Nurses and physician assistants: A new pharma marketing channel

*Andrew Tolve reports on how pharma marketers are reaching out to nurses and physician assistants for innovative promotional opportunities*

Andrew Tolve reports on how pharma marketers are reaching out to nurses and physician assistants for innovative promotional opportunities

From bedside assistance in hospitals and retirement homes to third-world clinics to globally distinguished research institutions, nurses anchor the worlds healthcare system.

Its time that pharma marketers realized their importance.

As physician access continues to shrivel and the medical community continues to migrate online, nurses are emerging as a vital resource to influence prescribing behavior and sway patient decisions.

Taking the Pulse Nurses, a recent study from Manhattan Research, found that practicing nurses and physician assistants (PAs) were as digitally advanced as physicians, more immersed in social media, and more likely to recommend that patients go online for post-care treatment and support.

Roughly 50 percent of nurses and PAs believed they directly influenced the treatments patients follow.

This is a really critical finding, says Monique Levy, senior director of research at Manhattan Research.

The bottom line for marketers [is that nurses are] an alternative way to influence patient decisions and treatment today.

Nursing-focused content

Nurses and PAs use a broad range of online resources to get information and interact.

Medical information websites like WebMD, Medscape, and Sermo are popular in the community, as are blogs, search engines, social networks, and general information websites like Wikipedia.

When we look at things like the amount of time they spend online, time online for professional reasons, we can see that they are as involved and reliant on the Internet as physicians, says Levy.

Importantly, Taking the Pulse Nurses found that nurses and PAs also engage with pharma companies online.

Ninety percent of online registered nurses (RNs) and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) in the study had visited a pharma, biotech, or device or product website in the past twelve months.

And yet few pharma websites feature content that targets this group.

Johnson & Johnson, which recently debuted the website (complete with an interactive video game loaded with nursing challenges), is one exception.

Sanofi-Aventis, which has unveiled, and Eisai, which has launched, are two others.

But the majority of sites overlook nurses as a viable market segment.

Targeting nurses on a brand website as well as on third-party websites is an excellent promotional opportunity, says Levy.

Embrace the community

Another opportunity for pharma marketers is healthcare professional portals and online social networks devoted exclusively to nurses and PAs.

One such network is Clinician1. The site features 24-7 medical news, real-time analysis, continuing medical education, posts where people can comment and discuss problems and solutions, historical medical photographs, and what the sites cofounder, Dave Mittman, calls one of the best job portals on the Web.

The site is exclusively for PAs and nurse practitioners (NPs); you have to enter your license number to enter.

Six months ago, Clinician1 had 6,000 members; that number has already doubled.

Access to prescribers is really being cut back by medical groups and hospitals, so Web communities that have PAs, NPs, and physicians are going to become instrumental for pharmaceutical companies, Mittman says.

Basically because there are fewer and fewer ways to reach these people.

Pharma companies can sponsor newsletters that go out to the Clinician1 community each week, for instance.

They can also sponsor continuing medical information on the site and post links for NPs and PAs to secure samples on professional websites.

Eventually places like Clinician1 will be used for e-detailing and e-sampling, to speak directly with a representative, Mittman says. (For more on online marketing, see eMarketing: A seven-step guide to optimizing potential, Marketing and social media: A success story and Taking the fear out of e-marketing.)

Theres 200,000 of us, he continues. We can all prescribe. They need to reach us.

Driving patient behavior

Another important finding of the Taking the Pulse Nurses study was that nurses and PAs have a very favorable view of the Internet for ongoing patient guidance.

They certainly play quite a strong role in helping drive the patients back onto the Internet after theyve had the visit or gone to the doctors office to continue looking for information and finding out how they can manage their conditions, Levy says.

While pharma companies have finally figured out how to launch online endeavors, they havent necessarily cracked the code on how to get patients to sign on.

The nursing community can help.

Mittman says that, just as PAs and NPs have their favorite trusted brands to prescribe, they also have their favorite websites to recommend.

The challenge is looking for places where that information is respected and you know that its competent, its reliable, he says.

It has to be information you can count on, and thats been a challenge online.

One of the best ways to drive patients to a website, therefore, may be to reach out to the nursing and PA community rather than to the patients themselves.

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