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Actionable Analytics and Real ROI: Harnessing Performance-Driven Medical Education to Drive Measurable Results for Your Brand

Analytics is a complex science—and a fascinating art form. Knowing what to measure, how to measure it, and why you are measuring are increasingly critical skills as the volume of data available to us multiplies. At any point, we could consider hundreds of different data points related to communication programs: open rates, unique web page visitors, event attendees, subscribers, ad costs per click, conversion rates, average time on page.… The list goes on.

As pharma marketers work to engage healthcare providers (HCPs) in an oversaturated digital environment, well-defined analytics programs help demonstrate that our work is truly effective.

We all know that the pandemic accelerated the shift to digital education. More than three-fourths (77%) of HCPs have more time to consume online medical information and are more dependent on online education than ever before.1 Moreover, nearly 80% of US physicians expect in-person conferences and meetings to decrease long-term.2 Remote and virtual engagement is here to stay, and it is transforming how our industry executes medical education initiatives.

As we continue to invest in and expand online engagement efforts, innovative approaches to educational programs and performance metrics are essential. In our education-first Performance-Driven Medical Educatio™ approach, analytics are an indispensable step to measure pharma campaigns over time to truly understand real-world impacts on clinical behavior.

It’s not enough to create strong content anymore—you need measurement across your communications initiatives to understand if your content is actually reaching and engaging physicians.

Structured thinking drives clear campaign objectives

Various motivations drive our pursuit of measuring campaign performance: to understand and optimize user experience, to meet our key performance indicator (KPI) goals, to demonstrate value to our leadership, and at a broader level to impact healthcare and patient outcomes.

No matter the overall motivation, there is an essential first step in collecting actionable analytics: setting clear objectives.

Knowing your program objectives, whether they are strategic, educational, or medical, identifies what to measure, why, and how. Beginning with an objective helps overcome a common cause of failure in many pharma promotional medical education campaigns—the lack of structured thinking about the real purpose of the campaign, which in turns leads to a lack of an objective set of measures with which to identify success or failure.

You will need to convene multiple stakeholders, determine what you’re going to measure and why, define what good looks like in your situation, and agree on all of this before executing a campaign. To help better define what we mean, here is a framework:

  • Step 1: Identify business objectives. Why am I doing what I’m doing?
  • Step 2: Identify goals for each objective. What do I need to accomplish to achieve my business objectives?
  • Step 3: Identify the KPIs. What are the metrics that help me understand how I’m doing against my objectives?
  • Step 4: Establish targets for KPIs. What numbers do I need to hit on my KPIs to know I’ve been successful? What does good/bad look like?

Measuring performance along a behavior and activities spectrum

Traditionally, our industry measures the impact of individual tactics such as number of attendees or ratings at a dinner, postmeeting surveys, or digital activities. Alternatively, we occasionally create complex ROI lift analysis calculations to measure changes between program attendees and non-attendees.

However, we can do better than past approaches to measuring promotional medical education through one-off metrics.

At MedThink Communications, our work is really about making numerous interactions with HCPs, both small and large across many channels to drive an educational or behavioral outcome. Ultimately, you might want a physician to better understand a disease state, or to know what symptoms call for a relevant diagnostic test, or to know why a particular drug is the best fit for certain patients. These fall into different categories:

  • Knowledge change: Improved understanding of a disease or brand
  • Attitudinal change: Impact on intent to modify clinical practice in response to knowledge shift
  • Behavior change: Increased usage of certain diagnostic tests or medications

When your goal is actually one of these outcomes that is tied to many activities, a spectrum of metrics emerges. These range from individual tactical measurements to the broader, top-level outcome that shows true ROI. Several things need to happen between one end of the spectrum or the other as you work to educate and impact understanding, beliefs, and perceptions, and you can measure along that spectrum in different ways.

Structured thinking creates your objectives framework, and the Behavior Impact Scale we’ve developed establishes your measurement framework.

Building a better promo med ed measurement model

In some instances, an ROI model can help create value to measure tactics (eg, value per visit on a website or value of a speaker program). These are helpful models, but many of our clients don’t have the time, the resources, or sometimes the clear metrics to allow for use of these tools. Moreover, in many cases and in disease state education (DSE) in particular, you would deliberately not measure ROI directly, because it doesn’t correlate to revenue outcomes.

