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Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

The long awaited Nurse Readership Survey was released last year, not exactly with a bang but with a bit more than a whimper.

A traditionally under-researched audience in pharma, nurses have lagged behind their GP and consultant counterparts in terms of channel insight and what we can ‘know’ about their media consumption. Having relied on ABC (audit bureau circulation) certificates and publisher statements for our circulation information, what would this survey tell us? 

So what is the survey and its scope? Commissioned by a joint group of medical publishers and media agencies, the Nurse Readership Survey (NRS) aims to provide insight into the readership of a wide range of key medical publications, such as Nursing Standard and the British Journal of Primary Care Nursing. Data was collected by Think Media Consultancy with surveys sent to a random sample of 1,500 fully qualified UK-based practice nurses and health visitors.

The most interesting of all the top-line findings is that this is an audience still apparently in thrall to print, with nurses recording print as their most useful media information source ahead of journal sites. So far so straightforward, but only a little thought makes this a challenging statement. Let’s take the profile of an average practice nurse: female, educated, relatively affluent, and comfortable with technology. Then let’s map this against consumer trends. And hey presto we’re in the core tablet-user demographic here. This is the audience that Candy Crush was created for (if anyone can help me unlock Candyfloss Meadow I’d be super grateful?!), who populate social media, actively contribute to fora and keep sites like Net Mums thriving. Basically, an audience completely at home with, and within, digital media. 

So why aren’t we seeing this reflected in the data. Is this media white coat syndrome? The theory that once in ‘HCP mode’ our audiences cease to consume information in the same way as they do in their ‘civilian’ mindset. Usually levelled at consultants, it hypothesises that an educated physician earning a six-figure salary and a habitual consumer of premium brand messages in their ‘other life’ is incapable or reluctant to consume sophisticated rich media brand messages in a healthcare media environment, and can only cope with ‘click here for prescribing information’ as an interactive draw.   

I’ve always found this a difficult argument to accept. So putting that aside as a non-starter, can we look a little closer to home for the cause of this digital rejection? Is it a classic case of plenty of chickens, no egg? If you look at the digital resources available to nurses as we do on a regular basis, then until very recently it’s been slim pickings compared to the resources available to their GP colleagues. Sites have grown up from article archives or as association bulletin boards, and additional elements have been added without any recourse to first principles or an overall goal for the site. A surprising (shocking) number don’t have the basics of responsive design so aren’t even optimised for mobile or tablet usage – which we know this audience favours.

Attempts to digitise print offerings have been equally patchy. Many so called ‘app-based’ versions lack anything but the most rudimentary functionality and are merely page-turning facsimilies of the print version. Primary Care Nursing Review is currently the sole app-only publication on the market, created from scratch and not bound to print heritage.

There are bright points on the horizon. The Mark Allen Group website has recently undergone a comprehensive rebuild to move it onto a platform that allows users and advertisers a better, more engaging experience. But much more needs to be done before nurses have a comparably sophisticated menu of digital choices, as GPs and consultants.

So what needs to come first? Top quality information for nurses that’s accessible, intuitive and well designed. Shouldn’t be too much to ask. And we know the audience has an appetite for it… time to make an omelette perhaps.

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