Pharma’s move to digital Part 1 HCP Marketing

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OPENING: Pharma companies are starting to embrace digital marketing forced, in large part, by changes brought on by the pandemic. There is, however, a difference between an evolutionary move to digital and a revolutionary move to digital. Digital marketing is becoming a valuable tool. But the reality is, health care relies on significant in-person engagements, and digital is only one part of the equation.

America’s 65,000 pharmaceutical salespeople, who have long relied on personal office visits and events are dealing with a shift in how they engage HCP’s.

Of the 75% of physicians who preferred in-person visits from Medtech representatives prior to Covid-19, 47% now prefer virtual exchanges or less-frequent visits.


 A survey of 1165 physicians fielded by Medefield across 10 international markets (between May 20 and June 5) showed that only 20% of respondents had interacted face-to-face with a pharmaceutical company employee in their clinic or office the prior week. Furthermore, only 10% of physicians had met with a pharmaceutical company representative in a hospital. Also,

  • 41% of surveyed physicians had interacted with a pharmaceutical company employee by video call/conferencing during the previous 7 days, compared to 45% in our earlier survey.
    • Respondents had an average of 1.5 interactions with pharmaceutical company employees by video call/conferencing during the previous 7 days, the same rate as a month earlier.

Before COVID-19, 64% of meetings with pharma sales reps were held in person. During the pandemic, this shifted to 65% of meetings held virtually.

43% of HCPs said they are currently restricting who can enter the office for professional reasons (i.e.: no pharmaceutical reps).

Twenty-eight percent of those with restrictions said they believe it is something they may implement permanently and another 44% said they would keep the restrictions “for the foreseeable future”.


Adding Value in a Changed Value Equation

Most HCPs said pharma companies are increasingly providing education on how to better treat patients remotely and help them manage their conditions in light of COVID-19.

Pharma companies are also helping patients understand where they can access labs, infusion centers, or imaging centers and offering solutions to HCPs and their practices so they can more easily afford and keep stock of therapies. In the US, information on affordability programs that pharmaceutical companies offer have been particularly helpful.

The survey, which was conducted in May and June across China, France, Germany, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S., indicates that many patients and HCPs expect these changes are here to stay.

65% of all HCPs surveyed by Accenture said they value self-administration methods for patients, such as auto-injectors or on-body devices, more than they did pre-pandemic. And 62% said they value tools for remote monitoring of their patients at home more now than they did prior to COVID-19″.

The Value of the Pharma Rep

HCPs said they still want to learn about new treatments and interact with pharma sales reps – they just want to do so in different ways.

Eighty-eight percent of the HCPs surveyed said they want to hear about new treatments despite being amidst the pandemic.

Four in ten HCPs said the likelihood of starting a patient on a new treatment has increased, as they have a greater ability to monitor patient response, more access to information on new treatments, and more time to learn about them.

And, in fact, 61% said they are interacting with pharma sales reps more during COVID-19 than they did before. But they want pharma sales reps to have a better understanding of their needs and the needs of their patients. For example, 58% said they have been spammed by a pharmaceutical company.

We are at a critical juncture because HCPs want to communicate with pharma sales reps and learn about new treatments, but they need more value-added interactions and outreach that show a greater understanding of their situation and that of their patients.


The Challenges for Pharma

You can bet that the sales department, within pharma, is going to fight to keep sales reps calling on doctors. It’s going to be a very tricky balancing act to move sales people from “in-person” visits to virtual visits.

The other POV is that some specialties really value the sales rep-HCP interaction. Oncologists, for example, rate their interactions with sales reps very highly. To apply the research from Accenture and others across all specialties is myopic.

The other issue that might be the biggest elephant in the room is the organization’s ability to move to digital. Do they have the right people to help them move to digital, and are there processes to help learn and get better as the move to digital is implemented.

Last year I worked with a pharma company on virtual detailing. When we converted the detail piece to digital, with animated graphs and charts, the HCP rated the digital detail 62% better than with just stagnant images—it costs money to turn detail pieces into a great online experience. At the end of the detail, the HCP could also request samples that were sent to his/her office by a third party FEDX.

Pharma needs to be able to measure interactions both qualitatively and quantitatively. Sales reps have metrics that they must meet in their jobs, and pharma wants to ensure that detailed messages are being received and remembered.

Digital marketers need to move forward, but they need to understand their market needs and what their organization can deliver. Expect some failures but learn from your mistakes and move forward.