HCP engagement: emerging trends, success metrics, and omnichannel strategies

HCP engagement shown on desktop and mobile

There’s no doubt about it. HCP engagement is a top priority for all pharma enterprises due to a drastic change in HCP needs and expectations.

How do we know?

  • 50% of our event platform customers are from the life science industry.
  • We have 10+ years’ experience in the medical education event field.
  • We’ve been a Veeva silver technology partner for 2+ years.

So, we’ve had the privilege of talking to numerous pharma industry experts and speaking at many global life science events, such as the Veeva APAC Commercial Summit. 

According to our research, pharma companies spend billions on medical education events. On average 1–3% of their total annual sales.

That means a $40 billion pharma company spends at least $800 million on the hundreds or thousands of events they run each year. 

Take Boehringer Ingelheim for instance. They ran about 500 marketing and medical events in APAC by the end of Q3 in 2022. (And that’s excluding all the events they co-hosted with other companies). Then, there’s Reckitt. They run at least 1,000 global HCP, patient, and consumer events every year with 200–300 in APAC alone.

With this growing number of events (thanks to virtual and hybrid event solutions) and cost inflation, life science event expenses are only going to increase.

That’s why large pharma companies need to focus on strategically boosting HCP engagement to ensure that the billions they spend on medical education events bring a positive ROI.

Read on to discover the emerging trends in HCP engagement, success metrics to measure, and omnichannel strategies to use at your future pharma events.

This article was inspired by the session on ‘Building solutions and skills to support the future of medical education’ led by Doreen Lee (Medical Excellence Manager, Boehringer Ingelheim), Donseok Ahn (Global IT Director – Medical, Reckitt), and Pierre Metrailler (CEO, SpotMe) at the most recent Veeva APAC Commercial Summit).

Changing HCP engagement and expectations

How has HCP engagement changed?

Did you know that 50% of HCPs who sign up for a life science webinar don’t even show up? Some studies report an even higher percentage.

Think of the billions your company spends on events. What a waste if less than half of the expected participants actually attend.

This statistic clearly shows that HCP engagement and needs have drastically changed. And the pharma industry needs to start acting to meet doctors’ high expectations.

Channel affinity

Achieving high HCP engagement across channels is challenging. That’s because doctors and healthcare professionals prefer receiving content in different ways. Some prefer more digital channels and others prefer more traditional ones. 

Their preferences tend to depend on their level of seniority and where they’re based. For example, with less and less free time on their hands, junior doctors prefer webinars and virtual events because they can participate while they’re on the go.

Doreen suggests analyzing your HCP demographic data to understand what the doctors attending your events prefer. She also recommends tailoring your content and channels to what they want. After all, your events need to be customer-centric in order to boost HCP engagement.

Personalization

According to a pharmaceutical industry report by ECG Health, less than 20% of HCPs are getting personalized experiences. That means that at least 80% believe they’re getting a one-size-fits-all event experience. And that results in low HCP engagement.

Life science companies have to think about the HCP journey and give doctors what they expect. If doctors want to receive medical content through a mobile app, then that’s what pharma companies should use.

This was something Donseok recently discovered the importance of. He found that in Asia, 80% of doctors accessed events remotely using their mobile devices. But, in the US and Europe, it was the other way round – 80% of HCPs accessed events using their desktop. That’s why it’s key to understand your target audience to boost your HCP engagement.

Personalizing your events for HCPs also involves giving them the option to choose whether they’d like to join an event in-person, remotely, or watch on-demand content when they have time. 78% of HCPs would like a mixture of in-person and virtual events (Ashfield Healthcare). So, take this into account when organizing your next medical education events.

Emerging HCP engagement trends

All pharma companies talk about how HCP preferences are changing and how to adapt to them. But what are the top 3 emerging HCP engagement trends? And how can you address them?

Hybrid events

In the past, medical education events were all in person. They then suddenly became completely virtual. As a result, HCPs have seen the best of both worlds. Now they want event experiences that combine both physical and digital channels and engagement. In other words, they want hybrid events.

When we say hybrid, we mean life science events that are available for both in-person attendees and remote ones. So, this involves inviting some doctors to physically attend and others to participate via virtual streaming.

Pierre and Donseok both agree that creating a similar experience for both types of audiences is fundamental for high HCP engagement. You don’t want your virtual participants feeling like they’re an afterthought. That means you need to have the right combination of in-person and virtual interactions, and sometimes even a mix.

