How COVID-19 is Forcing Pharma to Adopt New Physician Interaction Models

April 28, 2020

Over the coming months, HCPs and manufacturers will experiment with different approaches to e-detailing, in order to arrive at an approach that works for everyone, writes Scott Morano.

Pharmaceutical company outreach to healthcare professionals (HCPs) in the time of COVID-19 is fraught with challenges. Not all HCPs are currently on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19. These HCPs, like many of us, are struggling to maintain some semblance of normalcy in a world full of unknowns. Beyond the unknowns of the pandemic, they face monumental changes in the way they practice medicine – reductions in office and support staff, reductions in patient load, shifting to telemedicine, difficulty sourcing supplies and some medications, as well as changes in the way they interact with pharmaceutical companies.

We know HCPs prefer to interact with pharma companies through in-person channels – specifically sales representatives. In recent research conducted by Ipsos’ Healthcare team on the impact of COVID-19 on HCP practices, co-sponsored by M360 Research, we find the top preferred channels are all predominantly in-person. It is worth noting that HCPs’ most preferred channels are not available in our current time of social distancing.

Just as HCPs are being forced to embrace telemedicine, pharma companies are also being forced to embrace virtual interactions with HCPs. COVID-19 has stopped almost all in-person detailing by sales reps.  

But now, we are witnessing a new type of e-detailing, conducted by the reps themselves. Even though HCPs value their interactions with sales reps, we believe pharma companies will generally have fewer opportunities to engage HCPs one-on-one than before the time of the pandemic.  Identifying what makes an engaging e-detail interaction is a critical step for pharma companies – and the time to make these adjustments is now.

At present, HCPs are generally positive towards the shift to e-details. Among HCPs who had an e-detail in the past two weeks, 57% rated that e-detail interaction as “very effective.”  

The proportion of HCPs rating e-details as “effective” is nearly identical to the proportion rating a traditional in-person detail as “effective,” based on the Ipsos sales force effectiveness-message recall normative database, which includes hundreds of sales force effectiveness studies.  

When it comes to the content covered in an e-detail, we see sample ordering and clinical trial results as the most common activities. While this content is consistent with what would be covered in a traditional in-person detail, the percent of e-details that involve sample ordering is only half the rate we see for in-person details (as captured by Ipsos’ SFE-MR normative database). We will dive deeper into this phenomenon in our next wave of research, to understand if there are barriers to both receiving samples and distributing to patients. We would like to understand how widespread solutions like digital vouchers currently are, and if samples, in general, are a driving force in HCP practices right now.

If we dig deeper into the e-details that were rated as “effective” and compare them to the e-details viewed as “less effective,” one pattern emerges – that videoconferences are perhaps a more engaging platform for HCPs.  

We’re seeing three main ways pharma companies are currently executing e-details: Telephone, written communications and video conferences. Telephone and written digital communications are the most common methods, though neither of these approaches is likely to signify an “effective” e-detail. 

However, a video conference e-detail suggests a more effective interaction. Across our lives, we’re seeing swift adoption of video conferences – whether Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams or FaceTime.  We are all using it day-to-day in our workplaces, schools and social lives – much more than we could have imagined even a month ago. It’s only natural that HCPs would prefer this kind of virtual “face-to-face” interaction – something that feels more “normal” amid the swirling changes in their practice (not to mention in their lives at home). That sense of “normalcy” might be more associated with an effective e-detail.

We believe that over the coming months, HCPs and manufacturers will experiment with different approaches to e-detailing, in order to arrive at an approach that works for everyone. The interpersonal relationship between the pharmaceutical company and the HCP is important to both parties. Until social distancing constraints are lifted, pharma companies must quickly adopt approaches to e-detailing that maximize the value to the HCP – not just in terms of providing samples and clinical trial information, but also showing a deeper interest in and understanding of what HCPs need in the time of COVID-19. 

The shift to virtual interactions between pharma companies and HCPs in many ways mirrors the shift to virtual interactions between HCPs and patients. Pharma companies should also make immediate efforts to understand the new requirements for HCPs and patients in the process of delivering telemedicine. There could potentially be a role for pharma companies to play in assisting HCPs in this transition, as well.

Scott Morano is Vice President, Ipsos.

About the Study

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll of 311 HCPs, conducted in partnership with M360, between March 26 and April 2. All respondents participated in at least one e-detail in the past two weeks. E-details are defined as “any non-personal interaction with a pharmaceutical sales representative or company, such as a telephone call, videoconference (Skype/FaceTime), online video, etc.”  The next wave of research closed field on April 22, 2020 – results will be available and published similarly here soon!

For a more in-depth look and commentary on this research, access the webinar recording, visit https://bit.ly/2xXTIvk