Medscape on shift to digital

COVID-19 has disrupted traditional healthcare person-to-person communication and accelerated digital options, such as telehealth and remote patient-clinician contacts, digital therapeutics that deliver remote patient monitoring, and interventions through the use of software. But is this really the future? Medscape conducted some research in May to find out.

Face-to-face meetings between health professionals and pharmaceutical representatives have all but ended and a recent survey of consumers by Medscape reveals that 76% of respondents have had to cancel a dental procedure, and 56% have canceled health screenings. Office visits are severely affected; 70% of consumers are concerned about maintaining a safe distance from other patients or office staff. Fourteen percent of US consumers reported lapses in access to or taking their prescription medications.

During the pandemic, the use of telemedicine has significantly increased, especially among health care providers (HCPs) in rural areas and specialists, with psychiatrists and gastroenterologists having the highest usage. More than three-quarters of physicians say their practice is offering telemedicine visits. Nearly one-third of patients have used telemedicine since the start of the pandemic and more than half say they want to continue using it in the future.

Digital channels play a far greater role in communication between pharma companies and healthcare professionals than before the pandemic.

Medscape Detailed Findings

FINDING: Doctors across the globe report a significant increase in the consumption of online medical content compared to pre-pandemic levels. The US and OUS showed similar trends with regards to consumption of online medical content, with 68% in the US and 63% OUS reporting higher or much higher consumption of online medical content.

n the US, the largest increase in online usage was among cardiologists (66% of respondents), PCPs (66% of respondents), and aggregated less common specialties (70% of respondents), and the lowest among oncologists (55% of respondents).

INSIGHT: This is indeed true but what’s missing is the “quality” rating of these online interactions. Drug companies need to develop a model in which there is continuous improvement in online interactions. In addition feedback is essential to “get it right”.

FINDING: In the US, 64% of respondents, and 56% of respondents OUS, think the changes will last more than a year if not permanently.

INSIGHT: 68% of those surveyed believe the change will last 1-2 years or less. When patients start to return to doctors’ offices we need to ask “how much time will a doctor have to do online consultations with pharma?” I spoke to several thought leaders who said they expect a “rush” of patients to their offices once the pandemic metrics improve.

The other finding that’s kind of missing is the value of a physician-pharma relationship. Oncologists, for example, rely on their MSL and salespeople for information on new cancer treatments.

FINDING: Both US and OUS respondents expect a significant decrease (77% and 61% respectively) in in-person meetings with pharmaceutical representatives. Both US (65%) and OUS (68%) expect an increase in usage of medical information websites, which is significantly higher than those who expect to remain the same (30% and 25%) and much higher than those who expect a decrease (6% and 7%). In the US, the largest increase is expected among endocrinologists (69%) and PCPs (68%) and the lowest among neurologists (50%).

INSIGHT: This may be true now but pharma companies are ramping up and planning new drug launches in person once the pandemic metrics improve. In some states, without lockdowns, salespeople are already calling on HCP’s.

Of course Medscape used this research as a self-promotion to show increases in their online metrics. Despite that Medscape remains number one with HCP’s but other websites are catching up quickly.

SUMMARY: Should pharma invest in digital to reach physicians? The answer is of course “yes”. Digital is going to require significant investment to compete against “in-person” visits. Digital metrics are going to have to be quantified against brand objectives but these metrics are going to require buy-in from stakeholders.

One of the great aspects of Medscape is that pharma companies can task Medscape with delivering agreed upon metrics. I have found Medscape people to be knowledgeable and experienced.

Pharma is not about to abandon sales people anytime soon. We should look at digital as another channel to reach HCP’s and it’s not a short term solution either.