Ranking the Experience of European Physicians' Interactions With Pharma

Executive Summary

Each year, the pharmaceutical industry spends more than a billion dollars building multichannel capabilities and creating digital campaigns for healthcare providers (HCPs). But what’s the real outcome of all of these efforts from the customer’s perspective? We asked more than two thousand HCPs across Europe to review their most recent interactions with pharmaceutical companies. The picture our survey paints of customer experiences across content and channel execution is not a pretty one.
Companies Researched For This Report: AstraZeneca, Bayer, Boehringer-Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen, Lilly, Merck KGaA, MSD, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi, Teva.
Time-pressured physicians can only do so much. Inundated with meeting requests, information, and other “updates” from pharma companies, physicians must make hard choices about which firms they will give their time to. As a result, any interaction that a pharma firm has with a busy physician becomes a crucial moment of truth; the company must take advantage of the opportunity to impress a customer with its latest data and services. But how do physicians choose which requests to accept, and how useful do they find these interactions? To gain insight into these questions, we surveyed 2,223 physicians who together accounted for a total of 2,885 interactions with pharma companies.

What Content Attracts European HCPs To Interact With Pharma?

Broadly speaking, healthcare professionals care about improving patients’ lives, boosting the efficacy and efficiency of their practice, and having a successful career. Any offering from a pharma company that fails to match even one of these criteria and instead focuses on the firm or its brands will lose out. In any customer interaction, it’s critical to get things right in two dimensions: content and channel. Content is the information or service delivered; channel is the medium through which that content is delivered. On the content side, our survey of European physicians shows that:
  • Drug information and education are the most common content type. Eighteen percent of the interactions between European HCPs and pharma companies are to exchange information about prescription drugs (see Figure 1). Interactions with educational intent are also well represented, whether delivered via continuing medical education (CME) or not; sixteen percent of interactions provide educational content about a drug or disease, and twelve percent take place in the context of CME. About twelve percent of all interactions are about new clinical data.
  • Interest in information and services varies by therapy area. General practitioners (GPs) have different information needs than specialists. GPs get less new clinical data than specialists; instead, they primarily get general and educational information about drugs (see Figure 2). Differences also exist among specialty areas: for example, while thirty-one percent of rheumatologists’ most recent interactions were about new clinical data, this was true for only eleven percent of pulmonologists
  • Country differences are strong. Zooming in on GPs in Europe, we see strong country-by country differences in the content they received in their last interaction with a pharma firm (see Figure 3). Italian GPs were far more likely to get clinical trial updates from pharma firms than their counterparts in France or the UK. French GPs rely on pharma to update them with latest news and prescription drug information, while in the UK it’s mainly about educational content. CME is a popular type of interaction in Spain, but in Germany it’s the least frequent of the twelve types of pharma company interactions.

Which Channels Do Physicians Receive Content In?

We also asked European physicians to identify how, or through what channel, they interacted with pharmaceutical companies. This gives some insight into their communication preferences, as well as whether interactions are moving away from traditional channels—like face-to-face meetings—to digital, self-directed channels such as websites and mobile apps. We see that:

  • Most interactions are now self-directed. Although our survey doesn’t tell us who initiated an interaction—the physician or the company—we do know that about seventy percent of all actual interactions are “self-directed”—that is, customers do not engage in dialogue or otherwise interact with a pharma rep. About one-fifth of reported interactions involved HCPs taking content from a website or mobile app (see Figure 4). One-quarter involve interaction via email, including eNewsletters. Live virtual events—or recordings of those events—account for fifteen percent of the most recent interactions.
  • Among the various therapy areas, channel use doesn’t vary as much as content. While we see strong country-by-country differences in terms of content, the channels that pharma firms choose to provide content to their HCP customers are fairly similar across Europe (see Figure 5). There are some exceptions: endocrinologists and pulmonologists rely less on websites than their peers in other therapy areas; cardiologists and pulmonologists use live virtual events more than others
  • Channel popularity varies by country. In Germany, just one-fifth of the most recent interactions between GPs and pharma firms are face-to-face meetings augmented with an electronic tablet detail aid, yet these GPs receive eNewsletters and emails from pharma reps at the highest rate in Europe (see Figure 6). In the UK, GPs often make use of online doctors’ networks and pharma websites to get pharma content, while Spanish GPs’ use of channels tends to be more evenly distributed.

How Well Does Pharma Meet Customer Content And Channel Expectations?

To understand how well large pharmaceutical firms perform in their interactions with European HCPs, we asked physicians what they expect from pharma. Most HCPs want their interactions with pharma firms to deliver content or services that is relevant to their job, simple to obtain, and trustworthy. The extent to which firms deliver on these three expectations forms the basis of a firm’s Customer Experience Quotient (CXQ®)—a single metric to score a firm’s customer experience success and track it over time (see Figure 7). We found that:

  • Even the leaders have yet to achieve excellence With CXQ scores of 84, Novo Nordisk, BMS, and Roche are the overall leaders (see Figure 8). While 84 out of a possible 100 may appear high, this falls short of the “excellent” range—which is the point where customers will start to change their behavior.2 On the other end of the scale, Merck KGaA, Pfizer, and Sanofi have significant customer experience challenges
  • Pharma performs best with educational materials. In Europe, HCPs give the highest ratings to pharma’s efforts in patient (educational) material and (online) CME (see Figure 9). Interactions in which the latest industry news and case studies are exchanged receive the poorest marks. European HCPs are clear that pharma needs to drastically improve the information it provides about prescription drugs; while this is the most popular type of content, HCPs gave it a CXQ score of only 72.
  • European HCPs give top marks to live virtual events. HCPs rate the channel they use most—face-to-face meetings with a rep—as a “good” experience (see Figure 10). While the best-rated experience—live virtual events—still does not achieve excellence, it’s the only other channel in our survey that involves live communication between people. Online meetings and social media languish at the bottom of our CXQ ratings. As European HCPs comfortably use a range of the channels that pharma firms offer, choosing the right channel or gaining a competitive edge is not as important for pharma teams as taking a meticulous approach to creating relevant, trustworthy content


DT Consulting’s Customer Experience Quotient® Survey, European HCP Interactions 2017 is an online survey fielded in June and July 2017 to European healthcare professionals in general practice and six specialty areas: cardiology, oncology/haematology, pulmonology, neurology, endocrinology, and rheumatology. Via email, we invited members of Univadis—the world’s largest healthcare professional community platform, run by Aptus Health—to take the online survey. Respondents came from France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK. To keep our sample statistically significant, we excluded from the CXQ® rankings pharmaceutical firms represented by less than thirty responses. Please note that respondents who use online networks, are triggered by email, and participate in online surveys have more digital experience and are more likely and confident to interact with companies digitally than those with less confidence or experience.

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Tim van Tongeren

Managing Partner

Tim has worked for more than fifteen years with commercial leaders to navigate their strategic and organizational transformations required to thrive on digital technology change. In his current role as Managing Partner, he leads DT’s Solutions and Consulting offerings to advise the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms on how to best achieve customer experience success through digital transformation.
Dennis van Rooij crc

Dennis van Rooij

Managing Partner

Dennis is a recognized expert on how pharmaceutical executives can take full advantage of new digital technologies to bolster their business objectives. He brings a strategic yet pragmatic perspective on digital transformation for the pharmaceutical industry…

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