We measure the change in sentiment, intent, and/or behavior along the learning journey. Once the specific learning journey is established, you can assess along the journey to establish a chain of evidence for measuring program impact.

Another value that a learning journey introduces is the creation of various stages that HCPs in your audience fall within. You can segment content relevant to those stages, so you better target your audience and align messages with where they are in the educational journey.

Behavior Impact Scale Table showing definitions of Interactive, Beliefs and Attitudes, and Action analytics options

To understand these mindset changes in an educational campaign, one way you can measure the impact effectively is through a pulse survey methodology. This gives you a better understanding of educational impacts, and it is particularly valuable for showing a longitudinal view.

In essence, was your educational messaging truly retained over time?

Your survey could assess the predetermined key questions about beliefs, knowledge, or activities that tie back to your learning journey. The outline of this process includes these steps:

  1. Establish a baseline
  2. Measure at predetermined time points to assess lift over time (eg, every 3 or 6 months)
  3. Use measurement tools delivered to those who see your program and those who do not to compare outcomes
  4. Repeat to show impacts and information retention over time

In a recent DSE awareness campaign for a client, we measured understanding at the start of the program to understand our baseline in addition to tactical KPIs. Pulse surveys in set intervals over time then allowed us to demonstrate increases over that baseline and eventually to demonstrate sustained mindset changes in about 80% of target HCPs 18 months after messaging engagements.

Real-world campaign measurement

Increases over time in pulse surveys show that your work is truly impacting HCP education, understanding, or beliefs. Most marketers also track additional tactical or interim KPIs between surveys for a more comprehensive view of results, so let’s dive into 2 scenarios to share various metrics that illuminate how a campaign is achieving its goals.

In rare disease, for example, a physician needs to learn a series of lessons along a continuum to produce the result you are looking for. This might be an increase in diagnostic tests, or it might be an increase in awareness—after all, many physicians may never actually see a patient with that particular condition present in their offices.

In addition to a pulse survey, what other interim KPIs would tie to these kinds of objectives? Here are 2 examples in a complex disease state.

Scenario A: Increased awareness

Campaign goal: Elevate the visibility of a DSE campaign via multichannel tactics

Potential KPIs

  • Percent of audience engaging with DSE campaign
  • Disease state search volume per month
  • Disease state mentions on social media
  • Pulse survey question to target audience

Scenario B: Increased diagnosis

Campaign goal: Educate physicians on recognizing signs and symptoms and to know appropriate tests

Potential KPIs

  • Website activity such as downloads of relevant content from website, or completions of interactive training tool
  • Pre- and post-speaker program polling
  • Pulse survey question to target audience

As you see, we identify various KPIs that reveal campaign impacts across different channels—based on our business objective—then we layer on a pulse survey to uncover longitudinal insights into the overall impact on attitudes and behavior.

Taking measurement to the next level to track mindset and behavioral impacts

Go beyond individual tactic metrics to measure attitudes and beliefs to truly understand if your promotional medical education program is working. Incorporating measurement is more important than ever as pharma virtual engagement programs continue to expand.

Setting a crystal-clear campaign objective is vital, as it will define what to measure for assessing success. This will also allow you to measure results along the Behavior Impact Scale—defined in relation to your overall objective—and attain a significantly more robust view of the impacts of your program.

Use these strategies to effectively demonstrate whether your initiatives are changing clinician knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors.


1. Carter J. COVID-19 is impacting health care professionals’ information needs. Healio Strategic Solutions. https://www.healio.com/news/20200415/covid19-is-impacting-health-care-professionals-information-needs. Published April 15, 2020. Accessed January 27, 2021. 2. Patel K, Zakharkin S. Healthcare’s New Normal: COVID Speeds Shift to Digital Communications. Medscape. https://img.medscape.com/images/common/COVID-19%20Insights%20-%20Impact%20on%20Clinicians.pdf. Published August 2020. Accessed January 27, 2021.

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