To achieve high HCP engagement at a hybrid pharma event, you need to include all elements and activities at both the in-person and virtual parts.

For example, Donseok highlights the fact that when you attend a well-planned in-person life science event, the experience is exceptional. At Reckitt’s events, reps greet doctors as they arrive, take photos of them and provide them with refreshments. A proper VIP experience. 

Pierre underlines the fact that there are ways to create experiences like this for virtual audiences too. For example, you could send a swag bag before your virtual event. You could have a welcome message that’s personalized to each HCP as they join the virtual event. Or you could create a personalized quiz for remote attendees.

A great way to build an outstanding hybrid pharma event experience (or an in-person event with digital aspects) is by using a mobile event app. It’s a sure way to boost HCP engagement. That’s because you can run Q&As, polls, and surveys. Plus, you can create networking opportunities and use gamification to get both your physical and virtual attendees interacting with each other.

Using a mobile event app is also a way to track event metrics. Pierre says that the gap between what data insights you get from an in-person event versus those you get from an online event is getting smaller and smaller. By having a mobile event app at your in-person life science event, you can see what sessions HCPs are attending, what content they’re engaging with, and how long they spend watching your presentations. 

Hybrid pharma events do come with their challenges. One of which is the cost. After all, it’s like paying for two events in one. But low-tech hybrid events and lower costs are possible if you do your research. And there’s the huge advantage of reaching and engaging a larger audience of HCPs from all over the world. 

Looking for ways to boost HCP engagement at hybrid events? Check out 4 hybrid event best practices to increase audience engagement.

On-demand content

Over the past few years, HCPs’ time has become even more precious. Many doctors are called last minute to stand in to treat patients, and everyone wants to talk to them about upcoming medical topics. They’re therefore very selective about what they spend their free time on.

This is an important factor to consider when thinking about HCP engagement and what you should be investing in at your pharma events.

Doreen says: “When it comes to medical education, doctors have no patience for 30-minute or 1-hour webinars anymore unless there’s a super important international keynote speaker. On average, they prefer 5- to 10-minute bitesize case studies”. 

That’s why Boehringer Ingelheim is investing in this kind of content because they want to give their customers what they want. They’ve found that the typical 45-minute duration of a webinar just doesn’t work anymore. HCP engagement is significantly higher when online life science events last 15–20 minutes. And it increases even more when life science companies provide on-demand event videos that last just 3–6 minutes, according to Doreen. Just because an event is scientific and technical doesn’t mean it has to be long. 

HCPs no longer want to be invited to a session at 14:30 that may not fit in with their busy schedule. They want to consume event content when it best suits them. That means making it available on demand in short, bitesize chunks that they can watch whenever and wherever they please. Between surgeries, for example, or in the hospital lobby while they wait to start their shift.

Pierre has also noticed this HCP engagement trend at the pharma events that have been run through SpotMe’s life science event engagement platform. That’s why SpotMe will soon be launching a gated Content Hub tailored for pharmaceutical companies. They’ll be able to upload their event content for HCPs to consume on demand. (Watch this space!)

Another crucial point about boosting HCP engagement with on-demand content is fighting the so-called webinar fatigue. Doreen states that she’s asked doctors about this and found that it’s not that they’re fed up of webinars and online events. In fact, junior doctors much prefer them because they’re efficient. The issue is with “me-too webinars” – so many pharma companies are running events about the same topics.

Read on for a way to solve this dilemma.

HCP interaction

It’s often hard to come up with new content for life science events. But according to Pierre, one way to differentiate is by changing the format you use to present your medical content. If you simply deliver the same content differently, you’ll instantly attract more attendees. 

It could be as simple as changing the name ‘webinar’ or ‘virtual event’ to ‘live experience’ or ‘real-time learning’. Or you could create the opportunity for peer-to-peer interactions – another emerging HCP engagement trend. 

HCP engagement will be higher if they get to interact and experience something new. For example with a collaborative whiteboard session or clapping along during an event.

Medical education events are not just a way to educate doctors. They’re also a way for doctors to network and share scientific knowledge. And there are several ways to do this through HCP interaction.

