There were two interesting developments in the field of social networks for healthcare practitioners last week. The first was the publication of a paper in JAMA “Variation in Patient-Sharing Networks of Physicians Across the United States”. The second was the sale of Sermo Physician Network to WorldOne for an undisclosed price. Sermo had raised $40+m in venture capital prior to sale, making a bet that social networking for physicians could drive value to pharmaceutical and financial firms based on disclosing interactions between members of the network.
If physician behavior and prescribing activity are key to your healthcare business, I think it is important to understand the relationship and differences between these two events.
Sermo bet hard on the Facebook model – physicians would interact on social networks, share knowledge and insight, and third parties could benefit from getting access to those interactions concerning their products or services. Sermo had also begun expanding its revenue model by providing paid content and sponsored education programs to network members, trying to capture “digital” dollars from life science companies. Pharma companies are desperately trying to gain advantage through digital advertising campaigns to influence physician prescribing behaviors, and multi-channel marketing efforts including the development of web sites for branded medications.
Over the 11 years I spent building the network at Epocrates, I learned a lot about physician behavior, motivation and the use of incentives. And while influencing nearly 50% of U.S. physicians to use a product requires that it meet a true need, fit into their workflow and be extremely easy to use – building one of the most trusted brands in healthcare goes beyond the product. It’s about being fanatical about understanding your users, engaging them at the right time, helping them support you and ultimately creating incredible loyalty.
Though we had a very analytical approach to user acquisition and brand strategy, I want to focus this article on something more fundamental – behavioral psychology. Truly understanding not just physician behavior but human behavior was core to the business at Epocrates and permeated throughout our business, marketing and product strategy. We focused early on in engaging physicians as consumers – B2C rather than B2B. Though a significant percentage of MDs are characterized as “small business owners”, we saw them as consumers first – hence, understanding human behavior, motivation, and influence drove product adoption and usage.
I was reminded of this recently listening to Dr. Robert Cialdini, speak at the 4th Annual Consumer Medicine Summit. If you haven’t read it, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” is one of those dog eared marketing “bibles” that has remained on my shelf for years because its lessons on how to influence people are universal and timeless. In fact, I made it required reading for some members of my team. (Future postings on other favorites such as Nudge and Predictably Irrational, coming soon!).