With all the noise and competition on a healthcare trade show floor, it's tough to grab physicians' attention. But Show-time Enterprises, a marketing company with offices in Boston, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, has found that giving docs 3-D goggles and immersing them in a virtual reality experience is effective.

“The experience educates a physician about the disease state and how the drug interacts with the patient. We're also able to give them a three- to four-minute presentation that blocks out all the other peripheral noise and gives them an opportunity to concentrate on the particular subject at hand,” say Kip Hargreaves, senior vice president of international development, and Larry Weaver, global healthcare consultant. The experience also cultivates a series of questions, tracks a physician's responses, and measures any change in perceptions, Hargreaves and Weaver say.

The Patient's POV

To teach doctors about mental disorders from the patient' s perspective, Showtime created a tunnel experience — “a 70-foot-long tunnel where they went through seven different stations with a lot of different visual effects,” says Hargreaves. An actor, playing the patient, walked the doctors through various life experiences, showing them, for instance, discussions in a doctor's office. The final presentation demonstrated the effectiveness of the client's product.

Even though the process took 17 minutes, “Physicians lined up, waiting for 25 minutes [to get in],” says Weaver. “Doctors were so enthusiastic coming out that their peers were quite anxious to go through the experience.”

The tunnel was particularly effective because it presented the patient's perspective, says Hargreaves. “There are a lot of misconceptions in the field of neuroscience,” he says. “Rather than having physicians talk about what it is like to deal with a particular patient, we told it from the patient's perspective” That approach is especially effective in Europe, adds Weaver.

In fact, Hargreaves and Weaver have found that the immersion experience crosses cultural boundaries. “While there are cultural differences in many countries in how a physician or another attendee interacts with a person in the booth or the information presented,” says Weaver, “the 3D experience has proven to be enthusiastically accepted globally.”

Although most international medical meetings are conducted in English, Showtime translates the immersion experiences into other languages. “Doctors appreciate listening in French or German or Italian, so they don't have to struggle through if they don't speak perfect English,” says Hargreaves.

PhRMA Code Hits the Show Floor

As for other show floor trends, there is more emphasis on education as a response to the PhRMA code, say Hargreaves and Weaver. Clients are tying giveaways to educational objectives, says Weaver. “As an example, if we use an interactive game show in a client's exhibit that educates the physician on the disease state and/or the drug, the doctor receives a reward or a giveaway after that educational goal is accomplished.”

“And pharma firms want to make sure their educational message gets through. “We're moving beyond the traditional ROI measures,” Weaver continues. “We are talking with our clients about developing other measures of success, such as attitude response data, and pre- and post- knowledge screening, so we can show them that physicians enter with x amount of knowledge about the disease state and the various drugs and have an increased awareness or understanding after the experience.”

Showtime's clients include Ortho/Neutrogena, Merck, Bayer Pharmaceutical, Pfizer, and Schering-Plough. For more information visit www.showtimeinc.com.