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The Changing Prescriber Communications Dynamic: Q&A with Caleb Costa, Chief Customer Officer at InCrowd


Explore the changing dynamics of healthcare professionals' communication preferences in a post-pandemic world, as Pharm Exec's Fran Pollaro has a no frills discussion about InCrowd's latest insights with chief customer officer Caleb Costa.

Meeting healthcare professionals (HCPs) where they are is the top priority for pharma brand managers. New data sourced by InCrowd, a real time market insights firm and an Apollo Intelligence company, illustrate changes to preferred communication dynamic in post-pandemic times.

Pharm Exec's Fran Pollaro conversed with Caleb Costa, InCrowd's chief customer officer, regarding the insights they gathered from physicians, nurse practitioners (NPs), and physician assistants (PAs) as presented at the 2023 Intellus Worldwide Summit.

Pollaro: How have prescribers changed their preference in pharma sales rep dialogues during the pandemic?

Costa: In-person rep meetings have become more valuable. Data from January 2023 show that in contrast to 15 months before, physicians favor in-person sales calls (48%)—up from 32% in August 2021—over a hybrid approach (42%) today.

Caleb Costa, chief customer officer at InCrowd

Caleb Costa, chief customer officer at InCrowd

Healthcare professional (HCP) engagement data reveals a notable shift. Thirty-six percent of physicians report an increase in their attendance at in-person meetings over the past six months, while their participation in virtual meetings has simultaneously dropped by 33%. Engagement through email (32%) and pharma websites (17%) has risen, while involvement in conferences (24%) and product videos (12%) has experienced a decline.

Sales rep detailing ranks as the primary communication preference among both physicians and nurse practitioners/physician assistants (NP/PAs) surveyed, with 58% of physicians and 78% of NP/PAs respectively favoring this method, followed by pharma manufacturer-sponsored conferences.

The likelihood of prescribing after a pharma conversation is a crucial metric for brand managers. While 54% of NP/PAs report a higher probability of prescribing after an in-person sales rep meeting, only 37% of physicians express the same likelihood. However, the way prescribers choose to interact with pharma remains a highly personal decision. Notably, one in five prescribers still prefer to communicate with reps exclusively through virtual channels.

Why do you think this shift toward preferring face-to-face rep detailing has occurred?

Reps consistently deliver value to medical professionals, significantly outperforming non-personal channels that may be perceived as less biased. Fifty-five percent of physicians and 78% of NPs/PAs believe that the information provided by pharma reps in person is of higher value than information obtained through non-personal channels, such as webinars, websites, sponsored journal articles, and banner ads.

Naturally, face-to-face meetings enable the distribution of samples and foster dynamic, two-way conversations.

Direct quotes from our study emphasize the substantial importance of human interaction:

Here's a direct quote from a dermatologist: “They give me the key nuggets of information I need to fit the practice and clinic together. I can ask questions and it is not overwhelming in my very busy clinic day. The rep and I get to know each other a tiny bit and that helps the interactions, and the staff had them to lean on for questions or assistance.”

An NP said: “They can often help explain and explore things like coverage and access for my patients better in person than non-personal.”

NPs and PAs are prescribing with greater frequency these days. Are their preferences the same as physicians?

NPs and PAs tend to lean slightly towards hybrid communication preferences, whether for learning about new products or discussing established ones. Nevertheless, their views on the value of face-to-face meetings and their relative preferences for communication methods align closely with those of physicians.

There are certainly a lot of channels, do prescribers prefer any one channel over another?

The findings show us that different channels work better for different information. For newly launched products, prescribers and NP/PAs prefer in-person rep detailing far and away more than virtual. However for established products, HCPs prefer virtual dialogues. With general information from manufacturers, email is an acceptable form of communication for physicians.

Not surprisingly, new products generate more interest for in-person meetings. Physicians say they would consider an average of 4.3 in-person detailing meetings in a six-month period from one individual pharma company with a newly launched product, versus an average of 3.6 in-person meetings about an established product. Compare that to an average of just 2.0 virtual meetings on a new product, or 1.5 virtual meetings on an existing product. NP/PA in-person detailing meeting preferences track similarly to physicians.

While in-person meetings and sponsored conferences answer respondents’ questions the best, other channels still show value for HCPs. Physicians also prefer peer-reviewed journals, which deliver a more objective experience.

Interestingly, neither group assigned a high value to short, one-way communications such as emails (rated at the top by just 13% of physicians and 11% of NP/PAs) or banner ads, which was the least regarded by both groups.

Before we let you go, what are the key takeaways for pharma brand teams?

Though HCP preferences have evolved throughout the pandemic and clinicians remain time-strapped, meeting with sales reps, whether in person or virtually, is still regarded as a valuable experience.

When developing an omnichannel strategy brand managers need to be conscious of the continued interest in sales-rep meetings, particularly in-person visits. Respondents rank in-person rep detailing as their most preferred delivery method—at 80% for physicians and 100% for NP/PAs—with virtual rep detailing a distant second regarding.

Also important is the understanding of engagement channel preferences for specific types of information. Incorporating these learnings into a thoughtful, omnichannel program will enable highly efficient and effective targeting.

And lastly, keep NPs and PAs in mind as you develop your commercial plans and consider the nuances of their preferences as you strategize their communication plan.

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