New Tech Connects HCPs and Pharma Sales Reps During Global Pandemic
Dr. Cosby | October 27, 2021
Dr. Kenyatta Cosby explores the ever-changing relationship between pharmaceutical sales reps and healthcare professionals in this informative article. It is a partnership that has been litigated, regulated, scrutinized, and significantly impacted by the pandemic. Yet, it remains an essential part of the health delivery dynamic. And to help pharma sales teams better understand and manage this dynamic, Dr. Cosby discusses:
- How the pandemic has changed the pharma-to physician relationship
- Why the pharma-to physician relationship is so important
- How pharma sales teams can leverage technology to improve the HCP relationship
Read time: 6 min
The recent global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused some significant changes to the face-to-face prescription drug information exchange typically seen in the United States healthcare system. This is most evident in clinical office settings, where pharma traditionally has engaged with healthcare professionals (HCPs). Human-to-human interactions have been minimal and have only recently rebounded from a 75% decline—as reported in the August 2020 issue of the New England Journal Medicine (NEJM).1
For pharmaceutical sales representatives, the pandemic has caused a significant shift in their ability to be a “Living Tarascon Pharmacopoeia,” as they were known to be for many decades. The “All-Engaging-to-All-People” pharma marketing professional cannot exist within the current clinical landscape. Pharma sales reps desperately need a new marketing approach because most physicians no longer consider a face-to-face exchange with a “Pharma Communication Expert” a necessity. Especially given the safety protocols released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the executive policies (Essential Personnel) outlined by the federal government.
This dramatic change is most important to pharmaceutical companies. As reported by King et al., pharmaceutical companies spent a collective total of $20.3 billion in promoting prescription drugs in 2020.2 The findings also showed that spending for prescription drug marketing to HCPs was estimated to be $5.6 billion for medical office visits (Drug detailing) and $13.5 billion for free drug samples (Drug sample closets). In addition, data from the National Survey of Healthcare Organizations and Systems (NSHOS) described that between June 2017 and August 2018, about half (49.7%) of the responding physicians had weekly drug detailing and refilling visits from sales reps.2 However, since the start of the pandemic, pharmaceutical companies have experienced a sharp decline in access to their main end-users (healthcare providers and patients), whose actions collectively translate into pharmaceutical sales.
In 2009, an industry report by Sondergaard J et al. suggested that the first office visit by a sales rep increases a physician’s drug choice by more than two-fold. Still, more importantly, the second office visit increases their drug preference by an additional 50%.3 This demonstrates the unique interplay that traditional pharmaceutical office visits have on prescription patterns and product utility within the commercial drug marketplace.4 Given this unique circumstance, leading pharmaceutical companies, which understand the drug market trends, are now more likely to leverage new communication technologies to maximize their corporate bottom-line successfully.
And thanks to innovative corporations like P360, the global crisis has not been allowed to diminish the day-to-day information deliverance HCPs are accustomed to from pharma sales reps. Their latest device, the ZING communication module, enables a continued connection between HCPs and their reps and helps pharmaceutical companies build compliant relationships around trusted communications. The cost-effectiveness of such a communication tool will be realized over time, as described by Schwartz et al.. They looked over the last 20 years (1997-2016) and analyzed an array of marketing activities that enhanced sales of prescription drugs.5
In 2019, the United States spent an estimated $3.8 trillion (17.7% of the gross domestic product) on healthcare,whereas drug spending over the past 20 years increased by 220% (from $116.5 Billion to $369.7 Billion).5,6 The US total healthcare cost is projected to reach $6.2 trillion by 2028. An estimated 70,000 Pharma Sales Reps in the United States strategically conduct specialized drug marketing. Based upon financial analysis conducted by S. Neslin, their actions are likely to create a 2-to-1 ROI and a 10-to-1 return on newer brand drugs.7
At the risk of being contrary, by being completely transparent, the pharma-to-physician interaction has been on the decline for more than a decade. This trend has been noted by several publications, particularly in a national survey reported in the NEJM by Campbell et al.8 This report illustrates the increasing time constraints that healthcare practitioners are typically under while in a clinical setting, where more and more time is being allocated to administrative duties like completing electronic medical records (EMRs).
