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Implications and opportunities for improved pharma comms post-pandemic

Mike Thomas explores opportunities for future healthcare communications as global trust in pharma reaches an all-time high and lockdowns around the world begin to lift.

The changes we have seen to every aspect of our lives over the last six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic have been dramatic. Whether it’s small things, like more rigorous hand-washing, or large scale changes to the working practices of whole industries, we have all adapted to a new way of life – but as lockdowns are lifted across the globe, how many of these behaviour changes will last?

Our new report, Trust and transformation: The new voice of pharma in a post-pandemic world, is the culmination of a comprehensive review of global industry reports on COVID-19, and new primary research including interviews with healthcare professionals from GPs to oncologists. It considers how the pandemic has impacted ways of working, public perceptions, and how the pharma and healthcare sector could look in a post-pandemic world.

Perceptions of the pharmaceutical industry

We have seen the pharmaceutical industry quickly adapt to new ways of working, amid severe restrictions. This agility has been positively reported in the mainstream media, as companies collaborate and streamline approaches to focus on a united goal of finding a treatment and a vaccine for COVID-19.

As a result, there has been an increase in positive sentiment for the healthcare sector as a whole and a renewed demand for scientific expertise. An overwhelming 75 per cent of members of the informed public want to hear more from scientists and less from politicians. These perceptions provide a solid base for future communications from leaders in the pharma industry who can build clear communications strategies, and become an influential voice to drive the healthcare agenda ­– so long as this improved trust can be retained.

Patient preference in healthcare solutions

The public have had to change healthcare habits too by taking a virtual-first approach to avoid risks of visiting their local GP or pharmacy. And as lockdown restrictions ease, this trend looks set to continue. Despite being available pre-lockdown in many practices, video and tele-consultations have become increasingly popular, especially amongst the over-70s where 42 per cent identified this as their preferred approach post-lockdown.

Since lockdown started, patients are also more likely to seek healthcare advice online, through apps and virtual assistants, such as Alexa and Siri, paving the way for other digital solutions to improve their wellbeing. There is an opportunity to take patients on a journey to a more responsive digital space that quickly and conveniently addresses their healthcare needs.

Engaging with healthcare professionals

Around the world, organisers of congresses within the healthcare industry have also had to re-think their approach. Of the 350-plus congresses since April 2020 that have been impacted by lockdown, over 150 have gone virtual as opposed to postponing or cancelling.

This trend is also reflected in rep visits to healthcare professionals, with our parent company, Ashfield Healthcare Communication, facilitating over 7,000 participants at virtual rep meetings since March 2020. However, while there is a clear desire to move to more convenient, digital interactions going forwards, healthcare professionals still enjoy the personal, face-to-face contact that rep interactions provide. Finding a balance between these two differing approaches demands digital channels that allow for personal interactions while providing more relevant and targeted content to generate greater engagement.

Adapting approaches for a post-COVID landscape

Significant change in healthcare are creating opportunities for the pharma sector to meet new behaviours that have been necessitated by the pandemic. Where digital transformation is taking place across the industry, it is important to ensure that patients and healthcare providers are central to this change.

By moving to a more convenient, accessible and informed approach, we have the chance to provide deeper engagement that could positively change the future of our healthcare system for years to come.

Pegasus is offering pharma marketing and communications teams a free 45-minute Zoom meeting to present the full findings of the research and key themes.

To request a presentation of the report, Trust and transformation: The new voice of pharma in a post pandemic world or to book a presentation with the team, get in touch at [email protected]


Sources: Ashfield, June and July 2020 / Pegasus via YouGov Omnibus, June 2020 / Pegasus via 3Gem, June 2020 / Pegasus depth interviews, June 2020 / Edelman Trust Barometer, April 2020

Photograph: H Shaw

is an Account Director in our Pharma & Life Sciences team at Pegasus. He has over 8 years' experience in healthcare, across communications and sales.