The pharma landscape is ever shifting. And while the past several years have been marked by ongoing debate—and occasional controversy—over pharma’s supposed influence on health professionals’ prescribing decisions, it’s clear that physicians and industry need each other in their shared quest to advance public health. The question is, how do physicians really feel about pharma and what can pharma do to better serve the needs of physicians? The physicians that we are in contact with each and every day routinely answer these questions.
How Do Physicians Perceive the Pharma Industry?
In 2016, the marketing practices of “Big Pharma” are attracting heightened scrutiny—largely due to pricing models of some specific companies. And while those practices are not necessarily typical of the larger industry, media coverage of these practices has eroded much of the public’s trust. And yet, even with the recent turmoil in the pharma world, physicians still see the industry as their true partners in patient care, and they want to enhance their relationships with pharma.
In most cases, physicians are desperate for more interaction with pharma. In a recent interview with Malissa Wood, MD, Co-Director, Corrigan Women’s Heart Health Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, she said the following: “When I was training 25 years ago, we had a great relationship [with industry]. We often learned a great deal from the reps because they would bring in data that was fresh and new.” With a growing number of treatment options, particularly for rare conditions, there is a need for an expanding body of evidence-based information, especially as mechanisms of action and dosing schedules become more complex.
After meeting with and speaking with a number of different physicians, it’s apparent that they are in need of reliable communication and good information from pharma, and in fact, they welcome pharma interaction. Dr. Wood further comments: “The pendulum needs to swing in the other direction because [pharma] needs us to give them guidance by thinking about new devices, new drugs, and new patient populations, and we need them to really address the issues that are pressing with regard to some of the epidemics such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and increased [incidence of] disease in young individuals.”
What HCPs Need Beyond the Rep Visit
The highly regulated landscape for pharma/physician interaction makes it difficult for physicians to get the information that they want and need. When asked what they still need after having seen a sales rep, Healthcasts physician members cite more in-depth information pertaining to clinical data, the treatment experience, and insights from other providers. Recently, physicians shared the following educational needs with us:
- “I definitely want to know about the formulary coverage and the availability of the product at our local pharmacies.”
- “Educational material about disease state that fosters improving patient knowledge.”
- “It is helpful to know how the product is being used by other providers who are in similar practices.”
- “Ongoing updated clinical trial data that occurs after the pivotal trial leading to original FDA approval.”
- “Advisory boards moderated by key opinion leaders are best.
Physicians are also in need of access to older drug therapies. A vast 93% of Healthcasts member physicians felt that it was important to have access to information on older therapies, and 49% think it’s difficult to learn about older drugs today (Figure 1). Matthew Powell, MD, Director of Division of Gynecologic Oncology at Washington University School of Medicine, comments: “We tend to get much more information about new drugs than we do about older drugs.”
In-Person HCP Interactions
There is clearly a need for both in-person and digital interaction for different types of education. In this day and age, physicians prefer to receive information to make treatment decisions from a variety of different sources.
In terms of preferences for non-digital access to information as illustrated in Figure 2, specialists were more likely than PCPs to say they look for more in-depth information as provided through medical journals and KOLs. On the other hand, PCPs, especially those under 44 years of age, tend to seek input from colleagues within their practice/local area for information, whereas older PCPs and specialists rely more on sales reps and MSLs than their younger colleagues.
It is no surprise that overall, Internet/digital is how most physicians today prefer to get information. Healthcasts KOL, Peter Toth, MD, Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of Illinois College of Medicine, recently commented on the cost of conferences, especially in light of reimbursement issues: “A lot of physicians are now relying on media and the Internet to obtain information from remote sources because a lot of them can’t afford to come to meetings.”
And within the framework of “digital education,” physicians are open to new and innovative ways of receiving information—across multiple platforms, and in different, often simpler formats. Healthcasts KOL, Sekar Kathiresan, MD, Director of Preventative Cardiology, Massachusetts General Hospital, recently offered his thoughts on digital delivery: “There are important and creative ways [pharma] can communicate with the physician audience using the current technology.”
Granting physicians access to information in multiple ways will enhance their relationship with pharma and allow for better patient outcomes, a win-win for both physicians and pharma.
Maintaining Open, Transparent, and Constructive Dialogue with HCPs
In short, physicians are looking for a meaningful dialogue with pharma, and pharma has abundant opportunities for creating resonant, beneficial interactions with physicians. To be a trusted partner on the physician journey, pharma needs to maintain continuous dialogue with its physicians, which can be done by creating consistent, personalized experiences across multiple touch points.
Dr. Malissa Wood sums it up well: “It needs to be a two-way street, with better communication from us to the [pharma] industry and back from the industry,” she says. “If we can create that bi-directional flow of information in a non-conflicted way, we’ll really be able to move medicine forward.”