The Evolving Relationship: AI’s Influence on the Pharmaceutical Industry’s Engagement with Physicians
Dr. Mandira N. Mehra, MD | October 17, 2023
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is having a profound impact on both the medical field and the pharmaceutical industry. And one of the most critical areas undergoing this evolution is the manner and degree with which the pharmaceutical industry engages doctors. Although the jury is still out, it is likely that AI integration will have both positive and negative consequences on this intimate relationship. But will we use this power for good or evil?
Despite this potential dichotomy, we should be the first to recognize its benefits and control the paradigm, narrative, and technology before it controls us. The greatest advancement with AI, in relation to medicine, has been the AI-driven diagnostics that help us physicians detect diseases using AI-driven algorithms to evaluate medical images. We have seen this example of AI increasing efficiency and saving lives. However, can we utilize this revolutionary technology to save the pharma-physician relationship?
What the Pharmaceutical Industry Needs to Know About AI-Powered Engagement
First, we must recognize that AI-powered analysis may provide supreme data sets integrating research, clinical information, and outcomes. This abundance of information can be utilized to target physicians in relevant, efficient, and effective manners. A physician will be more engaged when a representative offers treatments, therapies, and medications that support the most up-to-date research and patient requirements.
Next, we must understand that the current paradigm of engaging physicians generally relies on scripted approaches, which are clearly recognized as stale and ingenuine. This not only disengages physicians, but it also becomes a red flag and can hurt a representative and physician’s relationship. Contrarily, an AI-driven physician representative management system could provide a thorough understanding of individual doctor preferences and behavior. This allows expert individualized engagement where representatives can fit their interactions to meet the specific clinical needs of the doctor. This in turn leads to greater and more productive dialogue and ultimately a key relationship that benefits all parties.
We must also remember that the heart of the pharma-physician relationship is knowledge about the product. Chatbots, virtual assistants and AI-assisted advancements could provide the ultimate ability to provide the most recent and accurate guidelines. This augmented reliability of the representative encourages better relationships and physician engagement. The predictive capabilities of AI utilizing data and analytics allows pharmaceutical companies to proactively consider their respective industry’s requirement for treatments and therapies.
Finally, scheduling or lack thereof is the nail in the coffin for most pharma-physician relationships. Once again, one could optimize physician visits by effectively and efficiently applying AI-integrated algorithms. This single-handed improvement provided by AI technologies would make physicians more receptive to the information being provided by a representative.
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Potential Consequences of Using AI for Physician Engagement
While the benefits of AI integration in the pharmaceutical industry may outweigh the negatives, we must not forget the heartbeat of this paradigm is the relationship. To establish a relationship, a face-to-face or personalized interaction is essential. Without this face-to-face interaction, the relationship between the physician and representative may as well be a Google or browser window. AI-operated tools are sophisticated and sleek; however, they may strengthen virtual HCP engagement to the point they eclipse the traditional personal contact the industry has been built upon.
A large and potentially troubling question that weighs heavily on the hearts of all doctors and representatives is, “What about security and physician data privacy?” As a physician, I may become shy to participate with pharma representatives if every action I take is being hyperanalyzed without my permission. One of AI’s greatest strengths is the ability to gather and assimilate data. But how secure is this data and what impact does this have upon a patient’s or physician’s privacy?
In this developing field, the question remains unanswered, and our legal counterparts are hard at work to solve this issue. And we must be cognizant not to tip information scales to surplus. While AI can provide a plethora of information, it can also be cumbersome, and representatives may further discourage engaging physicians if copious data is provided.
In addition, following the implementation of AI-driven engagement, we must remember that a percentage of pharmaceutical representatives’ jobs could be replaced. This may pose a concern. Furthermore, ethical concerns have been raised regarding AI execution, which may yield higher profit margins but lower patient care value.
So, Where Do We Go From Here?
We are at a critical juncture. We are the architects of the destiny of the representative physician relationship and how AI technologies will transform physician engagement. We must understand AI systems’ advantages, like data integration, analysis and personalized problem-solving. We must also proceed with caution and understand that a relationship ultimately is predicated on a human connection.
For this connection to be optimized, it must be built on trust, efficiency, accuracy and security. We must also navigate this shifting paradigm with a firm but cautious hand. And while the challenges may seem trivial, we cannot underestimate the power of AI and the potential predicaments it can create.
Curious about what AI thought, I asked, “Where is the pharmaceutical representative and physician relationship heading?” The answer was, “The pharmaceutical representative and physician relationship is heading toward a more dynamic and technology-driven future.” While this answer may not seem groundbreaking, it is accurate.
If using AI-based technologies allows physicians to be engaged with multiple channels and can create a greater patient-centered approach, then sign me up. Navigating these unknown waters is similar to the great explorers who first discovered great lands and had the foresight to develop them into the great nations we know today. This required purposeful, thoughtful intentions with teamwork with a multidisciplinary approach. I’m confident that the pharmaceutical representative and physician relationship can be strengthened and broadened to help a greater patient population in a more efficient, effective, and safe manner. In the future, all ships will rise with the tide of AI technologies.