Why Your Brand Needs to Target NPs and PAs in 2020

March 19, 2020

The Evolution of the Treatment Team

In today’s increasingly targeted media landscape, many marketers have created well-intended campaigns that are missing opportunities to grow reach by narrowly targeting only certain HCPs. In fact, an inclusive strategy that engages with all stakeholders can be much more effective.

Looking at the numbers, nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) are active in making use of their prescriptive authority as well. On average, NPs and PAs write 69 prescriptions per week. Many exceed even that number, and 23% of NPs and PAs write more than 100 prescriptions per week, according to Kantar. In comparison to physicians, NPs and PAs are the fastest growing group of prescribers. Per the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, there are 270,000 NPs licensed in the US. Per the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, there are currently 139,000 PAs certified in the US.

As the US’s booming patient population causes a shortage of physicians, the volume of patients being seen by NPs and PAs is growing, too. On average, NPs and PAs see 70 patients per week, representing a 4% increase from the year prior, also according to Kantar data.

NPs and PAs select their brands they will prescribe, which often differs from Rx from the doctors who work with them.  NPs will often look at an Rx from an individual patient perspective, cost, ease of use, whether they are capable of taking something multiple times per day, etc.  This can be relevant in tailoring messages to NPs.  Advertisers don’t have to call out specifically when an ad is for an NP but can instead choose specific messaging that would resonate and target NPs with it.

The most effective approach will consider patient interactions with all on the treatment team, which is increasingly including NPs and PAs. Today, NPs and PAs are heavily involved with patients and play independent roles, including extensive prescriptive authority:

Why Expand Targeting to Include NPs/PAs?

Not only is the time NPs and PAs spend in patient interaction growing, but these interactions are meaningful as they invest in educating and counseling patients. In these increasingly common interactions, patients are coming to NPs and PAs with more frequent questions on specific drugs, procedures, or devices. 13% of NPs and PAs say patients ask for this information on a daily basis, as we found in our Media Vitals 2019/2020 research.

NPs and PAs report that educational materials are highly important to them and help inform their decisions, especially when it comes to prescribing. 94% of NPs/PAs cite patient education, including videos, handouts, and training for self-administration of medicines, and educational info for themselves as useful to providing better care to their patients, according to Media Vitals.

As a result of obtaining clinical information from a pharmaceutical company, NPs and PAs are more likely to try a new product or change a patient’s treatment. 93% of NP/PAs report that they have tried a new product they have not tried before after receiving clinical information and 96% say they have changed a patient’s treatment. This compares to 89% of physicians that have either tried a new product or changed a patient’s treatment.

As such, pharma marketers cannot continue to ignore the role that NPs and PAs play in patient support. The time is right to get ahead of competitors and start educating these key decision makers on the value of your treatments now.

Case Study #1: Strategic Partnerships Drive NPs’ and PAs’ Engagement with Display

CMI/Compas recently supported the launch of a new treatment that was previously granted a Breakthrough Therapy designation, a Priority Review, and a very short time later, the treatment’s first approval by the FDA. With this treatment now approved, there was a challenge in how to best educate the entire treatment team in a timely manner, as the accelerated timelines meant that media assets’ development time was now extremely condensed.

Rather than cutting audiences to reduce time in asset creation, CMI/Compas identified an opportunity to communicate with NPs and PAs in many of the same ways we had planned to across all physicians, but with a more targeted approach.  Because of the growing volume of patient interactions and their willingness to see pharmaceutical representatives in person (42% of NPs and PAs saying they see reps without any restrictions per CMI/Compas Media Vitals) NPs and PAs will be on the frontlines, and so there is a pressing need to support these conversations. 

To ensure this success among NPs and PAs, CMI/Compas’ approach included a deep analysis through Media Vitals. This data confirmed that how each audience engages with media does vary among the treatment team. In fact, NPs and PAs are heavily engaged in consuming media, in some cases even more so than physicians.

