In today’s word of global pandemics, tightening restrictions, and shrinking calendars, pharmaceutical companies face many obstacles when marketing directly to physicians. Recent state laws and health crisis procedures are compounding barriers already put in place by hospitals and health systems. And physicians’ own perceptions are changing the way pharma reps interact with physicians.

This restrictive climate is forcing pharmaceutical companies to look at alternative communication methods to fuel sales growth. It’s clear that pharmaceutical companies must change their approaches and strategies, and Internet of Things (IoT) powered solutions are gaining traction as reps are increasingly getting squeezed out of the picture.

Why IoT is the Answer

IoT-powered solutions, or smart devices, can enhance the pharma to physician relationship by helping representatives cover more territory, and by breaking down communication barriers to office visits, professional consultations, and product orders.

For pharmaceutical commercial organizations, deployment of IoT-powered solutions can accomplish the following:

  • Solve “whitespace” problems by enabling communication with physicians who were previously untargeted, because of remoteness or other reasons.
  • Boost the launch of new brands by increasing brand awareness and sample facilitation. IoT devices can be custom branded for marketing purposes, and functionality can be preprogrammed to help facilitate automatic or “at a touch” reorders.
  • Add more coverage for sales teams that have downsized. IoT-powered solutions can be used as virtual assistants, creating a presence in offices and areas that are being unnurtured because of a lack of human capital.
  • Help physicians order samples faster (or product, for “buy & bill” offices). Smart devices that are designed to be compatible with existing commercial infrastructure, and that integrate seamlessly with CRM and ERP systems, will enable a 24/7, unobtrusive presence in medical offices and facilities. Bringing critical data from a device to the enterprise has never been easier thanks to platforms such as Microsoft Azure.
  • Create a new channel of communication with physicians, something that is greatly needed. In 2017, just over half of all practices owned by hospitals and health systems banned drug reps from visiting their doctors.

In-Person Meetings on the Decline

For many physicians, the days of leisurely lunches with sales reps are a thing of the past. Over the last year, there’s been a sharp decrease in the number of prescribers who are permitted to meet in-person with pharmaceutical reps. Just over half of physicians polled in April and May 2019 said they have met in person with pharma reps recently. This is a substantial drop from 2018, when 67% reported such visits.

In offices where meetings are still taking place (prior to the pandemic), prescribers overwhelmingly favor brief meetings: 85% of physicians in 2018 said their ideal interaction with a drug rep lasted no longer than five minutes. This isn’t much time to provide a physician with all that is needed to build a relationship, but it is enough time to provide them with a branded, out of the box ready smart device that they can use for requests at their own convenience.

Further complicating things are situations similar to the current coronavirus pandemic. IoT-powered solutions really come in handy in situations like this because they limit exposure risk to the virus by eliminating unnecessary visits by representatives of pharmaceutical commercial organizations to hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

By automating the pharma to physician relationship, professionals working in the field of pharmaceutical sciences will not become a serious risk factor for the spread of a virus.

An Alternative to Face-to-Face Meetings

Physicians who spoke with my team at Swittons said they would greatly appreciate smart devices, because the devices would enable them to be in better control of their schedule. At the click of a button, they could request samples, schedule sales visits, book medical science liaison (MSL) consultations, and access important medical information. And since most devices take up very little desk space, they could conveniently integrate with physician workstyles. The relationship between humans and IoT-powered devices is only getting stronger, as humans rely more and more on the increased efficiencies garnered by such powerful technologies.

What Does the Future Hold

As physicians begin integrating smart devices into their professional lives, the future of IoT becomes even more exciting. For example, the devices that pharma reps give physicians for the purpose of streamlined communication could also be used in tandem with patient devices to assist in the development of tailor-made therapeutics that work with a patients’ physiology and condition. Consider, for instance, an advanced IoT device that monitors a host of biochemistries and transmits results instantly without the patient stepping out of their house or pricking their finger. Critical therapeutic data could go from the patient to the physician to the pharmaceutical company in a simple, streamlined fashion—aiding in rapid development of advanced therapeutics.

In addition, the deployment of patient-monitoring devices that provide automatic alerts for caregivers; reminders to take medications; and the means to remotely check in with nurses, doctors, and specialists can also connect with pharma to physician devices to enable an instantaneous supply chain.

Current and future IoT devices are creating a new, symbiotic world of efficiencies and cost savings, not usually attainable through conventional electronic or computer-based means. It’s definitely a new industrial revolution, perhaps creating a better relationship between pharma, physicians, and patient customers.

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