Physician email marketing has evolved significantly from its inception. Initially, it consisted of unbecoming, inefficient, “batch and blast” tactics that ultimately turned off healthcare audiences. Now, these tactics are not only outdated; they are simply counterproductive.
Today, a consortium of primary email databases has been assembled under DMD’s stewardship [supervision] to provide the most robust email data available on healthcare professionals (HCPs). This authoritative database is anchored to practice behavior and email audience response results, making modern physician email communication much more effective and valuable for healthcare marketers. We have come a long way from buying email addresses by the ton from unknown sources to the precision targeting we employ today. Here’s a look at the evolution of physician email lists.
Prehistoric times: Web or domain scraping
Web or domain scraping essentially swipes private data for any use or profit. PCMag defines Web scraping as “extracting e-mail addresses or other data from websites or search engine results. The data may be sold to spammers or criminals, or it may be reorganized and presented on a website along with ads to derive income.”
While Web scraping is now largely viewed as unethical, it’s still a widely employed practice used to fuel the data economy. Some scrapers obtain data posted to private, password-protected areas of websites and expose details about users—these could be personal details, such as medications used, personal relationships, and mental health status. Under modern practices, email lists obtained using scraping practices constitute spam, as the recipients never opted-in to receive communications.
The dark ages: Email address domain assembly
Another outdated practice used in physician email marketing is email address domain assembly. Domain assembly is the process of identifying the typical format of an HCP’s email address (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org or .edu or .org) and guessing other institutional-affiliated members’ addresses by applying their names to the same format. This method is somewhat less intrusive than web or domain scraping, but it isn't permission-based and still counts as a spam tactic. It typically works from hospital, university or organizational member lists. However, just because you can assemble a correct email address, doesn’t mean the HCP ever uses it. Institutions assign email addresses all the time to member HCPs that are never used. Just because an email can be delivered to an address doesn’t mean it’s actually in use. Where these institutional addresses are functioning, again, it may not be the HCP who is actually using it. These addresses are sometimes routed to a central departmental mailbox which is monitored by the departmental admin or receptionist.
The Middle Ages: Mining adjudicated claim servicers
Data mining, also called data or knowledge discovery, is the process of analyzing data and then summarizing it into useful information. Specifically, mining adjudicated claim servicers means accessing health insurance provider data to obtain contact details. Not surprisingly, this process may constitute a violation under HIPAA insofar as the patient’s health record is accessed. There are more correct and viable methods for obtaining physician email lists today.
Recent history: Verifying emails by telephone
Taken at face value, the idea of verifying physician emails by telephone is a credible approach. At the very least, this method attempts to gain some level of permission prior to engaging physicians and other HCPs in email marketing campaigns. However, telephone verification is a highly ineffective process because email addresses change at a much higher rate than telephone outbound call centers can contact. Given that email address databases change at the rate of 1-2% per month, a telephone email database gets stale fast. And then there is the question as to whether the person verifying the address, typically the office admin, assistant or receptionist, would actually divulge the HCP’s personal email address to a database company over the phone. Really?
The modern gold standard: Physician-provided data
As all of the aforementioned tactics gradually have lost favor—due to the general ethical concerns with the processes or the simple fact that they just don’t work anymore—savvy marketers are turning to the new gold standard in building physician email lists: physician-provided data. In the early days of physician email marketing, the application of physician-provided data was limited to the size of the membership list; therefore, this strategy was largely considered not viable to cover an entire target audience. However, through partnerships with primary sources, the innovative sharing of technology, and the commitment to use the data solely for professional applications, trust can be built with healthcare practitioners while incentivizing the exchange of contact information.
With email addresses directly sourced from healthcare practitioners authenticated email list, you have confidence in the source and quality of the data. You also will know that the emails are current and constantly monitored for performance, meaning your open rates will accurately reflect how HCPs are responding to your outreach efforts. This commitment to quality allows your team to focus solely targeting the right audience with the right message developed in the correct technology. Physician email lists have undergone a significant evolution. When physicians readily provide their own data and grant permission to receive communications via verified and authenticated email lists, it’s a win-win solution. Your campaigns reach a larger audience, and HCPs benefit from the value-added messages and information you share about your products.