For example, NPs and PAs are more frequently active online and are more likely to use medical websites, online drug reference tools, and medical apps on a daily basis. This research was used to find the right channels to engage with NPs and PAs.

From there, CMI/Compas analyzed further to determine the supplier partners most commonly relied on by NPs and PAs, as a predictor of engagement and a driver of success in clients’ media campaigns.

As a result, this brand which included NPs and PAs as a target gained impression volume and grew efficiency around launch. In comparison to the physician placements, NPs and PAs were even more active in consuming media too. These placements targeting NPs and PAs, which again were using the same messaging across all physicians, drew increased engagement from NPs and PAs, as NPs and PAs generated click through rates 2x-4x higher than physicians. These advantages over narrowly targeting only particular MDs prove the value that exists in engaging the entire treatment team.

Case Study #2: Tactic Selection Informed by Media Research Results in Added Campaign Engagement and Contributes to Increased Rx from NPs and PAs

Another example of CMI/Compas finding success targeting NPs and PAs is shown in a campaign that targeted low call/no call HCPs, with 25% of the target list consisting of NPs and PAs. The majority of these NPs and PAs had written at least one prescription per month over the previous year but were not a focus of the sales force. Again, with the prescriptive authority that NPs and PAs have and their increasing involvement in patient interactions, opportunity existed to increase their script writing.

CMI/Compas determined that this group of NP/PAs was more receptive to email compared to PCPs, and this channel allowed for longer-form messaging to reinforce writing, change perception on any perceived pitfalls and drive education on benefits vs. competitors.

While utilizing a combination of client-owned and 3rd party publisher emails targeted to NPs, PAs and PCPs, CMI/Compas found that 1.3x more NP/PAs engaged than PCPs. Performance results backed what was reported through Media Vitals research, confirming NP/PA affinity towards opening medically relevant publishers.

For a surround sound campaign, CMI/Compas also incorporated digital display banners to drive awareness to increase top-of-mind recall, a key imperative for the brand, to quickly reinforce reasons for writing in relevant HCP/Consumer settings, and to maintain share of voice in a highly competitive space.

By leveraging programmatic targeting, CMI/Compas noticed that not only was there an increase in unique NPs and PAs that were served banner ads, but also that the cost per unique reach to NP/PAs was more effective than to PCPs.

In addition to higher engagement from NPs and PAs, CMI/Compas also found that this group wrote more prescriptions than PCPs in the same month the emails were deployed. This increase in writing continued over the course of the campaign as NP/PAs continued to be exposed to multichannel NPP media tactics.


Looking forward, NPs and PAs are the fastest growing group of prescribers. Especially within the primary care space, their role is growing as per the AANP, more than 87% of NPs were prepared in primary care programs, while only 8% of physicians entered a primary care residency.  Across all specialties , physicians are noting how crucial the role is that NPs and PAs play in making prescribing decisions and engagement with patients. As such, brands can no longer avoid targeting them.

While the ideal situation would include creative messaging specifically targeted to NPs and PAs, they are eager consumers of information, so it is better to get any messaging in market rather than be dark to this group. The increased awareness alone from a standard display campaign can increase engagement and lead to more scripts written as NPs and PAs are so involved in today’s treatment decisions.

As always, CMI/Compas recommends a multichannel approach to media, and it’s no different when thinking of the NP/PA audience. Adding on longer form messaging (think emails, journal ads, direct mail) provides additional brand benefits and is more likely to set a brand apart from the competition, while reinforcing reasons for writing and driving adoption. The opportunity to engage this group is there and NPs/PAs are welcoming any and all information they can get, so it is imperative that brands respond to this call for education.

Please contact your CMI/Compas lead to learn more about just how involved Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants are in your treatment categories and specialties, how they’re affiliated with your priority physicians, and to understand the specific opportunities available for a more comprehensive campaign that includes NPs and PAs.