2020 has seen a significant acceleration in the digitization of healthcare. Telehealth, in particular, is playing bigger role than ever before – impacting patients, healthcare professionals (HCPs), hospitals and pharma companies alike. To explore the effects and implications of COVID-19 on pharma marketing strategies, our healthcare team conducted research on how patients experienced this change to a more digital health system.

I recently interviewed two of our healthcare experts, Janneke van den Bent and Johan Garcia about this study. They surveyed American and European patients across four indication areas (oncology, chronical cardiac disease, chronic lung disease, and diabetes) during the first wave of COVID-19 lockdowns.

Scroll down for a transcript or listen to our conversation below for an overview of the research and what pharma marketers need to consider now when mapping out digital marketing strategies.


Download our report: “Impact of digital healthcare on the patient experience”

Video Transcript

[ Nicole Gardere – VP, Global Marketing ]

Over the past few months, much has been said about the impact of COVID-19 on the healthcare industry.

The first wave of lockdowns ushered in a quick transition to telehealth – forcing patients and healthcare providers to interact at a distance – mostly via digital channels. And that was everything from Zoom Meetings to WhatsApp Chats. And for pharma companies, that also meant face-to-face meetings were a no-go.

It’s too early predict what the “new normal” setting would look like in terms of healthcare, appointments, and consults. Will it be in-person, online or some sort of hybrid situation, it’s clear that there are immediate implications for pharma marketers today.

  • What can we learn from the patient experience with telehealth?
  • What does that mean for future of digital strategies?

Our Healthcare team conducted research to help our clients tackle these complicated questions

So today I’m talking to Janneke & Johan about this research. They both work with a broad range of pharma companies and medical device providers in EMEA and in the US respectively.

Johan: Can you tell us a little bit more about the context in which you set out to learn more about these experiences?

[ Johan Garcia – Manager, US Healthcare ]

Although the shift to digital was very abrupt due to the global pandemic, it wasn’t necessarily something new. Telehealth has been a slowly growing component of healthcare for a while, and many companies active in the healthcare space have been trying to transition to more digital engagement as well as to a more holistic approach to marketing beyond the product for a while. But we’ve seen that this new approach to marketing was something many companies were struggling with to get right.

Obviously, the pandemic has just been this big catalyst in this whole move towards digital, we’re really putting digital developments in a pressure cooker. And specifically this move to telehealth has led many companies to rethink or re-prioritize that digital strategy.

Knowing the effects of telehealth on the patient experience will be a key ingredient to building a successful digital strategy.

[ Nicole ]  Ok, so, Janneke – let’s dive into the research – what kinds of insights were you looking to uncover?

[ Janneke van den Bent – Manager, EMEA Healthcare ] 

There were so many questions that our clients were asking us, but we narrowed it down to just a few key questions to understand patients’ needs and expectations in a telehealth setting:

  • The magnitude of the shift from traditional to distant care as hospitals were harder to access for patients
  • Patients’ satisfaction with and their willingness to continue using telehealth
  • Patient’ assessment of the quality of their care through distant care
  • The channels patients used and preferred to use for telehealth

[ Johan ] Yes, so to create this initial understanding of these key questions, we ran this study among patients in the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and The Netherlands, and across a variety of different indication areas.

[ Nicole ] So, what did you learn?

[ Janneke ] Honestly, the findings really surprised us. Going in, I really thought that patients would hate this shift to more distant care. But when we first looked at this data, we saw that patient were actually pretty positive about this shift to telehealth. 79% said they had a positive experience using more distant channels for their healthcare.

What really helped this positive experience was that patients felt that distant care was less time intensive, they felt they could more easily and more quickly reach their HCP and quite a big portion saw a positive impact on their budget as a result of telehealth.

[ Nicole ] Okay, so you were surprised – it was a positive experience for most.

[ Janneke ] Yes, on the surface it was, but then we started digging a little deeper. We found that patients actually weren’t so happy about this development. So, we also asked patients how likely they were to want to continue using telehealth to this extent in the future, and there, more than half indicated they wouldn’t be happy about that.

[ Johan ] We found that there were quite some negative components to more telehealth for patients.

  • Three quarters found that telehealth is less personal
  • 53% doubt HCP’s ability to determine their physical health through telehealth
  • 31% feel their mental health needs have more attention in face to face consultations
  • 37% feel they have more say in a regular consultation
  • 38% have privacy concerns about telehealth

We also saw that proactive search behavior from patients was up: half of all patients indicated spending more time looking for information about their health.

[ Nicole ] So that’s quite a different story: patients had a positive experience, but they also have concerns with telehealth. What does that mean for our clients – for pharma companies? What are the implications there?

[ Johan ] If we look at it from the patient’s side, it means that pharma companies can step in help assure that patients feel confident and comfortable in those virtual consultations. There’s an opportunity there. Both their physical and emotional needs need to be shared to ensure optimal consultation outcomes, and patients currently feel that telehealth isn’t fully covering those.

And the fact that they’re spending more time and effort looking for information about their health just goes to show that patients are not confident right now, and don’t feel fully in charge of their health.

It’s worth asking yourself in such a disrupted patient journey, what does my patient population need in order to confidently share their disease and treatment needs with their HCP to ensure that they get the best possible treatment outcome? And what kind of information do my patients need right now, to feel more in charge of their own health?

[ Nicole ] So really looking at the patient perspective, what needs do they have, and how to meet those. From the healthcare professional’s perspective, where can pharma play a role there?

[ Janneke ] For HCPs, this period has been an incredible struggle. The shift in their way of working in what is such a precarious time for so many patients can take quite a toll. And I think we can all really only applaud how hard HCPs have worked to continue care as much as possible.

But setting up a digital care path in such a short amount of time has been very challenging and the patient experience shows us that this really is not optimal yet.

This provides a really good opportunity for pharma to step in and help out.

Consider investigating what it is that your target HCPs need in terms of trainings, tools & information to feel empowered to provide quality care for patients in virtual consultations.

[ Nicole ] Thanks Janneke & Johan. We’ve just scratched the surface with this research today. As Johan mentioned earlier, the team looked at 4 indication areas across 7 markets. So if you’re interested in a deeper dive, download the full report or please reach out to our team.

Impact of digital healthcare on the patience experience