This blog is based on the guest post, "How has COVID-19 Accelerated the Need for Effective Physician Outreach?” featured in the December 2020 edition of BW Wellbeingworld. Click here to read the original article.
The unprecedented speed and scope of the pandemic has forced the healthcare industry to address many unexpected and critical challenges at the same time. The conscious decisions, efforts, and investments made by the ecosystem drivers — regulatory bodies, governments, and healthcare systems — will determine how healthcare is accessed and delivered in the coming future. The pandemic has brought many changes to the healthcare ecosystem — from a ubiquitous adoption of virtual care to creating alternate ways to market to physicians. It would be an understatement to say that the pandemic has produced an unprecedented experience that has forever changed the industry from how we have traditionally known it.
When we examine the interaction between the physician and sales representative, the dynamics between them have also been altered beyond comprehension. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, reps can no longer speak face-to-face with physicians, and many HCPs simply do not have the time to engage with pharma companies. Before COVID-19, face-to-face interaction was the traditional means of detailing product information to physicians. According to the EY study completed in Sept 2020, nearly half of respondents said that sales reps are not permitted in the office and that they have not received sample drops. Interactions have primarily shifted to email, videoconferencing, and phone.1
The pandemic has brought multi-dimensional changes in how sales reps interact with physicians during this period of uncertainty. Nonetheless, this article aims to cover the three pillars for optimal physician outreach:
- Understanding Customer Needs
- Delivering Relevant Content
- Understanding HCP Channel Preferences
Understanding Customer Needs: Having a unified customer view is essential in order to better serve customers. Determining how best to respond to physicians’ changing needs is pivotal for these customer-facing sales reps. And a thorough 360 view of physicians is needed to meet these expectations — from playing a more active role in creating and disseminating non-personal promotion to providing support for patients to refine offerings on remote technologies. And technology plays a central role in understanding and meeting these expectations. Essential questions include: who are the top physicians, how have the prescription behaviors of the top physicians changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and are there more insured patients than uninsured patients seen by targeted physicians. These questions are all pivotal information pieces that are required for optimal (or appropriate) physician messaging.
Delivering Relevant Content: Pre-coronavirus, a typical physician marketing message involved a standard communication that listed the drug, its clinical trial results, side effects, benefits, and other facts and figures. Now, this typical standard content is not enough, and the physicians expect a much-more customized message. To be successful, pharma companies need to ensure that the information shared with the physicians is of relevance and of higher value than what can be found through a simple search or on regular HCP digital tools like Doximity and Epocrates. A Sept 2020 survey conducted by Accenture found that about 3 out of 5 physicians were spammed with digital content by at least one pharma company during the COVID-19 pandemic.2
It cannot be emphasized enough that the content needs to be tailored in order to serve the customer needs — from providing support/guidance on telemedicine to digitizing co-pay cards or helping patients adhere to the therapy —content is the king. The coming months will help weed out the laggards from the forward-looking pharma companies — those which can quickly adapt their sales models by curating the appropriate and much-needed content for their customers.
Understanding HCP Channel Preferences: There has been a monumental shift from the typical face-to-face detailing to virtual calls for communicating with the physicians. Physicians surveyed in the Sept 2020 study1 indicated their preference for learnings through emails, webinars, and e-learning programs over in-person face-to-face meetings. Based on HCP channel preferences and available technologies, pharma companies need to revise their mix of content and channels, with the goal of offering HCPs access to relevant information in the medium preferred by them at the optimal frequency.
With correct data analytics and KPI metrics, pharma companies can assess the effectiveness of these channels to ensure an analytical-driven selection of channels. In the absence of physician-level information, understanding preferences even at a cluster or segment could be helpful. Whether the physicians are grouped by specialty, practice, or geographic level, all such information could help inform a longer-term, customer-centric coverage model.2
COVID-19 has brought many changes to the pharma industry, such as tight restrictions on sales rep access to physicians and clinics. Early data and hypotheses also suggest that the effects from these changes are not a one-time event but will lead to long-term behavioral and institutional changes in the healthcare ecosystem. Though there are many aspects of physician-sales rep dynamicity challenged by the pandemic, such as the need for a sales rep. The various theories and early indications suggest that there will still be a continued and critical role for sales reps in the new pharma-sales rep model. The pandemic has definitely accelerated the industry adoption of alternative methods of meetings and interactions. These changes also present an opportunity to reset the boundaries and norms for physician-pharma industry engagement. It will be interesting to see how pharma marketers interact with providers to ensure a successful communication strategy for their end-customers.
- Susan Garfield, PhD, Sept 3, 2020. How COVID-19 has impacted physician interactions and learning. Available from: https://www.ey.com/en_us/life-sciences/how-covid-19-has-impacted-physician-interactions-and-learning
- Ray Pressburger, Is COVID-19 changing our value proposition to HCPs? Available from: https://www.accenture.com/us-en/blogs/life-sciences/is-covid-changing-our-value-proposition-to-hc