Medical Device Direct-to-Doctor Advertising: What Is It? (+ How to Do It Well)

Medical Device Direct-to-Doctor Advertising: What Is It? (+ How to Do It Well)

Think about a world without programmatic technology powering your medical device advertising strategy. It’s hard to imagine, right? After all, programmatic spending in the healthcare industry will surpass $11B this year.1

Without programmatic, you’d have to rely on traditional tactics, like pamphlets, to sell your devices. If this was your reality, would you rather place your pamphlets at a local grocery store and hope a doctor saw them or in their office? We’d guess the latter. This direct form of advertising reduces friction and increases the likelihood they’ll engage with your brand. The programmatic equivalent of this is called medical device direct-to-doctor advertising and should be a mainstay in your ad strategy moving forward.

What Is Medical Device Direct-to-Doctor Advertising?

Medical device direct-to-doctor advertising refers to the tactic of using programmatic technology to promote medical devices to doctors rather than patients (referred to as consumers in other industries). Medical device companies often choose to deploy a direct-to-doctor advertising strategy to take advantage of its many benefits, including delivery efficiency, lower costs, and improved campaign performance, e.g., generating device sales.

Here’s an example: If you’re using a direct-to-doctor advertising strategy to promote a Tonometer, you could build a target list of doctors working in eye-related fields. From there, you can tailor your targeting strategy and creative elements accordingly. By doing so, you’re increasing the likelihood that your target doctor will engage, while also saving money because you’re not wasting impressions on doctors outside of the industry.

Direct-to-Doctor vs. Direct-to-Consumer Advertising: Are They the Same?

Direct-to-doctor and direct-to-consumer medical device advertising are similar; however, they differ in terms of who they target. Whereas direct-to-doctor advertising delivers medical device ads to doctors, medical device direct-to-consumer advertising targets consumers, ultimately aiming to influence doctor-patient conversations.

Direct-to-Doctor Advertising: How Medical Device Companies Can Get It Right

The idea behind medical device direct-to-doctor advertising is clear, but how can you make sure you’re maximizing its potential, a critically important step since media waste is on the rise. Nearly 40% of all digital ad spend is wasted, i.e., spending money on impressions that don’t help achieve campaign goals.2

Just like other tools in your advertising toolbox, successfully marketing medical devices to physicians revolves around building smart target lists, implementing relevant-first targeting strategies, and clearly demonstrating value in your ads.

Build Smart Audiences That Maximize Your Ad Spend

A successful direct-to-doctor medical device advertising strategy starts with your ability to build a target list of doctors that consists of only those in the market for your device.

However, today’s complex digital ecosystem sees doctors jumping from touchpoint to touchpoint to touchpoint on different devices, which means doing this with any sort of regularity can be tough. The average person has access to more than 10 connected devices.3 And this will only grow as telehealth and other digital-first practices become commonplace in the medical device industry.

The most reliable way to achieve this regularity is to use first-party data. For example, if you’re selling a new ophthalmic device that helps eye doctors perform cataract surgery, you’d have to sift through your owned data and pull out HCPs who perform this surgery or are involved in the purchase of related medical devices. Then, you’d use this list to run your campaign, enabling you to only spend on doctors likely to engage with your ads.

f you don’t have access to the necessary data, there are companies, like Adfire Health, with proprietary first-party data you can use to build target lists and reach doctors who are ready to engage. (Adfire Health has access to doctor-level data on more than 22,000 Ophthalmologists in the U.S.)

Use Targeting Strategies That Add Relevancy

A refined target list of doctors is a good start, but not enough to get you the results you’re after. Success with direct-to-doctor medical device advertising has a lot to do with the targeting strategies that power your campaigns.

For years, the most common targeting strategy revolved around third-party cookies (beware, they’re going away), but today, you should be prioritizing targeting tactics that allow you to add a layer of relevancy to your campaigns. A good example is geofencing, which lets you deliver ads to doctors based on their physical location.

For example, you can take your target list and serve ads to those attending an industry conference. By using location-based targeting, you add a layer of relevancy to the advertising experience, enabling you to engage the right doctors, at the right time. In today’s crowded online world, relevance is key.

Establish Real-world Value

If you were to walk into a doctor’s office attempting to sell a device, would you spend 15 minutes talking about the weather or get right into your pitch? Hopefully, you’d pick the latter. Doctors don’t have the time for small talk, which is why you’d introduce yourself, tell them why you’re there, what you’re selling, and how it can benefit them. In other words, you’d establish value. You have to do the same with your direct-to-doctor medical device ads.

When you’re building your strategy, pay attention to the creative and copy and figure out what will resonate. If they scroll past your ad, will the creative catch their eye? And if it does, will the copy make it clear what’s in it for them? If the answer to these questions is “no,” you should reevaluate your strategy and find alternative imagery and copy that’ll better resonate with your target doctor. Your direct-to-doctor campaigns depend on it.

Final Thoughts: Advertising Medical Devices to Doctors

Successful medical device advertising is all about drawing a straight line between yourself and the doctors you’re targeting. Once you reach them, it’s up to you to demonstrate value and make it clear that your device can help them. It sounds like a tall task, but with direct-to-doctor medical device advertising, it doesn’t have to be — as long as you do it in the right way. Focus on how you build your audiences, target them, and deliver your messaging. If you can do all of these things well, you’ll reap the cost and performance benefits of this powerful advertising tactic.


  1. Droesch B. US Healthcare and Pharma Digital Ad Spending 2020. eMarketer. Published September 30, 2020. Accessed December 21, 2021.
  2. Sullivan L. Data Estimates 40% Of All Media Spend Is Wasted. Media Post. Published September 23, 2019. Accessed December 21, 2021.
  3. Lionel Sujay Vailshery. Average number of connected devices in U.S. households 2020. Statista. Published March 2020. Accessed December 21, 2021.

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