Sales Rep vs. eDetail: Consider the Practice Area

Jan 18, 2012

Forget illegal immigrants, it is machines that are stealing American jobs. For some medical practice areas, however, digital details haven’t sufficiently stepped in where their human sales rep predecessors have stepped (or have been pushed) out, according to a survey of U.S. physicians.


Responses on the value of eDetails compared with in-person details differed significantly across the four practice areas covered – family medicine, oncology, cardiovascular and allergy/immunology – and suggest that biopharmaceutical companies have an opportunity to adjust the promotional mix for stronger returns.

Over the last two years, in-person visits to oncologists decreased by 14%, but eDetails for the group only increased by 4%. Allergy/Immunology docs saw a 5% decrease in rep visits, but eDetailing grew by 8%. Still, allergy/immunology docs only received 1.8 eDetails per week, on average, but would like to see 3.3 eDetails per week, according to the survey results.

In terms of perceived value, in-person reps ranked higher across the board. However, oncologists and family medicine practitioners said they were better educated by eDetails, whereas cardiologists and allergy/immunology docs said in-person reps provided a better education.

Regardless of whether a physician prefers eDetails or traditional sales calls, the kinds of material preferences included in a detail also vary by practice area. “If you go into a cardiology detail without referencing clinical trial data, they’re going to feel like something’s missing,” says Kevin Olson, CEO at Industry Standard Research, publisher of the survey. Oncologists, on the other hand, “don’t tell us the same thing” about clinical trial data, says Olson. Oncologists (39%) cited the ability to answer product-related questions as the most important aspect of a detail, followed by the inclusion of information that is “sufficiently patient focused,” at 30%. Fifty percent of cardiologists said clinical trial data is most important.

Samples remain a critical part of the in-person detail experience, according to survey results, despite the fact that many eDetailing platforms provide an easy way to request samples. Asked what is lost when in-person details go the way of the dodo bird, Olson says that distribution of samples was “one of the biggest results,” although it’s “pretty clear in our data that physicians do receive value” from the opportunity to dialogue with a human being. Asked about some of the more surprising results of the survey, Olson says one question asked about the importance of key opinion leader (KOL) content; he was surprised to learn that it did not rank highly in comparison to other aspects of the detail.

The 130-page report, titled eDetailing vs. In-person Detailing: A head-to-head comparison of Volume, Time, Value, and Outcomes, surveyed 118 practicing U.S. physicians during the fourth quarter of 2011. Participants completed a 15-minute web-based quantitative survey.

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