SCRIP Intelligence - What Chinese healthcare professionals want

01 August 2014 
Anju Ghangurde

Aiming for deeper healthcare professional (HCP) engagement in China? Then perhaps you need to shore up digital channels of communication to disseminate medical information and keep the rep visit frequencies limited. Also note: Some physicians prefer to receive information on the price for the treatment of related drugs via simple phone calls and generally calls post mid-day may be optimal.

These were among the key findings of a recent HCP Channel Preference Survey by Indegene Insights, the firm's research initiative, conducted in China. The survey covered 119 physicians including general practitioners and specialists across China. Though the sample size may limit the prospects of extrapolating the study's findings across the large Chinese market, Indegene, which offers a spectrum of marketing and analytics services to Big Pharma, believes that it may "pretty much" hold true for HCP behavior across the region.

The survey indicated that more than 50% of HCPs accept digital channels to receive information, even as 53% wanted rep visit frequency to reduce. Indegene told Scrip that with new-age doctors being "digital savvy", pharma companies had begun providing medical information that is easily accessible and available on demand. "The most preferred channel is e-mail (71%) followed by MMS/We Chat and SMS," the company said. Significantly, a study on the use of text messages to communicate clinical recommendations to health workers in rural China published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization this year noted that text messages could be effective for transmitting medical information and changing health workers’ behavior, particularly in resource-limited settings. "Text messages offer a convenient, inexpensive, and effective method to disseminate evidence-based recommendations with the effect of increasing rural health workers’ clinical knowledge and positively impacting their prescription practices," the findings of the study suggested. Past government data suggests that Chinese mobile phone users send high volumes of messages – an estimated 79 billion messages, equivalent to 73 per user - in September 2012 alone.

The Indegene Insights study also noted that almost one in four HCPs prefer and access digital channels, Internet and conferences for medical information. Webcast and video lectures are the most popular format of digital education among HCPs in China and national level experts of therapy are preferred over a province or hospital level experts.

Industry experts at a pharma thought-leadership conclave earlier this year in Shanghai had also noted that e-mail was the most preferred E-channel for drug information enquiry, conferences/ seminars information and product promotions, though they emphasized that a combination of traditional and new channels appeared to be the trend in China (scripintelligence.com 3 July 2014).

The HCPs survey also revealed that physicians - mainly specialists such as pulmonologists, cardiologist and gastroenterologists - preferred rep visit frequency to be only once in one-two months. This is largely due to overcrowded out-patient departments and regulations concerning HCPs meeting with reps, Indegene explained. As per 2010 World Bank statistics, China had around 1.5 physicians for every 1,000 people as compared with 2.4 doctors for every 1,000 Americans.

So, is it perhaps time for the pharmaceutical industry to cut-back on medical representative hires? Apparently not. "There is a large broad market and emerging market in China which is not covered by multinational pharmaceutical companies. Therefore, there the opportunitie