The Coronavirus is changing healthcare marketing rapidly

QUICK READ: Drug companies are telling salespeople to stay away from doctor’s offices and academic institutions are refusing entry to drug MSL’s because of the Coronavirus. Recommendations are being made to have all interactions with HCP’s online. Drug marketing, to HCP’s, is going to change forever.

I received an email from my physician’s group telling me to call first before making an appointment to ensure I don’t have symptoms of the Coronavirus. Talking to my doctor on the phone she said that her office is being flooded with people who want to be tested for the Coronavirus even though they don’t have symptoms.

On the drug marketing side, she said she had told all drug reps not to call on her and although she was working with a drug company on phase III clinical trial she said: “it has to be suspended for now”.

A huge drug company in the Northeast has told their reps and MSL’s to only have phone and online interactions with HCP’s. Right before our eyes, the environment in which we market to health professionals is changing and that may not be a bad thing.

As physician practices consolidate among a shortage of PCP’s its been very difficult for MSL’s and salespeople to get time with HCP’s not to mention that some may be worried about catching the virus in a doctor’s office.

Right now the pandemic has essentially put all HCP marketing on hold. Forget meetings and in-person interactions. Rather than suspend marketing pharma companies are going to need to devise new ways to reach doctors. Online seems like a perfect choice and maybe this pandemic will finally awaken marketers that online may be a better way to go.

We know from research that time and interactions with HCPs have been declining over time. Of course, it depends on the drug and specialty but pharma seems stuck in the old model of adding salespeople for new product launches and messaging (see Amarin with Vascepa).

Will online be the answer?

It can be if it’s done right and the physician finds the time valuable. Offering samples, for an online detail, maybe one way to increase interactions but marketers need to do a hell of a lot better job than spewing out typical pharma sales talk.

The other advantage to pharma of moving online is a reduction in costs. Salespeople cost a lot of money when you add in cars, expenses, and salaries. Setting up an infrastructure to move interactions online is not going to be cheap and there is a lot of investment needed to stay updated with changing technology but it should be less expensive than salespeople flying all over the country to call on docs.

On the patient side, we’re going to need to understand what effect the Coronavirus is going to have on people. Will, for example, more people panic and run to the doctor to ask for testing or will they avoid doctor’s offices for fear of catching the virus?

One thing is for certain: healthcare marketing, as we currently know it, is changing rapidly. This pandemic will pass but the after-effects may linger for a long long time.