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What can happen when reps focus on the physician-patient conversation? Al Topin reports.
Among the critical shortages in healthcare today, a physician's time seems to be damn near the top of the list. Record keeping, staying current on therapies and practice, deciphering reimbursement, and managing an increasingly complicated practice take more time than ever—and take more time away from direct patient care. So it's no surprise that the time a physician spends with a pharmaceutical rep falls near the bottom of their list, or falls off altogether.
Now add 32 million new patients from health care reform into this system of time-strapped physicians. It's one thing to offer insurance coverage to this volume of patients, while it's clearly another to treat them. And, as we have come to understand, many of today's patients are what we're calling "clipboard patients," coming into the exam room with pages of information they've collected from the Internet, friends, and newspapers. And the questions that come with all that information demand even more physician time.
Less time, more patients: fewer positive outcomes
The conversations that now are taking place in a physician's exam room are critical to the efficacy of and adherence to your brand. Studies from the
Annals of Family Medicine
and the health consulting firm Altarum Institute tell us that the guidance a patient receives as they are prescribed a new medication directly impacts whether that patient chooses to stay on and benefit from that medication.
So here's where you and your rep come in. Having worked hard to get that prescription written in the first place, your rep doesn't want all his or her efforts to vanish when the moment of truth comes in a rushed exam room conversation. A script for your drug may get written, but the purchase of your brand is far from complete. If the physician fails to educate, encourage, and answer questions, the patient may leave confused and unsure of what to expect from the therapy he's just been prescribed.
Help your reps, help their doctors, help their patients
So rather than just continuing to focus on your rep delivering details of the drug's pivotal trials to nonwriters, take a closer look at the physicians who are writing your drug and focus a portion of your efforts and budget on the critical physician-patient conversation.
Help your rep support the exam room conversation with programs and materials that make the physicians' time with their patients more effective and their patients more comfortable using your drug. This is not to say that your brand's data is less important. Of course, its critical with nonprescribers. But once the doctor has decided to write your prescription, the follow-through that comes with supporting the physician-patient conversation protects the initial investment of sales time and enhances the rep-physician relationship. Now they aren't just selling, they're supporting. And they're filling an unmet but rarely discussed need: better use of the physician's time and better support of the patient's understanding. Now your rep is a problem solver, not just a salesperson. In that role, they're more likely to earn more of the physician's valuable time.
Your rep and your brand can stand out
Simply put, the easier it is to write your prescription and drive successful patient outcomes, the more physicians will think of your drug first. The fewer patient follow-up calls and questions, the more your rep and your program stand out. Here are a few starters:
Find out what your physicians need. How often do you find yourself sitting behind two-way glass watching physicians comment on your next sales aid? Does this chart work? Does that data point have relevance? Important yes, but what does that same physician think they need to help their patients understand your drug or their disease? And what is the patient getting from their physicians? You may be surprised at the answers.
Invest in patient materials that support, not sell.
Once you understand what's needed, stop selling and develop materials that will help patients succeed on your therapy. Make them simple, clear, and high impact. Help the physician set proper efficacy expectations, explain potential side effects, and encourage patients to take an active role in their treatment. And consider the impact of programs that can provide an additional level of support after the patient leaves the physician's office.
Prepare your reps for a different kind of conversation with their physician. When your rep can ask a physician, "What do your patients need, and how can I help you be successful with them?" their role changes from selling to supporting. What are the physician's issues with their patients, and your drug? What can be done to deliver the expected outcomes? Your rep becomes a resource, not just a cheerleader with samples.
Follow through before and after the exam room encounter. Make sure the support staff is aware of your materials and programs. Hold conversations with nurses, physician assistants, and even the front desk personnel to be sure there is understanding and follow-through. Remember this is not selling, it's patient support targeted at improving the promised outcomes. Everyone can play an important role.
Measure the difference.
Here's the critical step. Take the time and effort to measure the follow-up scripts, patient-by-patient and doctor-by-doctor. Conduct post-program interviews to document the impact of the program and modify the components as needed. Frankly, planning and creating these programs are costly, but the impact on a brand's growth can be significant.
In an age of data that can match a sales rep and physician's hobbies and interests, solving a real unmet need can be an even stronger relationship builder. Help a physician be more effective with their patient, and that physician might just see your rep in a different light. The result can add valuable time to your rep's visits, differentiation to your brand, and solid increases to your sales.
Al Topin is President of Topin & Associates, and a member of Pharm Exec's Editorial Advisory Board. He can be reached at [email protected]