Marrying Empathy & Intentionality in HCP Marketing

Look, I have been there. I get it. You don’t want to waste your time reading yet another article on the importance of empathy in healthcare marketing. A quick Google search will reveal countless articles where industry leaders weigh in on the importance of infusing patient-centered empathy in all brand communications. Every bulleted list out there tells you that your DTC tactics must include and validate the patient’s daily struggles. On the HCP side? Every tactic should acknowledge the physician’s frustration with current treatments. In an ideal world, you will start doing this in your disease awareness campaigns and then rinse and repeat those same marketing tactics throughout the brand’s lifecycle.

All of these articles somehow manage to arrive at the same conclusion: if you demonstrate enough empathy, your brand will succeed at building patient and/or physician trust. I have to ask the obvious question here. If we are all employing this exact formulaic approach, does this actually work to successfully differentiate and elevate a brand?

I like to think of empathy as a muscle. A muscle that needs to be exercised in order to make a meaningful difference in connecting with, and providing value to, our target audience. Restricting empathy to content creation and execution is not a smart move in today’s world. The word loses all meaning if we aren’t acknowledging the uphill and seemingly endless battle that HCPs have been fighting for decades. We need to meet them where they are today.

Here are three strategies for healthcare marketers to consider as they navigate these tricky times.

Think beyond the physician. HCPs aren’t a monolith, and we must stop treating them as one. Irrespective of the disease state, we focus on PCPs and specialists as our primary HCP target audience. But, many other HCPs, including physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and pharmacists have prescriptive authority. The legalities, including the ability to prescribe controlled substances or prescribe in the absence of collaborative agreements varies state by state. However, all of these HCPs build meaningful relationships with their patients and are instrumental in establishing trust in treatment decisions. Focusing solely on physicians does a disservice to other HCPs by ignoring the vital and distinct role they play as part of the patient’s care team. Creating content that targets a range of HCPs allows us to maximize the number of touchpoints in a patient’s treatment journey.

Embrace the change. “Coping with COVID” was a U.S. national survey conducted between May and October, 2020, to assess healthcare worker stress levels. Over 20,000 HCPs and allied health professionals responded, and the results weren’t the least bit surprising. Almost half of all respondents stated that they suffered burnout and work overload. Women, Black and Latinx individuals reported the highest stress scores. This is the new normal that we need to accept as healthcare marketers. Instead of inundating HCPs with promotional messaging from every angle, let us strive to be more intentional. When planning for next year, pinpoint your most effective personal and non-personal promotional strategies. Rethink your channels. Go against the grain and narrow down your list of tactics. Engage with HCPs in meaningful ways that are relevant to their practice. At imre, we’ve helped our clients do this by designing and leading a global cross-functional training program to operationalize compassion and drive better experiences for HCPs and patients.

Be a paragon of integrity. As healthcare marketers, we are in the unique position of constantly straddling the line between persuasion and transparency. The FDA protects public health by ensuring that all promotional messaging is truthful, balanced, and accurately communicated. FDA guidances put HCPs’ minds at ease and mollify inherent skepticism in “Big Pharma” because they know we are all legally obligated to abide by them. But what happens when HCPs start to distrust the FDA itself? The contentious approval of Aduhelm paired with unanticipated rejections have divided and disappointed many HCPs. While we can’t necessarily solve this, we must acknowledge this complex dynamic and begin to address some of this skepticism by holding ourselves accountable to telling a balanced and truthful MOA, efficacy, and safety story.

HCPs are being pushed to the brink over and over again. Intentionality in healthcare marketing matters more than ever. To build HCP trust in a brand and effectively differentiate it, we all must expand our thinking and show up as allies to HCPs while holding ourselves accountable.


  1. Prasad K, McLoughlin C, Stillman M, et al. Prevalence and correlates of stress and burnout among U.S. healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic: A national cross-sectional survey study. E Clinical Medicine. 2021;35:1-9.
  2. Price SM, O’Donoghue AC, Rizzo L, et al. What influences healthcare providers’ prescribing decisions? Results from a national survey. Res Social Adm Pharm. 2021; 17(10):1770-1779. doi: 10.1016/j.sapharm.2021.01.012. Epub 2021 Jan 28.
  3. The Office of Prescription Drug Promotion. Food and Drug Administration. Updated July 1st, 2021. Accessed September 3rd, 2021. https://www.fda.gov/about-fda/center-drug-evaluation-and-research-cder/office-prescription-drug-promotion-opdp.

Author: Aish Mercalde, PharmD, MBA (VP, Medical & Scientific Affiars - imre Health)

This article was created in collaboration with the sponsoring company and our sales and marketing team. The editorial team does not contribute.