Connecting to the future

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Pharmaceutical Representative

This final article in our three-part technology series makes predictions about the future of multimedia computers and pharmaceutical sales forces.

Editor's note: This final article in our three-part technology series makes predictions about the future of multimedia computers and pharmaceutical sales forces.

When it comes to computers, what we can only imagine one day is often feasible the next and in routine practice the day after that. Our imagination, therefore, is a good platform to look at laptop computer applications and capabilities five years into the future.

In this article, we'll forecast laptop computer opportunities for both computer enthusiasts and those with sales management responsibility who need to keep up with the latest technology tools for peak sales-force efficiency.

Hardware predictions

Sales forces will, on average, make at least one upgrade, if not two, within the next five years. Of course, every field force will also buy new systems in January 2000 after all the existing hard drives crash New Year's morning.

What kind of laptop will sales forces be using two or three laptop generations from now? Here is a possible configuration:

•Â High-definition, digital-active matrix screen.

•Â 20 gigabyte hard drive.

•Â 100 megabytes of RAM.


•Â 500 megahertz speed.

•Â Full-stream and full-screen video.

•Â Stereo sound.

•Â Built-in video camera.

•Â CD-ROM drive.

•Â T1-equivalent speed modem/fax line.

•Â Connection to both the Internet and an intranet.

• Weight: less than 4 pounds.

This system will be super fast, user friendly and connect reps to the company intranet and to the world via the Internet.

Details of the future

Disease management/disease prevention models will be available for all therapeutic categories. Field forces will carry sophisticated, interactive, programmable models ready for use with every level of health care decision-maker, from primary care group practices to managed care regional systems. A rep will present specifically targeted details to each audience.

Details of the future will be more like consultations than mere presentations of targeted product information.

According to Bob Gessert, president of the Gessert Group, a sales and managed care consultancy, salespeople will combine product information with economic analysis, outcomes research, cost per covered life and pharmacoeconomic projections.

Gessert already sees the beginning of a "win-win-win" scenario for the rep, company and doctor, and the trend is most visible in companies that have invested in state-of-the-art laptops. "Today we are seeing the two-minute hospital corridor detail shift to a 20-minute or one-hour meeting/consultation where representatives are supplied with in-depth patient profiling data and other relevant disease and demographic models," he said.

Gessert has observed a dramatic transformation with several clients' sales forces. They get better meetings because of the enhanced quality of information and data they can supply with laptop computers. More meaningful information leads to more meaningful interactions.

The capabilities of tomorrow's laptop will facilitate new levels of interaction between sales professionals and health care professionals. However, the winners in tomorrow's marketplace will share many of the same qualities as today's winners: quality products, service and superior training.

Home office communications

In the future, laptops will probably be "home base" for sales training programs and sales presentation tools. Sales representatives in the field will connect to a corporate intranet. Intranet connections between field representatives and their home offices will include live, full-screen, full-motion, interactive, high-definition digital video. As a result, much of the training beyond initial programs will be conducted between a training team at headquarters and reps in the field.

"Webcast" to educate and promote

In addition to maintaining their own Web sites, pharmaceutical companies are developing relationships with outside, independent Web sites that develop, host and participate in patient "communities."

These independent sites are visited by patients, reps and physicians. "For the most part, patients like to communicate with other patients in the same boat that they're in," according to Bart Moran, founder and CEO of WellnessWeb (, Villanova, PA. "Physicians also drop in to see what's going on and lend their expertise. Both groups often regard corporate-owned sites as limited in their approach or even biased. Community is what the Web is all about."

Sales reps of the future will provide customers with value-added services based on their company's participation and outreach on the Web. Reps will refer physicians and their patients to valuable resources on the Web, and these audiences will find Web sites providing compelling information in many disease areas. These alliances have already begun.

Digital display details

Computer display technology which clearly shows the mechanism of action of therapeutic agents has been used by the FDA for several years in product-approval analysis. Bio-Imaging Technologies, West Trenton, NJ, a firm that has supplied manufacturers with state-of-the art digital display technology for new drug applications for the past six years, is now making this technology available to companies with fast and powerful laptops for sales training and detailing. The newest laptops are beginning to have enough speed, memory and power to take advantage of digital image files for sales and marketing.

Don Lohin, President and CEO of Bio-Imaging, is creating a unit of his company to provide manufacturers with enhanced digital images that reveal a product's essential effectiveness via their computer-based systems. It is only recently that laptop computers have had enough memory, fast enough processors, and full multimedia projection capability to allow Bio-Imaging to evolve new drug application submission materials into post-launch marketing and sales tools for use in the field.

Improved delivery

Our system of delivering valuable clinical and educational information to health care decision-makers will not be replaced after the turn of the century with a new sales model. The sales rep will still be central to the process.

But what is very apparent today is that companies that leverage information and hardware technology to their sales force's advantage will gain a significant selling edge.

Innovation and information have been the driving forces behind medicine's advances in the last century. We see this process only speeding up in the next one. Preparing for new ways of delivering important product information to health care decision makers includes empowering the sales force with technology that allows them to communicate vital and timely information to each audience.

Will laptops in the pharmaceutical industry of 2002 be configured as we predicted in our introduction? If we are wrong, we suspect it will be because we have underestimated, not overestimated, the technological progress. New portable computers will connect reps to resources providing real competitive advantages for those companies looking toward new horizons.

As with the great explorers who sailed the earth to discover new lands, the higher you climb up the mast, the better to see distant horizons. PR