Email Marketing: The Right Solution in the Era of COVID-19?

Stephen Ross
MNG Health

The COVID-19 pandemic that swept the country this spring disrupted every aspect of life and business as we know it. The pharmaceutical industry, in particular, has been upended because healthcare practitioners are, themselves, so significantly impacted by the risks of viral spread within their practices.

At MNG Health, we have observed a substantial increase in the use of virtual meetings, as traditional, live speaker events have become next to impossible. Whether this is a transitory phenomenon, or a wholesale shift in preference that will continue into the future, remains to be seen.

Interestingly, we have seen a reluctance in some quarters to use traditional, proven tactics such as email marketing during the pandemic. There are even some companies who have temporary corporate policies banning the use of email until the COVID-19 situation normalizes. The rationale is that HCPs, struggling to keep pace with their patient load, may object to being marketed to at all, or that these marketing efforts might come off as “tone deaf” given the urgency of our national crisis.

The reality, however, is that most HCPs—outside of a few COVID-19-focused specialties—are less busy, not more. Many practices are only seeing patients with urgent needs and deferring traditional follow-up visits until after the viral wave has passed. A recent study conducted by researchers at Harvard University found that out-patient visits had dropped more than 60% in a sample of more than 50,000 providers.1 Another study of hospital out-patient visits observed reductions of between 32% and 60% in 500 reporting hospitals.2

Source: Ateev Mehrotra et al., “The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Outpatient Visits: A Rebound Emerges,” To the Point (blog), Commonwealth Fund, May 19, 2020.

So, are HCPs really too busy to respond to email marketing? Our experience suggests not. An analysis of open and click-through rates on over 29 email campaigns conducted since the start of the year show no reduction in HCP engagement with promotional emails. In fact, engagement has been trending slightly higher since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is one important caveat to this observation: HCPs working in COVID-related fields—such as pulmonologists, ER physicians, and critical care specialists—had lower engagement with email, consistent with the theory that they are currently overwhelmingly preoccupied with patient care.

Source: MNG Health e-mail engagement metrics, Jan 1-Apr 22, 2020; Data on geographic distribution of COVID-19 cases worldwide from European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, May 26, 2020.

We conclude that while select specialists at the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic appear less likely to engage with email at this time, most HCPs continue to engage with non-personal promotional tactics such as email at rates similar to, or even higher than, pre-pandemic levels. Email remains an impactful element of the promotional mix and should not be neglected as an important part of a brand’s strategy for maintaining share of voice.

MNG Health is a multichannel marketing company with over twenty years of experience that specializes in data-driven tactics designed to reach and engage target HCPs throughout the customer journey – spanning non-personal promotion, peer-to-peer interactions, and advisory platforms.


1. Ateev Mehrotra et al., “The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Outpatient Visits: A Rebound Emerges,” To the Point (blog), Commonwealth Fund, May 19, 2020.

2. Hospital Visits Down Sharply and Patients May Not Be in a Rush to Reschedule Appointments. TransUnion. April 24, 2020.–may-not-be-in-a-rush-to-reschedule-appointments/