Do Younger and Older Doctors Differ in Their Pharma Relations?


When analysing differences between customer segments and groups, our focus as healthcare market researchers often tends to be on attitudinal and behavioural variations rather than demographic ones. However, with the results of our So What? Research Survey of Australian Doctors at our disposal, we wanted to explore any differences that may exist between younger and older doctors in how they engage with pharma both in person and online.


For the purposes of this question, we classify younger doctors as those with less than five years in clinical practice, and older doctors those with more than five years. Comparing the two segments side by side gave us some interesting insights.


The role of the pharma rep


When it comes to pharma’s balance of face-to-face vs digital engagement, our previous article showed that pharma is doing a pretty good job. This remains true when we analyse responses from doctors in their segmented groups of GPs and Specialists.


However, younger doctors are far more likely to interact with pharma reps virtually. 42% of these doctors had engaged with a pharma rep via video/phone in the previous month, compared to just 19% of older doctors. In addition, 61% of younger doctors had interacted with a rep via email in the previous month compared to 51% of older doctors. This trend continues when doctors were asked to predict the type of interactions they would have in 6 months’ time.

The most obvious reason for this difference is that younger doctors are more comfortable and familiar with technology as a means of communication - they’ve ‘grown up’ with video chat/conferencing. This hypothesis is supported by another finding in our survey: only 61% of younger doctors believe their knowledge of new drugs can suffer if they don’t see a pharma rep face to face, compared to 81% of older doctors.


The use of social media

One of our previous articles highlighted the relatively low use of social media amongst GPs and Specialists, but the story looks a little different when we compare doctors by age/experience.


55% of older doctors do not use social media at all in their professional lives, compared to only 36% of younger doctors. And, while the use of Facebook is about the same across both groups, younger doctors are three times more likely to use Instagram (17% vs 6%), and twice as likely to use LinkedIn (33% vs 18%) and Twitter (22% vs 10%).

Of particular interest to pharma companies maybe who and what both groups follow on social media, especially when it’s clear that younger doctors are far more likely to be following a pharma company than their more experienced and older counterparts, as shown in the graph below:

With such a discrepancy between these two groups in social media usage, it should follow that younger doctors are also engaging far more than their older colleagues. Surprisingly, that’s not the case.

Younger doctors are more likely to be “lurkers”, reading or observing content on social media platforms without actively participating. Only 13% of younger doctors post on social media and 35% follow accounts, compared to 24% and 40% respectively for older doctors.

There are a few possible reasons for this, maybe they are more cautious about their online presence and potential consequences of posting and commenting on social media, or they may prefer to use social media for professional development and learning from their peers, rather than for self-promotion or ‘having their say’. As such, they are more active on social media in one sense, but their lower levels of engagement also make them more passive. A strange paradox!