from the need to engage with patients in the digital space.
And now that pharmaceutical representatives are grounded, brands are looking to shift their communications dollars away from the HCP channel and, instead, to meeting patients where they are—on their devices. As Barron’s reports, ad spend is down in countries where COVID-19 cases are growing rapidly: For digital channels, the effect will be that competition for audiences and keywords will decrease and create an unprecedented opportunity to reach patients at reduced rates.
According to an article published by Forbes, internet hits have surged between 50 and 70% in recent weeks. With more time at home, people are spending much more of it on the internet—browsing, streaming, socializing, and looking for any glimpse of normalcy.
Not only is the internet being used for entertainment, but also as a health-related safety measure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions might be at higher risk of severe illness from the coronavirus. These individuals have to make careful decisions about the places and people they expose themselves to, taking extra care to protect themselves from the virus.
With that, patients are more frequently using telehealth services that keep them from germs at doctor’s offices. In March, IQVIA reported a 950% increase in telehealth visits for patients over 65. This also puts a lot more patients in front of—yep—a computer, tablet, or mobile phone. In fact, the Federal Communications Commission recently developed and approved a $200 million program to fund telehealth services and devices. Having patients make appointments online further increases their likelihood to utilize search engines to research things like prescriptions and turn to social communities for discussion.
In times when so much seems unknown, and we’re spending more and more time online, patients are looking to the brands they trust to be there. They want to be able to virtually engage with the company that manufactures their medication in the same way they’ve been engaging with their favorite clothing brand or sports team on social media. The ability to interact—leaving comments, watching videos, even “liking” content—gives consumers a seat at the table.
The opportunity for pharmaceutical companies is there. Patients are online; we know that much. They’re ready to engage; we also know that. Now, it’s up to brands to meet them there.