Kantar Health Blog

Engaging doctors - East versus West

by Simon Li | Mar 23, 2012
Simon Li

“Social health” is on the rise in the West, with doctors spending more time online and the rise of virtual doctor visits (over Skype and webcam), online access of medical records for both doctor and patient, and smart phone and Twitter notifications of emergency room waiting times. Western doctors are increasingly joining doctor specific online community sites with well over two thirds of EU/US physicians actively involved online. We have already seen instances in the West where such sites have been used for establishing unmet needs, treatment trends, posting questions to niche/specialist communities and establishing panels. But how is the ‘online revolution’ impacting Asian markets and how should you adjust your marketing campaigns for the various key regions?

 I work in Kantar Health’s Chinese offices and we know from our partnership with DXY.com, the largest doctor network in China, that over 1.7M of its members are engaging in social community discussions (more on this later). From research, we also know that significant numbers are also visiting the Good Doctor and Good Physician  sites. Japan’s m3.com has over 175K members, Medigate in South Korea over 75K physicians using its services, and Doctor’s Hangout in India has around 15K active participants. The communication trends seen on such sites are similar to the West with variations for cultural differences.  There tend to be less challenging discussions in most Asian regions, for example, because the sort of banter a Western doctor might see as an intellectually challenging discussion is viewed as being quite unseemly.  Also, we know that overall 78% of Asian doctors as a group also participate in social media, (mainly outside of work), but up until now, we have had no real breakdown of this or any idea how it would relate usefully to engaging these physicians in new and innovative ways.

On the basis that understanding stakeholder attitudes to all forms of communication is key to marketing success, we set out to understand exactly how doctors consume information and communicate digitally in Asia, starting with a rapid growth market - China. We formed an alliance with DYX.com to determine the online habits of 7,000 physicians in 300 Chinese cities, using a proven consumer online segmentation model developed by our sister company, TNS. The resulting landmark study shows that Chinese physicians are just as Internet-savvy as their Western counterparts, with 98% of Chinese doctors accessing the Internet, and spending an average of 11 hours online per week, a significant proportion of which is spent on medical activities relating to their work.

The study shows that Chinese physicians access the Internet more than ordinary consumers do. It also shows that physicians in smaller Tier 3 cities are more active online than their larger city counterparts, spending an average of 6.5 hours per week online, compared with only 3.7 hours per week in Tier 1 cities. This finding might seem surprising initially; however, when you consider that doctors in Tier 3 cities often do not have long lines of patients waiting for treatment and that the Internet is vital for them to keep in touch with their colleagues in other regions, the statistic makes much more sense. This poses an interesting question for Western pharmaceutical companies; should they look at an online marketing sales/model to shape and influence doctors who were previously not in their target territories? Additionally,  what are the opportunities to take advantage of a changing technological environment and to engage customers in the boarder market using an Internet-based communication/commercial model? 

Our study also confirmed the key online destinations they visit (see figure 1). Daily activities include looking for medical news (64%), searching medical content (42%), educating themselves, and sharing medical knowledge in forum discussions and Twitter (one third use domestic social networks - both Twitter and Facebook are blocked in China, but the domestic social media scene is thriving). The frequency and variability of physicians’ online activities contradict the stereotypical image of Chinese doctors being rather Internet laggard, and the notion that only young physicians just out of the medical schools (and who are therefore not important as prescribers) are active online. 

Figure 1

We have also conducted similar studies in the US, EU and other regions of Asia, using the results to rank physicians according to their frequency of use and common online activities, their agreement with statements relating to online usage, ranking of online activities in terms of personal importance, age and gender, and comparing this usage to consumer types. In the US/EU, the general population is fairly evenly spread among the six segments.  PCP’s and specialists, however, cluster heavily in the “Functional” and “Knowledge-Seeker” categories, with a far smaller percentage in the “Aspirational” segment. Going back to our study in China, compared to their Western counterparts, Chinese physicians are much more easily engaged via online communication and have higher involvement levels. They are more likely to be “Communicators” or “Knowledge-Seekers” than merely a “Functional.”

Figure 2

It’s clear that effective communication with physicians worldwide now has to involve online as a channel, and that segmenting effectively in the online space is the key to medium- to long-term success.  In the future, we anticipate that the physician group will increasingly resemble the general population in the US and Europe—apart from the high number of “Knowledge-Seekers.” 

The lesson is simple wherever you are in the world: granular segmentation illuminating which stakeholders need which kind of information, as well as the time and source from which they need the information is a challenge, but will give you the ultimate marketing advantage.

Find out more about our report on Chinese doctors’ online habits or contact me, Simon Li, for more information.

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