Best Ways to Use Virtual and Augmented Reality for Pharma

It’s there now, and for good: global pharma has started to use Virtual Reality for a whole list of purposes. Marketing and education, awareness and empathy building – VR headsets are seen quite frequently at discussion sites for healthcare and life sciences. Not that we’re “past” the initial stage, though – in fact, this is still the pioneering era.

This pioneering era is most likely going to be short, though – and marketing is one of the biggest factors that accelerate its development. In 2017, 30% of Global 2000 companies reported to try out the VR/AR as part of their strategies. As for the pharmaceutical/healthcare sector, we all know it takes some time to break the ice, but we’ve had quite a number of examples recently.

Earlier, we have outlined the potential of VR in life sciences, so if you are interested in the broadest range of applications, it’s a good idea to have a look at our previous posts on the topic. In this one, however, we will try and anticipate the next inevitable stage of pharma VR – namely, identifying which practices are actually the “best”. Trying to be pragmatic about hot topics can be tough, but it is necessary – especially if you are just considering how to start a virtual strategy of your own.

What VR experience is like (and what it is good for)

To understand what practices involving VR/AR are going to bring lasting success, it helps to look at what inner drives this technology has to offer to the audience. Now that we have enough actual cases of pharma VR strategies to analyze, several points are becoming obvious.



Since a virtual 360°-view simulation is meant to resemble real-life experiences, it is great at giving all of our senses something to work on. In other words, you may fidget and play with a spinner while reading reviews or watching a TV ad – but who does that while immersed into a 3D setting? This, by definition, is engagement, and it tends to work well with customer audience. Statistically, according to Greenlight Insights, 62% of consumers say they would feel more engaged with a brand that provides a VR experience. This is a large percentage on its own, especially if you consider it comes from a number of industries – including those that already have a range of impressive engagement tactics. Pharma sector, on the other hand, has always been more reserved than that of consumer goods due to ethical and legislative reasons. This means that while VR is moderately jaw-dropping in some industries’ marketing, in pharma it represents a stark contrast to the previous engagement levels.



A virtual tech is a powerful tool for representing information, especially the more complex concepts, and ideas – the likes you’d encounter in medical science. We have already mentioned before how VR is used for visualizing physiological processes, “handling” models of chemical compounds and molecules, etc. It has always been better to see such things once for yourself than trying to figure it all out by contemplating dozens of pages of written descriptions. It’s no wonder, then, that medical specialists are highly interested: in fact, more than 50% wish to use the technology to learn. There have been successful cases, as well. Take Boehringer Ingelheim, for example. In April, about 400 medical professionals at the American College of Cardiology were “immersed” in the bloodstream via a Samsung Gear VR headset as part of Pradaxa reversal agent Praxbind campaign. The reception was, needless to say, enthusiastic.



For now, and most likely for several decades to come, VR experiences are dramatically different from anything else in content world. To put it straightforward, they are simply more exciting and induce more curiosity. This is perfect for awareness campaigns, regardless of whether it’s a brand or a condition that is to be put into focus. Virtual reality can serve as a kind of highlighter for the selected points in a strategy. Of course, not everything should be made 360°! The key points, however, deserve such treatment. The incredible power of VR/AR will then draw attention to the rest of the content. It’s up to the strategist to decide whether the virtual experience should be a starting point for future interest (as is now becoming common for patient engagement), or a highly spoken-of “bonus” for a circle of specialists. Both ways are possible and both ways lead to increased awareness.

Retaining interest (Because you need every effort to pay off)

Now, the skeptical part. At some point, we all think something like: “Okay, so we’ll do this VR trick because it is popular. Of course it will draw attention. Maybe someone will get the information they needed. Then what? Will the crowd say thanks and flow over to the newest VR attraction?” Converting amazing tactics into customer relationships is a point of concern in any sphere, and yes, VR is not a tool for total lead conversion. However, in case with pharma, there is only one thing that needs to be solved.

This one thing is the… Well, what do you associate VR with at the moment? Is it gaming? Entertainment? Exactly this is what many are thinking, and exactly this is the beast to overcome on the way to true engagement. At this point, VR content is (for many people) a fancy “toy” all on its own. What pharma needs to do is to supply the VR experience with real value. It is being done now, of course, but the common mistake is that some demonstrate the VR when they should be demonstrating information. For now, it is OK to say “look, we made a fun simulation of being inside a human elbow joint, look at what colorful graphics we’ve got!” In a year, medical specialists will start to ask more questions. It is the content that matters – even with VR.

To solve for value, one needs to take into account the audience, then answer the question: what information will they need? For pharma, the audience can be either patients or doctors, and the type of content they want is, of course, different. This means that there’s no such thing as universally relevant VR simulation. Furthermore, after providing the VR experience, any pharma strategist needs to follow up with exactly the content that the audience craves. Then the glitter of uniqueness will not wear off, as the customers’ interaction with the brand will remind of the VR experience, on the one hand – and instigate further interest, on the other. Bonus for the marketer – after having followed up on one VR “event”, you will feel much more confident preparing for another one.

Scalability of the VR experience

Hardly anyone would expect a pharma company to launch a full-scale, 3D, headset-powered, globally-oriented VR campaign out of the blue (although that would be an impressive feat). The interface is still not so widely spread, and its price somewhat inhibits the development of VR strategies. For now, that is. Last year, there were around 7,000,000 installed virtual reality headsets; the number is estimated to grow to 37 million by 2020, and more than a billion in 2021 – so mass adoption is only just beginning. However, it is a gross mistake to put off virtual strategies until then – the market is most likely to be dominated by those who have enough expertise supplying the experience.

The solution is scalability. Virtual realities come in different sizes and manners – everyone wants their piece of the trend, but not all people are going to invest several hundred dollars in a headset right now. This has led to an unexpected proliferation of intermediate technologies between the full-on VR and – yes – mobile tech. By creating apps that allow to experience the most significant parts of the VR, a company can pave the way to a headset-powered project. Or, vice versa, it is also possible to test out 360° content on a limited audience with full equipment (for example, during a conference for selected medical professionals), and then readjust the content for use in scalable, compact apps for broad medical circles.

Another way to avoid the risky plunge into heavy VR investments is to consider the different stages of VR launch, as linked to the audience. Consider the general scheme below.

The strictly professional audience (say, doctors at a particular well-known clinic) is likely to be interested in highly specific content, made under meticulous supervision by consultants and liaisons alike. At the same time, on the other end of the spectrum, there is the broadest audience possible, namely patients, caregivers, patients’ relatives, etc. This audience will like their VR experience to be more gamified – a fact proven by the recently popular empathy apps. In between, there is your HCP audience, also wanting a change from the conventional eDetailing practices and (possibly) interested in becoming specialists in the perspective, as is common among general practice doctors in some countries. A pharma company could consider starting with the narrow circles to “test the waters”, and then move on to scalable versions of the same experience for eDetailing-related practices before launching into the general public. Alternatively, there could be a good start with VR apps for patient audience, where less of scientific precision is required, and then a move forward to tailored VR experiences for specialists. The course essentially depends upon the nature of products and conditions represented.

Are you interested in ways to start working with VR projects? If you want your future project to be more than a campaign for its own sake, you will definitely need to analyze your audience and target appropriately. Learn more how to integrate VR/AI into your multichannel pharma marketing strategy along with eDetailing, emails, websites, mobile applications, etc easily! Contact our experts to attain excellence early on by being reasonably innovative!