Over the past 20 years of working in healthcare research we have seen that healthcare professionals’ needs are increasingly becoming the heart of every pharmaceutical company. For several years the importance of building meaningful relationships with the HCP customers has expanded into the online digital space and even though pharmaceutical companies are becoming more confident in engaging their HCPs online, for a heavily regulated industry, it is not always easy to add value to HCPs offline or online.
One step further
A physician’s overall customer experience is a sum of individual interactions with a pharmaceutical company online and offline.
We have seen pharmaceutical companies embracing the idea of engagement ‘beyond the brand’ and supporting HCPs with educational resources for example on improving diagnosis, digital and social media training. In fact, many of our post-project workshops with clients have been dedicated to exploring how they can add value to HCPs beyond the brand, creating truly valuable and genuine relationships with their customers and supporting their clinical practice. However is there a way of going one step further and becoming an advocate for the HCP customer?
Medicine is a demanding profession, requiring high standards of competency and behaviour, and involving responsibility for patients with sometimes life-threatening conditions. It is important to recognise that HCPs not only have informational or educational needs but need support in their day to day challenges. My colleague Mary Kangley recently wrote an article on physician wellness, where she investigated the online HCP conversation to understand various issues that contribute to the high rates of suicide among medical professionals.
The volume of online conversation among HCPs around mental health (nearly 13,000 posts within 5 months) indicates there is a need for change in not only how the world sees HCP mental health but also in how it deals with it. This provides an opportunity for companies to support HCPs’ wellbeing and add value to their practice.
Making it practical
1. Fight the stigma
Experiencing poor mental health is often associated with failing as a doctor:
“Although in recent years mental health awareness among the general population has improved, it remains a taboo subject among the medical profession. Previous research has found that doctors and medical students are hesitant to disclose a mental health condition and are reluctant to seek help”. (British Medical Association, April 2019)
In an attempt to address the stigma around physician mental health, “Crazy Socks for Docs” was started by Dr Geoff Toogood . This year on the 7th of June, as “Crazy Socks for Docs” initiative was celebrated around the world, and at our office! We tracked over 500 HCPs posts with multicoloured brights socks around the world.
Physicians, nurses and GPs raised awareness of HCP mental health issues and the importance of their wellbeing, and remembered those who were not able to overcome their struggles with mental health. HCPs sharing examples of the mental health struggles they face at work was often the topic of discussion.
- Supporting organisations in raising awareness about healthcare professionals facing this stigma.
- Partnering in awareness campaign normalising and encouraging help-seeking behaviour.
- Sharing resources offering education or training opportunities to improve awareness among the HCP colleagues.
2. Support work environment change
Raising awareness can pave the way to improving healthcare professionals’ wellbeing but it is important that there are systems in place that can support the process.
The results of a national survey by the British Society of Gastroenterology revealed that high stress levels among HCPs in gastroenterology are driven by excessive workload, conflict, fear of error and bullying or harassment.
The highest ranked proposal for alleviating stress was relief from some current duties, followed by a mentoring programme. Lower-ranked proposals included training programmes – favoured topics were coping mechanisms and minimising errors. The survey clearly revealed that such systems are not yet in place or have not been functioning properly.
A great example is a personal story shared by a Canadian doctor on Twitter about the evaluation process that does more damage than help.
- Supporting organisations and advocacy groups that look at changing the work environment:
- Supporting improvement of the HCP mental health evaluation process.
- Supporting mentoring programs by training the mentors to provide necessary help and guidance to their mentees.
- Partnering with key mental health or HCP advocacy organisations to support training programs on coping mechanisms and minimising HCP practice error.
- Using digital space to share educational resources to the HCPs with mental health issues and their HCP colleagues on how to best support them.
“The tide is turning”
During our many years of research we have discovered that HCP needs often go beyond the product information and disease education and their interests beyond the product. Understanding what is important to your HCPs is essential in order to build trust and partnership.
Healthcare professionals’ mental health still remains an unsolved issue, but according to Clare Gerada in her article for the BMJ, “the problem is now in the open and the tide is turning”.