Life science companies are beginning to ascribe greater value to physician social network communities for their ability to expedite the adoption of new treatments. Momentum will build as life science companies find ways to be relevant to these communities without becoming unwelcome participants in physician interactions.

Physicians assess whether to adopt a treatment based on criteria that is often influenced by the experience of other physicians. These criteria frequently include:

  • the benefits and risks of new treatments
  • the level of dissatisfaction with current treatments
  • condition severity and the impact a new treatment can have on patient lives
  • the prevalence of new treatment candidates among their patients
  • treatment costs and provider hurdles
  • adherence and compliance challenges

Because physician decision making is so dependent on learning and experience; social media provides a great opportunity for these types of exchanges. As a treatment enters the market and gains broader exposure, physicians look to cohorts or peers who have already tried the treatment. In principle, physician social communities accelerate the pace of exposure to valuable insights for early, middle and late adopters.

Successful social environments must provide the granularity of information, scale and authenticity; each cohort of physicians must feel confident when considering a new treatment option. But, granularity, scale and authenticity are challenging. They demand community building strategies tailored to the unique needs of physicians. They also require that life science companies avoid covert promotion. Even the perception of hidden influence in a community, no matter how well intentioned, can damage it.

The principles of effective community building among physicians are not yet clear:

  • A 2011 study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research indicated physicians strongly prefer “gated communities” that restrict access to peers. But, who is a peer? When Pfizer physicians joined Sermo many practicing physicians were turned off.
  • Digitas Health has reported that almost twice as many physicians want to use peer-to-peer networks than actually do. This gap points to accessibility and design limitations in current peer-to-peer networking options.
  • Social networks revolve around power users who generate the most content. But, the busiest practicing clinicians have fewer incentives to be socially active than academics.

Nuvasive, a medical device company increased adoption of a new minimally invasive technology by launching a private forum to train surgeons on Syndicom’s SpineConnect, a collaborative network of 1,600 spine surgeons. Peer-to-peer training took the form of five to six fellows receiving training from an experienced surgeon. The success of Nuvasive points to learning as a path to drive adoption and overcome these challenges. Syndicom sponsored research reported a 30% improvement in adoption vs. traditional models.