Digital healthcare technologies have their limitations but telehealth has clearly demonstrated the ability to address and alleviate the nationwide traffic jam currently taking place in brick-and-mortar medical offices. According to a recent survey by Merritt Hawkins across over 1,000 offices in 15 major metropolitan areas, the average wait time for an in-office physician appointment was 26 days in mid-2022, up from 24.1 days in 2017.1 Wait times were even higher for OBGYNs (31.4 days) and Dermatologists (34.5 days).
One can argue that the pandemic exacerbated the situation and caused wait times to spike artificially, but even so, other factors will further impact these statistics moving forward—and not in a good way. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the United States will see a deficit of physicians of approximately 125,000 within the next 12 years.2 This is caused by static graduating medical school classes and a growing rate of physician retirements given that over 30% of active physicians today are 60 or older.
Pharmaceutical marketing has always been focused on facilitating a conversation between a healthcare professional (HCP) and a qualified patient, at the appropriate moment in the patient journey, in the shortest number of steps, in order to get that patient on therapy when medically appropriate. Reducing friction in this journey has recently been hampered by the long wait times mentioned above, but telehealth has jumped to the forefront as a very useful and viable solution in the majority of cases and condition categories.
Traditionally, a strategy of surrounding the patient with media touchpoints and unique creative is designed to reinforce a message in the hopes that the patient remembers to discuss the therapy with their doctor. Think of all those broadcast TV commercials that encourage consumers to “speak with your doctor to see if this medication is right for you.” The problem in this traditional scenario is that the patient or consumer is weeks or months away from actually seeing the doctor and by that time will likely have forgotten the medication brand name. Telehealth changes this dramatically by bringing the patient activation proposition into real time and creates an immediate, actionable next step with proven and trackable results.
Connecting Patients and Doctors Virtually in New Channels
Innovative companies are leveraging virtual care, QR codes, and appointment scheduling technologies to enable patients to go directly from a banner ad or Call to Action widget (CTA) to a physician consultation expeditiously. A number of companies have been looking to figure out the most effective way to leverage telehealth within media by inserting advertising into the wait time during a physician consult. This type of advertising provides a final touchpoint with what is arguably the most targeted patient you can find, just before they have a dialogue with their physician. In fact, according to eMarketer’s 2022 U.S. Telehealth Trends report, almost half of patients surveyed feel that virtual waiting room messaging would be extremely or very valuable during a telehealth consult.3
Other companies are trying to negotiate directly with telehealth providers or provide a link from a website to a telehealth company. While this strategy seems sound at first glance, it’s not actually the business model that telehealth companies focus on, and they aren’t going to ensure that the patient has a curated experience from the moment they express interest. This often results in high patient abandonment and what appears to be a failed strategy by the marketers. Additionally, it doesn’t ensure that patients are properly educated. The same eMarketer report shows that 49% of patients view access to general health content and information as part of their telehealth experience as something extremely valuable.
Going Beyond Media Engagement to Providing a Measurable Consumer Benefit
Some emerging solutions, however, have cracked the code of shortening the path to treatment by looking at the entire process as an acquisition strategy—not just as a media tactic. These solutions aren’t about just providing a link to a telehealth platform; instead, they strategically bring a patient through the process from the moment they express interest. By taking patients directly from a media engagement into a physician consultation for education on the condition and therapy, and ultimately to a prescription when medically appropriate, the technology has proven its benefit within a broad spectrum of conditions and categories.
Leapfrogging the brick-and-mortar office traffic jam, patients can now enter a virtual consultation originating from many different sources. The most common is a click from a banner ad or widget on a brand’s website. In addition, with the integration of QR codes within traditional media including print, out of home, and television, brands can connect healthcare consumers to a physician virtually to start a conversation which can lead to a follow-up in-person visit or, in certain cases, the writing of a script right then and there in real time.
Virtual care solutions like these have reported that approximately 95% of patients who are qualified and receive a consultation ultimately end up receiving a prescription. Furthermore, these solutions have been successful for most therapeutic categories, even categories that many would think wouldn’t be applicable. With the advent of in-person scheduling and follow-up, it even provides a solution for rare diseases.
Leveraging Virtual Care to Shorten the Path to Prescription
Considering the billions of dollars spent by pharma brands on pressing a brand message into the psyche of a patient in the hopes that the patient will remember to have that discussion when and if they have a conversation with their physician, it only makes sense to help facilitate that conversation with the help of virtual care technologies. As more tech-enabled virtual care solutions become available, the ability of brands to drive greater ROI and create a dialogue between a patient and a physician will only grow.