Beyond the Call - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Beyond the Call
Integrating call center systems at pharma companies helps ensure FDA compliance and improves workflow across all divisions—not to mention, protects the public


Pharmaceutical Executive


By integrating the latest technologies with proven business practices, pharmaceutical companies can optimize and streamline their call center communications, which will yield significant returns and competitive advantages. On the other hand, failure to modernize call centers can lead to gross inefficiencies and potential catastrophic penalties. When systems are not integrated, call center personnel can wind up working in multiple systems simultaneously, switching back and fourth between interfaces to properly collect and disseminate information.

Best Practices "The way I see it, you either customize and build your own system from the ground up internally, or you go out and get a system that is off-the-shelf and then you can totally customize it, or minimally customize it," says Lesley Fierro, PharmD, senior director medical information services at Sanofi-Aventis, who was charged with creating a more integrated system within her company's call center.

"We wanted to have a very efficient way to keep all the demographic information about who was contacting us, and keep all of the responses that we were using with that system," says Fierro.

When Fierro's team first started out, they evaluated the best options available. (Traditionally, almost all companies start with homegrown systems.) The group quickly decided that they did not want to go that route. "For one, they become obsolete too quickly. It is just not flexible," says Fierro.

Instead, Fierro's team opted for components that were commercially available that could be minimally customized and integrated so they could continually be upgraded as technologies changed.

UNDERSTANDING CRM To provide efficient, accurate, and appropriate responses that are documented in an FDA-compliant manner, many pharma companies have turned to CRM systems for managing and integrating data from all caller interactions, and across several channels, to create a unified view of the caller. When carefully and strategically implemented, commercial CRM software can significantly improve the speed and performance of call center operations, maintain a high level of quality, and ensure regulatory compliance. Some pharmaceutical companies have incorporated CRM software systems that span other functional areas, such as sales. Others develop homegrown systems pieced together by in-house information technology staff.

As an adjunct to CRM systems, CMS serve as repositories of a company's product information. These systems also provide a detailed audit trail of how content was changed, by whom, and when. They also track the approval process that is required to release a document for public consumption.

Having these advanced systems, however, does not guarantee that they will be used in the most effective and efficient manner. Often, companies fail to realize the potential of these systems because it can be difficult to synchronize and merge information between them, which requires call center staff to toggle between systems. Simple inquiries, such as, "Which documents have been updated since our last communication with Doctor X?" are not simply answered using CRM or CMS applications alone.

ACHIEVING COMPLIANCE AND EFFICIENCY Integrating the data between CRM and CMS systems helps call center professionals answer calls faster and with greater accuracy. Such integration can provide an accurate audit trail and ensure the quick retrieval of customer interaction history. A notable benefit of these solutions is that they allow staff to quickly correlate and respond to product inquiries and adverse events while maintaining compliance with FDA requirements.

When an inquiry comes in, the system enables the call center staff to quickly review the call history and evaluate the parameters for a possible adverse event. The system assembles the relevant response information quickly and maintains a record of what, when, and how the staff responded to the request. This audit trail includes detailed information such as the time of the call, its resolution, when it was transferred to the safety department, how the safety department acted upon it, and a record of any letters or other information sent.

Fierro's team opted to marry Sanofi-Aventis' CRM and CMS systems. "The benefit of this is that we are not logged into multiple systems at the same time, which is difficult," Fierro says. "We are logged into one system and we can speak to the customer, record the demographic information that we need, but at the same time we are able to find the documentation in order to respond quickly and efficiently."

This efficiency is highlighted by the fact that under an integrated system, response materials for inquiries by laypeople are filtered to reveal that information that has been approved by FDA. Response materials for an inquiry by a medical professional, on the other hand, are broader and often contain extensive references.


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