The Sledgehammer

For HCPs, The Struggle Is Real

January 25, 2021

One of the many narratives that has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic is “healthcare providers as heroes.” But this narrative doesn’t just apply to the enduring battle against the coronavirus—healthcare providers (HCPs) were heroes pre-pandemic and will continue to be heroes beyond it.

As healthcare marketers, we were already used to putting these HCPs on a pedestal, albeit of a different type—a prized audience to connect with, engage, and ultimately persuade.

To support these pursuits, we make it our business to know everything about them. Media consumption tendencies, prescribing habits, pain points, unmet needs—we spend copious amounts of time and money assessing all kinds of qual and quant data on these individuals.

But there is one thing that won’t show up in all of that market research. This missing insight is applicable to every single HCP and it’s right under our noses, yet we are all guilty of forgetting it.

It’s that these superhuman HCPs… are also just regular humans.

Yes, they go to work and do extraordinary things each day.

But that does not exclude them from the more “ordinary” human experiences: caring for family, having hobbies, balancing work and life, dealing with their own personal emotions, and wrestling with the daily stressors that their jobs exact.

And these two sides—extraordinary professional abilities and ordinary human experiences—co-mingle constantly and often have profound effects on one another.

Want to see this play out in greater detail? Look no further than Netflix’s 2020 docu-series, Lenox Hill. Across eight episodes, it follows the professional and personal lives of four doctors in New York City: two neurologists, an OB-GYN, and an emergency department doctor.

In following the daily experiences of these providers—the patient consults, the team meetings, the phone calls with family, the brief moments of reflection in their offices—there are several seemingly universal themes that emerge. And treating these themes as insights into our own work could yield a more genuine and realistic connection with this audience.

Theme 1: Modern working conditions are inherently stressful.

  • Medical residents are often expected to work 26-hour shifts and 80-hour weeks; for many physicians, there are mere moments to catch one’s breath and collect one’s thoughts between patient consults.
  • The pressure for appointment efficiency leaves little time to compassionately care for complex patients.
  • And forget about the grace to be human and make an occasional mistake—every decision and incision matters. The extreme guilt and real-life risks of malpractice weigh heavy on their shoulders.

Theme 2: There is no allowance for their own emotions.

  • Shouldering patient burdens and delivering bad news never seems to get easier or less emotionally taxing. And putting up an emotional block comes with its own repercussions.
  • Many providers wrestle with their own sky-high performance expectations and ambitions—the achievement of which can be threatened by those aforementioned stressful work conditions.
  • They also have their own personal battles—out of the 4 doctors highlighted in Lenox Hill, all are trying to balance life with families, two are attempting to support a fellow physician with a cancer diagnosis, and two others are pregnant (with one discovering that her child will be born with a genetic abnormality). It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin, much less with the added pressures and emotions of their work.

Theme 3: The challenges of the healthcare system create additional burdens.

  • The way a physician ideally wants to care for a patient can be limited by funding and protocol decisions by the C-suite.
  • They are often acutely aware of the racial and socioeconomic bias that can play out in the healthcare process, with no clear way to remedy it.
  • Insurance and government mandates can crush them with protocols and paperwork.

In watching the docu-series and how these themes play out, you can also clearly see how and why a doctor might not have the headspace to really explore your brand’s website or could easily skip over your journal ad in the few exhausted minutes they have between appointments and surgeries.

You can also see that while making a diagnosis and choosing the right treatment are critical pieces of the puzzle, every other step before and after can be just as important and complex.

It all begs the question—is the humanity of the HCP a missing link in our own communication with this audience? In only “talking business,” are we ignoring a key part of their experience that is quietly affecting their decisions and actions?

Here are some thought starters for how to take this side of HCPs into account:

  • Use your brand campaign to speak to the needs and efforts of HCPs, instead of only highlighting the product and its benefit to the patient.
  • Train and hire sales reps as supportive allies, in which they offer a deeper medical understanding, a consultative approach, and dynamic communication skills (i.e. they can go beyond a sales script).
  • Offer on-demand customer service. Just as the popularity of and need for telehealth has increased, so too must tele-support by reps and access/reimbursement specialists.
  • Less focus on the website, more on the distributed content. Be mindful of how HCPs are using their limited time and when/where they might be most receptive to your message.

The most meaningful place to start? If you have someone in your life who also happens to be a healthcare provider, ask them to tell you about their job beyond the logistics of patient care—the stressors and the things that trouble them, the places they find joy and satisfaction. Because understanding this side of real-life providers—ones that you care about—will certainly be more motivating than any character’s story on a TV show.

At any given time, there are 200+ actual sledgehammers present in the Heartbeat office. To celebrate their first year on the team, each HB’er receives their very own sledge—a nod to our daily pursuit of tearing down tiresome healthcare marketing. To determine what is built in its place, we often turn to outside industries, cultural forces, and personal experiences. We eagerly share them with one another, and now we’re sharing them with you. Clear the way—here comes The Sledgehammer.