While pharma was struggling to measure the ROI of all the different channels – and reach the ultimate physician engagement goals – there was a whole world of digital communications just around the corner. The worldwide market for eLearning has been growing at a furious pace lately, and is estimated to reach $243 billion by 2022. No wonder that the engagement levels made possible by digitalized education, various LMS systems and virtual simulations are starting to tantalize marketers with opportunities.

Perhaps one of the main reasons virtual classrooms are getting so popular is keeping all the “good stuff” together within reach. Anyone who’s tried to learn something new in the last several years can confirm that after a certain point, the abundance of resources scattered around the Web starts to distract a bit. Much handier to keep all the useful information in one place and follow a kind of (perhaps self-imposed) curriculum than surf endlessly.

When learning anything new that’s related to healthcare, or pharma, or biotech, this issue is even more accentuated. Life sciences means a lot of information. Another pharma rep has simply no chances to become the principal source – and besides, reps have very obvious agendas. All of this suddenly makes virtual learning a very useful tactical move for pharma engagement. The two worlds start to meet.


Why pharma and virtual learning go well together

At this point there may be a good question. A huge part of audience tend to associate successful eLearning platforms with massive projects, like the one run by Google. This implies seemingly a lot of resources should be put into organizing the platform. So how does such a project pay off to pharma business? After all, the industry is not meant to be a “substitute for college”, right? And still, the notion of pharma going educational is widely considered a win-win. Let’s break down the whole “paradox”.

First of all, there are reps who provide redundant information at visits. Generally speaking, quite a lot is wrong with traditional detailing at multiple levels (including the too obvious sales push) – but for now, we have this fact to consider. According to a physician survey, about 51% of the time pharma reps show information the doctors have already seen previously – for example, while researching the topic online by themselves.

At the other side of the spectrum we have, predictably, doctors who use online resources to educate themselves. Internet has become quite a factor for medical workers – in fact, at least 88% use the web for information on pharma and biotech. Moreover, some of these resources actually influence their prescribing decisions, as admitted by 71%. Granted, some of these resources are, in fact, branded websites. However, this fact still provides no guarantee for a well-thought of funnel.

The attempts to fuse together these two have been enormously rewarding. A case has been described where a multichannel engagement solution took only 18 months to yield a 98% increase in knowledge, 95% in brand awareness – and boosted prescriptions 2,5-fold.

Again, success stories like this are possible because the different channels are fused into a single platform, which makes it easier for leads to access the information (think a 10 in 1 solution), but also easier for marketers to control and direct. Besides, there have long been calls for pharmaceutical communications to provide more valuable information alongside promotional storytelling.


A journey through the virtual classroom (read in any order)

So what should this multichannel educational solution look like from the outside? We are not talking about websites or digital libraries – after all, a virtual classroom is something bigger than these. In reality, this is a kind of (possibly community-based) platform that incorporates (a) different types of content; and (b) different ways of engaging with members of the community. Want to learn by yourself? Here’s something to read/watch/listen to. Want to ask? Here’s a contact AND the interface to do so. Want guidelines? Here you are, and don’t forget to check your knowledge with a quiz from time to time and see how you rate among your peers and colleagues.

A more in-depth analysis (and practical experience of eLearning) suggest many types of content can be paired to different types of engagement (e.g. video – comments, interactive content – surveying, presentations – detailing, etc.), so here are the optimal “building blocks” for a pharma Virtual Classroom.

And yes – starting from here, you can read these snippets in whatever order you want, because the users of the platform may access the information starting from any of these. A doctor interested in a particular compliance information may then proceed to read about how products compare, or address some research, or request a detailing session. There is no single “correct” order of doing things – every possible combination can provide learning results!


Clinical trials

The results of clinical trials are, of course, an often looked up and often cited part of pharma product information. The thing is, there is hardly time during a detailing visit to read through the whole set of papers, and reps are notorious in medical circles for quoting only the most impressive-sounding fragments. Within a Virtual Learning platform, this information can be stored as downloadable files, or viewed online, possibly at request (like a “send to my email” offer).

Compare similar products

This type of information is essential. However one would like to pretend their product is the only one of its kind, in most cases it has at least distant counterparts. Providing comparisons to similar products (or even providing a possibility to discuss it on a branded website) has long been considered unthinkable. However, it turns out this step may improve trust, and encourages community discussions around the brand. Technically, it can be implemented in multiple ways, from presentations or downloadables to online discussions.

Patient cases

The type of content most likely to be requested by specialists, patient cases can be presented in different ways. The bulk of available data can be stored on the platform as a library with search facility – but some of them can be made into more complex content. We have seen patient cases as part of eDetailing presentations, with illustrative visuals and navigation – why not use this form to present the most important reports? The access to patient cases may be multi-leveled, too, with links to the materials either appearing in product-related content, or provided by reps in the community.

Compliance and prescription schemes

Without this information, most pharmaceutical products would only get so far into the market. Prescribing decisions come with responsibility, so this content should ideally be made highly accessible. In fact, guidelines not only influence the decision-making process, but help a huge percentage of physicians orient themselves in the tons of marketing content they are exposed to.

