340 pharma marketers gathered in Singapore, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo and Mumbai to hear findings from the jointly conducted McCann Health and McCann Truth Central's “Truth About Doctors” groundbreaking global study.
The medical industry has not been spared from the rapid change brought on by new technologies sweeping across the human experience. In the face of rapid social and technological change crossing Asia, doctors face a new, disrupted reality. The study, which will continue its roadshow in Manila, Sydney and Seoul, called for a rethink of the marketing community’s engagement with doctors, as patient care could fast become a casualty—highlighting the impact of a redistribution of power and authority on a doctors’ ability to engage on a personal level with their patients.
“Medicine has changed from a caring business to a business of care,” said Hilary Gentile, chief strategy officer, McCann Health North America, and a co-author of the global study in her opening statement to the APAC Summit.
The landmark global study entailed interviews with nearly 2,000 doctors in 16 markets, including 570 physicians across China, Japan, South Korea, India and the Philippines. It found that the practice of medicine is not everything doctors thought it would be.
In fact, the expectations of the job are startlingly mismatched to the realities of the high-volume, cost-cutting, technology-driven, empowered patient health environment we now live in. “We have an opportunity to leverage the vast capabilities of data, technology and artificial intelligence to support doctors in diagnostic efficiency and patient management to win back time," Gentile explained.
“Particularly in Asia, with its well integrated mobile and technology platforms. If we can first master the system, we can empower doctors to reclaim their mastery in patient care.” The study suggests brand marketers must look beyond the task of selling medicines and enact bold, visionary change to help doctors succeed through three key techniques. We explore each of them below:
Reclaiming mastery in patient care
“In Asia, the sheer volume of patients entering the system, along with the impact of an ageing population, has seen doctors stripped of their ability to care,” Gentile said. “Some 77 percent of doctors in Asia see ‘providing care’ as their primary role in society. The commercial system has profoundly changed their role along with the care paradigm.”
As doctors the world over report feeling a loss of power, ‘frustration’ was one of the top words they listed in relation to their profession. That plays out in doctors’ personal lives with alarming statistics: 66 percent globally—and up to 82 percent in China, 79 percent in the Philippines, 53 percent in Korea—reported trouble sleeping, while 58 percent said they had marital problems. Doctors once had time to develop patient relationships, but that’s been hijacked, too—either by an overwhelming volume of patients, as seen in India and China, or by the demands of hospitals to meet revenue goals.
It’s a far cry from the respect and independence the profession once enjoyed. As one Chinese doctor put it in the study: “We were masters in the apricot grove.” And from a Japanese doctor: “We were saviours of the weak”.
Humanising technology to advance care
The second challenge arises from a ‘human versus robot’ dichotomy—with real fear the latter might win. That fear has a ring of truth to it, especially since the study’s findings reveal that some 53 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds believe technology will at some point eliminate the need for real doctors.
Nadia Tuma-Weldon, SVP and APAC director, McCann Truth Central, offered a salvo to the audiences: “We believe that it is the very fact that doctors are real people, with the ability to connect the dots, that future-proofs their role in society.”
Tuma-Weldon also noted that the good news is that doctors are eager to integrate technology into their day-to-day practice, as they believe it allows for better conversations with more informed patients. “We find that the openness to technology as a ‘partner’ is much higher among doctors in China and Japan,” she said. “This isn’t surprising, given the maturity of those markets in adopting new technologies in general. This provides an opportunity to leverage platforms that liberate doctors to do what they do best—listen, empathise, observe and, importantly, be present for their patients.”
Graeme Read, president, McCann Health APAC, offered the industry a perspective on empathy. “We should ask if we’re being sufficiently empathetic in the ways we interact with doctors—through our representatives, materials, education programmes,” he said. “The research found that half of doctors across Asia-Pacific consider ‘empathy’ to be their greatest resource,” he continued, “allowing them to connect deeply with patients in a way a robot never could.”
Recalibrating the new ecosystem
Doctors will need to adapt within a new connected care environment, where curated information accurately informs all stakeholders. Contributions from each stakeholder is then optimised to meet the needs of the patient and, at the same time, the economic imperatives of the system.
“We are observing a redistribution of power, and of authority, amongst the health care systems across Asia,” said Henry Shen, head of planning, McCann Health Shanghai, and co-presenter at the Shanghai launch of the study. “We are starting to see an ascendency of resources such as pharmacy and nursing. At the same time, we must ensure the role of the doctor is clearly redefined and technology is developed and applied correctly to empower those conversations.”
Gentile agreed with that assessment: “We’re postulating that the definition of doctor will shift from lifeline to life coach; from health director to wellness partner; from knowledge owner to knowledge translator; and from siloed specialist to holistic expert.”
“The results clearly point to where as an industry we need to look to add value for our customers”
— Richard Batchelder, APAC Business Unit Director, Roche Pharmaceuticals
“This study validates our research: connectivity and communication in healthcare is eroding”
— Professor May Oo Lwin, Division Head and Professor, Division of Public and Promotional Communication, Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
“The mission of caring and the business of medicine are not incompatible”
— Dr David Cook, Chief Clinical and Operations Officer, Jiahui Health and International Hospital, Shanghai
"The Asia findings reveal deeply nuanced expressions of global themes because of the diversity in practice of healthcare here in APAC"
— Graeme Read, president, McCann Health APAC