For example, before your event, you could use the ‘submit your case’ technique. This is a way to invite HCPs to submit detailed case studies that are used to feed panel conversations. Or during your event, you could organize short 15-minute 1:1 meet the expert sessions that could take place between HCPs and KOLs in person or virtually. 

We gathered insights and surveyed about 100 customers and partners in the pharma industry about HCP engagement before, during, and after medical education events. In their opinion, these are some other emerging trends that will shape the future of medical education and HCP engagement:

Emerging HCP engagement trends

Measuring HCP engagement success metrics

Given that HCP engagement has changed over the past few years, the way life science companies measure that engagement has changed too. 

With the rise in event technology, there are a lot of opportunities to measure a wide range of event metrics. But this also means it can be difficult to know which metrics you should be measuring.

We’ve analyzed how our life science customers measure success and KPIs and grouped our findings into 3 types of event metrics that pharma companies should measure before, during, and after their medical education events:

  • Reach: how many HCPs you attract to your event
  • Engagement: how engaged HCPs are during your event
  • Advocacy: how likely are HCPs to recommend your brand/product after your event

Reach

To measure reach, you can track open rates, click-through rates, and conversions before you hold your life science event.

This is the main metric that Boehnringer Ingelheim is measuring at the moment. Doreen says that the biggest challenge for them is getting HCPs to accept and adopt event content on their website given that they are a company and not a society. 

Once they’ve achieved acceptance from a certain number of doctors, they monitor how many doctors visit the website each month. Doreen explains that it counts as a ‘visit’ when an HCP stays on the website for at least 30 seconds. By using first-party data analytics, Boehnringer Ingelheim knows who visits the website and where they’re from.

Getting first-party data, such as names and email addresses is key from a marketing perspective and one big reason why you should be investing in medical education events.

There are so many places where it’s no longer possible to track people’s information to inform your marketing strategies. But, when HCPs attend your events, it’s an easy way to collect their data. That’s because they don’t mind giving their data, as their aim is simply to get educated.

Discover other event marketing strategies by reading 12 virtual event marketing strategies you need to succeed and content marketing for events: how to repurpose your event content.

Engagement

There are so many metrics you can measure to understand HCP engagement. It all depends on what engagement activities you include in your life science event. Some examples of engagement metrics are attendance, Q&A and poll responses, viewing time, drop-offs, and claps.

Reckitt is concentrating a lot on tracking HCP engagement but they’re using fairly simple metrics to do so.

  1. The first HCP engagement metric they look at is access to the virtual event platform. Donseok recalls that at Reckitt’s first virtual event, 5–10% of remote HCPs couldn’t join because the platform wasn’t accessible in their region. If doctors can’t access your event, of course HCP engagement will be lower.
  2. The second HCP engagement metric Reckitt focuses on is whether the virtual event platform is easy to navigate and use. The bandwidth needs to be monitored, for example, so that the video and audio quality are smooth and HCPs will have a positive event experience. And you can track HCP interaction during Q&As, polls, and chats with speakers.
  3. The third HCP engagement metric Donseok talks about is survey scores. He and his team create surveys to ask HCPs about the quality of the virtual/hybrid event and their level of engagement. They ensure to send out the survey before the end of a session so that they get a higher response rate. In the past, their response rate has been over 90%. So, take a leaf out of their book for your post-event surveys!

Advocacy

What’s the aim of medical education events? Is it to get more participants or higher HCP engagement that then results in positive brand advocacy?

At the recent Veeva APAC Commercial Summit, Luciano Adrade (VP Commercial Operations & Strategy Emerging Markets, GSK), said that it’s not about getting 3% more participants. It’s about transforming your HCPs, changing clinical practices, and altering prescription habits for the future of medicine. That’s how to measure the success of medical education events.

You can measure advocacy after your life science events by monitoring the CX quotient, Net Promoter Score (NPS), and post-event surveys. These are the metrics large pharma companies are using to prove their event ROI.

Want to find out about other event metrics you can track? Read 19 virtual event success metrics you should be measuring.

Measuring success of medical education events

Creating an omnichannel strategy

People often consider medical education events as very tactical but not highly strategic. But medical education is part of the omnichannel journey. So, pharma companies need to create an effective omnichannel strategy.

