A 2014 survey of 3,000 U.S. physicians revealed that about 40% of doctors never see — or even contact — a pharmaceutical sales representative. In mid-2020, not much has changed. And the increasing use of digital technologies has only accelerated the trend, as providers across the spectrum of healthcare services turn to online sources rather than connecting with pharmaceutical companies for information about new drugs and therapies.
Not too long ago, the relationship between pharmaceutical sales representatives and physicians was driven by in-person contacts, such as visits to clinics and offices, lunches, or conferences, and other venues. Now, that paradigm is challenged by a “perfect storm” of systemic changes and rapid digital transformation that gives providers across the spectrum of healthcare services new tools and incentives for researching and evaluating medications on their own.
But pharmaceutical companies willing to adopt new, digitally-driven, physician engagement strategies will find rich opportunities to connect with physicians and provide the resources they need to make informed decisions about the treatments and therapies they prescribe.
Large-scale changes in the structure of the healthcare system itself make it more difficult for pharma sales representatives to connect with physicians. A growing number of physicians are now employed by large healthcare systems, rather than working independently in private practice. These systems constrain physicians’ prescribing behaviors, and many also have policies that actively restrict their contact with industry representatives.
Along with stricter control from above, these doctors are increasingly beholden to performance metrics set by the organization, which means a heavier workload and less time for engaging with pharma representatives. In this environment, a majority of physicians are turning to credible online sources — such as pharmaceutical websites and sites run by research and academic entities — for information about new drugs.
Cloud computing and innovative on-site digital portals for e-conferencing and collaboration also allow physicians to share information with a global community of peers and other professionals. These trends contribute to the growing marginalization of pharma representatives in today’s healthcare systems and create challenges for staying connected to healthcare providers.
To re-engage with physicians and build ongoing relationships with them, pharmaceutical sales representatives will need to meet doctors where they are: online. An array of user-friendly digital tools can help pharmaceutical representatives provide the latest and most critical drug information directly to physicians while aligning with the performance objectives of the healthcare systems that employ them.
With access to credible online resources and communities, pharma sales representatives can interact with doctors in real-time to follow up on in-person encounters, answer questions and respond to concerns at multiple points in the journey toward adopting a new medication or therapy.
New digital tools for collecting feedback from physicians after a meeting, conference or website visit can help pharma sales reps gain insights about their experiences and level of interest in the information they receive. Through video, text, email or teleconferencing, sales reps can collect impressions about recent interactions, observations on websites for drug information, and other aspects of healthcare providers’ experiences with learning about new drugs and their applications.
These digital tools provide instant, two-way communication between pharma reps and doctors, which helps create and maintain a relationship that accommodates physicians’ busy schedules as well as the protocols of their healthcare organizations. That provides benefits not only to physicians themselves, but also to other stakeholders — particularly patients — in an increasingly customer-driven healthcare environment.
The current COVID-19 crisis is highlighting the role of the pharmaceutical industry as a responsive and compassionate partner in developing new treatments and vaccines. By embracing new digital tools for building relationships with healthcare professionals, life sciences organizations have the opportunity to become leaders in better customer engagement.
Watch this webinar on demand — How Life Sciences companies will win using Operational Customer Experience Management (OCEM) — and learn how to get closer to patients, providers, employees and other industry stakeholders.