Online eDetailing (at request or suggestion)

All the benefits of eDetailing can be incorporated into the platform, as well. After all, we’ve seen that eDetailing in general has good reception (especially remote and outside of stressed-out working hours), but the problem is that some information is repeated endlessly, while some of it never gets into the conversation. With Virtual Learning platforms, doctors can actually request a remote detailing session in advance, so that the rep can get prepared for questions. Additionally, reps can contact users who are learning about a particular product to suggest a session themselves.

Webinars and online meetings with KOLs

As the medical world has the tendency to organize itself around towering figures of well-known professionals, working with key opinion leaders is priceless. At the same time, making it possible to hold web meetings and webinars featuring these professionals will boost the platform from a regular “portal” to something bigger. Besides, a doctor is more likely to request an eDetailing session if they have already used the platform for educational purposes – detailing no longer feels to be marketing, and is perceived more seriously.


No need to tell how good videos are for learning – video learning has been a hit for several years now, equally appealing to users no matter what they learn. The very format is engaging by itself, and visual content is still the optimum for conveying complex ideas. For example, mechanism of action in pharmaceuticals. The actual place of videos in the general layout of Virtual Classroom may depend on their topic. Naturally, a marketer would want to make some of the videos immediately available to show off the platform and attract uses, and some of the videos could become available after some engagement with the community (e.g. completing a quiz, survey, eDetailing session).

3D simulations

Technological advances in virtual reality, like Microsoft HoloLens, have created the ideal medium for certain parts of medical training. There used to be things that only came with practical experience, like surgical skills and bedside behaviors – now that a learner can actually see, say, the mitral valve in action, or practice in making diagnoses in a simulation, medical circles are more than interested. Of course, the type of content required for a high-quality, 360° view experience is trickier to obtain than your regular PDF downloadable, but it can instantly become a sensation in learning a particular skill.

Interactive content

For eDetailing purposes, interactive content is truly great at pulling all the other content types (visual, text, etc.) together in a single whole. During a visit, a rep has far more chances at engaging the doctor if they ask something back. With things like eLearning, LMS and virtual classrooms, interactivity is still at the very core – in order to facilitate learning, you should let the person do something themselves; besides, the very need to navigate the information requires interactive content. Naturally, knowledge assessment is crucial, too. Gamified quizzes may be associated with viral but pointless content, but they have already found their application in educational platforms.

Attention! Who is in the audience?

With a broad educational platform, it is easy to forget that behind the interface are people. Naturally, scientific content is not usually designed to have personal, emotional appeal – but remember the eDetailing strategies? There is quite a lot of personalization to be given a second thought. In order to understand how a virtual classroom could be what it is intended to be – helpful above all – any initiative from pharma should study the needs of their audience.

Of course, as the community around the learning platform grows, and remote communications are organized, user information will be abundant – it is just a matter of organizational ability. However, there also are some things to be taken into consideration right at the very beginning, as the platform is being designed. Who are those doctors and interns in the audience?

  1. They are people who value their time. Pharma marketers know the many estimates of how exactly physicians are overworked – in fact, at least 1.6 hours longer than the official 10 hours in the schedule. Surprisingly, this correlates with more time online, so that the more time-pressed a physician is, the more they are likely to use the internet!

In practice, this means practically every free minute these users have they could spend using the virtual classroom. Obviously, this translates into the following desirable features:

a) mobile-friendly interface for at least part of the platform;

b) possibility of bitesize learning activities, i.e. microlearning-oriented content alongside the big sets of information;

c) well-managed navigation.

  1. They are either family physicians or narrow specialists. While for some pharmaceutical products, the audience is known in advance by definition, in many cases a rep has to speak of a product in different terms based on what doctor is sitting next to them. There will be different questions, different heavy points and perceived values.

From the practical point of view, the content presented in the virtual classroom should be multi-layered enough to provide value. The different activities and bits of information presented should come with some identifiers. For example, a set of activities associated with a particular product could have some of its elements in 2-3 different versions.

  1. They are just people who deserve good user experience. Granted, with all of the training doctors normally get they are more than used to finding information, grasping concepts and ideas even when they are poorly explained, and generally overcoming obstacles to get to the truth. But then, if a virtual learning platform provides no difference from that “normal” experience, then how is it supposed to be competitive? With virtual classrooms, it is safe to say half of the success comes from having things nicely arranged and convenient to use.

With all that said, setting up a Virtual Classroom for physician education is easier than it may seem! Of course, effort needs to be put into organizing the platform, but the tech side of this can be accomplished with solutions that are already in place. The loads of content that are supposed to “feed” the Virtual Classroom can be repurposed from eDetailing presentations and crafted by agencies. The main thing for pharma to do is knowing the audience and setting priorities, because this will influence the overall organization. The rewards in case of properly executed Virtual Classroom can be enormous – so don’t hesitate to learn more about the first steps to educational greatness.