The common journey for a life science company going from tactical events to strategic events for full omnichannel deployment is the following:

  1. Consolidate requirements. Including event use cases, desired functionalities, target users, IT & compliance requirements.
  2. Carry out an RFP. Initiate a tender process alongside relevant business owners to assess solutions against your organization’s needs.
  3. Select a vendor. Choose a single vendor to ensure consistency and drive efficiencies in your omnichannel strategy.
  4. Define the operating model. Design processes, governance and determine delivery models best suited for your teams (self, agencies, delivery unit).
  5. Integrate with a CRM. Ensure compatibility of solution with your tech stack and seek native integration with your CRM for bi-direction data flows.

Typically, our life science customers consider these 3 things when building their omnichannel strategy:

  • Technology
  • Operational excellence
  • Next best action

Let’s take a look at them in more detail.

Choosing the right technology

The first step in building a successful omnichannel strategy is selecting the technology that suits your company’s and HCPs’ needs and expectations. You need to think about how an event solution fits in with what you have. For example, most life science companies use Veeva CRM, Veeva Vault, and Veeva Network. So, it’s important to find an event platform that integrates with Veeva and adds HCP engagement features to the mix.

Donseok suggests the following 3 steps when deciding on which technology to use:

  1. Ensure you understand your company’s ecosystem, capabilities, and operational model. Make sure you ask about the software’s partner network.
  2. Talk to other pharma industry experts to understand their IT, procurement, and omnichannel processes. It’s useful to know what other life science companies are doing and what lessons they’ve learned.
  3. Run a pilot of the event technology with the most challenging market in terms of bandwidth and population, and use this to understand its effectiveness.

Donseok also mentions that he spoke to a Forrester analyst who talked about the huge fatigue people experience when companies switch from one platform to another. So, it’s important to ensure you choose the right platform and show your HCPs why that platform is the best for your and their needs.

Driving operational excellence

When creating an omnichannel strategy, you have to have the end objective in mind to be able to measure its success. Doreen recommends asking yourself “Why am I doing medical education?”. Ideally, you want to provide HCPs with the necessary, scientifically sound information so they can provide their patients with the best treatment. So, before you start crafting an omnichannel strategy, you must clearly define your outcome and KPIs.

To achieve operational excellence, Doreen suggests following in Boehringer Ingelheim’s footsteps. They start by trialing event technology with small groups of HCPs to test adoption and slowly increase the group size if it’s successful. 

In their experience, reach starts out as very poor. But they ask for feedback and look at metrics such as how many HCPs accessed the event, how long HCPs spent at the event, the level of HCP engagement during sessions, and the bandwidth speed. Then, they adjust the experience and test it again.

Boehringer Ingelheim managed to go from 5% to 66% reach just by iterating and increasing the size of the HCP group each time.

Enabling the next best action

Emmanuel Desproges (Digital Leader JPAC & Asia, Sanofi) explains that to carry out the next best action, you need to know, organize, and manage your data. Once your data are clear, you can think about your next best action.

By using a life science event platform for in-person, virtual, or hybrid events, you can collect a huge amount of data. These data then feed into an integrated record system, usually Veeva, from which you can derive a lot of business applications.

This is exactly what the Veeva and SpotMe silver technology partnership is about. SpotMe creates the event experience and collects the data, then sends it automatically to Veeva via a native connector integration. 

Pharma companies then use these data to score HCP sentiment, scale hyper-personalization, and drive conversions with context. These metrics help guide their next best action.

The omichannel opprtunity for life science companies

Planning your next life science event and looking for an RFP template to help you select the vendor that suits you?

SpotMe has created an RFP template tailored specifically to large pharma enterprises looking for a vendor to fulfill their omnichannel life science event platform needs and requirements.

Not only does it include 200+ new RFP questions for hybrid and virtual event technology success, but it also has sections on new footprint, reputation, integrations, and information security. And it contains an RFP outline and a vendor response sheet, so you can efficiently exchange information with prospective event platform vendors.

As an event engagement platform for life science companies and with approximately 50% of our customers from the pharma industry, SpotMe helps large pharma enterprises to create, build and execute webinars and in-person, virtual, and hybrid medical events. We, therefore, have first-hand experience of what life science companies need to run a successful medical event and achieve high HCP engagement.

Download our RFP template and join 10,000 life science industry experts who are effectively mapping out exactly what they want from an event solution vendor and ensuring their medical events are a roaring success with sky-high HCP engagement.

Virtual events and event apps made simple

Build a virtual event experience for your audience on the platform trusted by the pros.

Request a demo