There are over 430,000 Nurse Practitioners (NPs) and Physician Assistants (PAs) referred to as advanced practice providers (APPs) in the US. While MDs are often disease-oriented, APPs are extremely patient-oriented and provide more patient education. These, and other differences between physicians and APPs, mean pharma marketers must develop a separate APP communication strategy and adapt to specific changes in the APP market caused by the pandemic. Let’s looks at the facts:
- The autonomy of NPs/PAs has increased dramatically over the past decade, but the pandemic has caused new accelerated independence in making care and treatment decisions.
- NPs/PAs are navigating how to conduct an unprecedented amount of telehealth visits, some of whom are using virtual visits for the first time.
- NPs/PAs are understandably experiencing an increase in concerns for medical equipment shortages as well as the health of themselves and their families.
Marketers must adjust to the changing APP market. If done correctly, showing support to NPs/PAs at a difficult time can build long-lasting relationships.
The Expanding Roles of NPs/PAs During the COVID-19 Crisis
The pandemic impacts where and how NPs/PAs are working. For example, in the COVID-19 response, one state began allowing PAs to prescribe all Schedule II controlled meds and removed chart co-signature requirements. Federal legislation, signed into law on March 27th, also permanently authorizes PAs and NPs to order home healthcare services for Medicare patients. Prior to the pandemic, many states had maximized APPs autonomy by removing barriers and allowing NPs/PAs to make independent decisions at the same level as physicians, to prescribe and to practice without oversight:
- In 2020, NPs/PAs make up 1 out of 3 providers who can diagnose, prescribe, and treat patients in all settings with acute and chronic illness.
- Today, APPs see over 1.2 billion patients annually.
- 3 out of 5 APPs see their own distinct set of patients.
- Evidence shows APPs prescribe more frequently than MDs for some drugs and therapeutic areas as well as during e-visits.
- APPs sit on purchasing committees and use medical equipment as frequently as MDs.
Adjust to Telehealth and Limited Travel with Digital Marketing
COVID-19 has caused telehealth and virtual visits to increase dramatically to unprecedented levels. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), passed in late March, expands access to telehealth visits with NPs, PAs, or MDs for new patients by removing the restriction that the patient must have a prior established relationship with the provider. Even prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, 87% of NPs were involved in some level of virtual visits and non-face-to-face patient encounters such as email, phone, video, and text. In a survey of 189 NPs at the 2016 AANP annual conference, when queried about the percentage of their workday spent in telehealth:
- 21.6% spent between 40-60% of the day
- 6.4% spent over 75% of their day
- 12.6% spent no time
There is evidence that patients feel more comfortable seeking help via telemedicine apps with certain ailments of a more sensitive nature such as digestive and mental health, so healthcare marketing shouldn’t slow down during a time of increased telehealth, but rather adapt to the new landscape. With restricted travel, consider adjusting your HCP marketing strategy to add more digital to your mix, and re-evaluate if you are effectively reaching the right NPs/PAs.
These shifts in NP/PA behavior present an opportunity for pharma and medical device marketers to influence treatment selection at the point of care and ensure patients can effectively start, and stay, on treatment.
To reach and support APPs in a restricted travel environment, consider:
1. Programmatic marketing where your ads can be delivered to targeted APPs on telehealth software, websites, and online publications.
2. Messaging that speaks to the support you can provide. Examples include, microsites to answer HCP questions, patient resources that APPs might use when they can’t meet with their patients face-to-face, tools and equipment such as tracking devices for vital signs, and smartphone apps for medical diagnostics.
3. Key Opinion Leader (KOL) engagement through online webinars with no travel required. NP/PA audiences can interact with APP KOLs through live Q&A, and presentations can be hosted online for on-demand viewing by NPs/PAs nationwide.
4. Sales rep engagement through email and e-newsletter calls to action. NPs/PAs can click on an option that notifies the representative that they would like to be contacted. The CTA can also be set up to offer samples and educational material.
Align Your NP/PA Messaging with Their 2020 Concerns
The most important step for pharma and medical device marketers is to delve deeper into current NP/PA concerns. NPs/PAs on the front lines in the COVID-19 response are understandably worried about medical equipment shortages – particularly personal protective equipment (PPE). Some NPs and PAs have contracted the virus while caring for COVID-19 patients – and a few have already died. APPs are also worried about bringing the virus home to infect their families due to their frequent exposure with the virus. In an informal poll, 41% of APPs and nurses in the ER are using some combination of homemade masks, or their own PPE; others are re-using N95 masks and equipment more than they were intended to be used.
APPs are proud of their contributions and the number of lives saved, yet APPs are rarely acknowledged. They frequently feel forgotten and invisible among physicians and nurses who receive more of the press and accolades for their part of the battle against COVID-19. Now is the perfect time to communicate and build long-lasting relationships with APPs by showing your support and respect. Charitable acts and support, or simple appreciative messaging are highly valued by APPs who want and deserve respect.
Things to Do Right Now
To build long-lasting relationships with APPs in today’s challenging environment, consider:
1. Corporate Branding to show your company’s support and acknowledge the dedication and sacrifices of NPs/PAs nationwide. Respect is important to APPs. Because APPs don’t fit under the physician or nurse umbrella, they want to be recognized as a separate and important group in the patient journey. To have an impact, develop messaging and resources created specifically by, and for, NPs/PAs.
2. Market research to pinpoint actionable intelligence on the APP community within the specialty fields that matter to your brand. Online research is a cost-efficient way to quickly reveal which materials/tools APPs want in 2020; determine specific practice changes caused by the pandemic and test which messages resonate the most. For the best result, partner with a company that specializes in NPs/PAs.
The role of APPs has seen significant changes over recent years and the pandemic has, and will likely continue to, significantly alter and expand their roles and responsibilities. Increased tele-medicine, expanded authority, and a desire to be recognized provide opportunity for pharma and medical device companies to engage with, and influence, this critical group of HCPs.