The American Medical Association (AMA) suggests that for every hour spent with a patient, physicians spent at least two hours working on EMRs.8 This added clinical work is responsible for an imbalance in their work/home-life routine and has contributed to a higher-than-normal attrition rate (> 50%), as seen across the current healthcare system. First-year medical doctors are also known to spend three times as many hours updating EMRs as they spend on patient care.9,10 This is not to say that COVID-19 has not had a devastating impact on the traditional pharma-to-physician relationship. However, this analysis of the past decline in clinical access helps put the current drop in face-to-face interactions into perspective.
Moreover, a recent white paper by Susan Garfield at Ernst & Young highlighted the dynamic shift in subsequent clinic-based access challenges.11 One of the key highlights found in the paper is the need to increase digital capabilities for pharma sales reps to help fulfill their information dissemination duties. Before COVID-19, about 41% of physicians interacted with Sales Reps more than four times a week, whereas 76% reported seeing them up to three times a week. Today, reports suggest that about half of physicians do not even interact with sales reps, and their prescription drug educational channels have shifted to emails (30%), videoconferences (20%), and cell phones (18%). Physicians also do not support resuming traditional marketing methods (face-to-face); whereby 95% of them believe in newer digital communication platforms for their pharmaceutical learning experience moving forward.11
As such, the true benefits of the ZING unified communications as a service (UCaaS) platform are that it will increase prescription drug marketing efficiency, provide flexible messaging (personalized text templates), and help reps reach more customers. With an average user open rate of 98%, compared to email, which is 20%, ZING is a very effective solution. In addition, ZING’s custom reporting capabilities can help maximize pharma’s marketing experience by mixing behavioral and interactive data inputs—all powered by Artificial Intelligence.
As the COVID-19 crisis continues to change the healthcare ecosystem with more lockdowns, more social-distancing orders, and more physicians relying on telehealth (virtual) interactions to care for patients, the pharmaceutical industry should strongly consider incorporating digital-based marketing models to maximize their bottom-line.12 The virtual sales rep equipped with ZING technology is one way that P360 is helping pharmaceutical companies maintain a robust pharma-to-physician relationship. This strategic investment will ultimately move companies to the front–of-the-line in terms of marketing and sales, a move that can also resemble the traditional “In-person knock-on-the-door” marketing method of the past.
This sales pivot can also put the pharmaceutical industry one step ahead of the growing demands of a physician’s clinical time, which is nowadays split between heavy caseloads and completing EMRs. Rather than adding more turbulence to this dynamic, which the global pandemic has compounded, pharma can now be seen as a resource. And to help safeguard marketing investments and provide a seamless communication option between their most valued customers, pharmaceutical companies should be compelled to use easy, applicable technology like ZING. The key aim for P360 is to help pharmaceutical companies foster better relationships with HCPs during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
To learn more about ZING, visit P360.com/zing.
Kenyatta Cosby, MD
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11) https://www.ey.com/en\_us/life-sciences/how-covid-19-has-impacted-physician-interactions-and-learning. Impact of COVID-19 on physician interactions and learning (pdf) (ey.com)
12) Bestsennyy O, Gilbert G, Harris A, and Jennifer Rost. Telehealth: A quarter-trillion-dollar post-COVID-19 reality? July 9, 2021. | McKinsey & Company
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Cosby is a contributing freelance medical writer based in Rockville, Maryland, U.S.A. He is a Physician Scientist who received his medical degree from Howard University College of Medicine and research training at the National Heart Lung Blood Institute / National Institutes of Health and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He is known for his successful management of an FDA-approved clinical trial which was featured in the New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2003/11/03/us/study-finds-that-nitrites-in-the-body-greatly-aid-blood-flow.html) and published in the journal, Nature Medicine (https://www.nature.com/articles/nm954).