On October 1, 2020, we gathered our 2020 Trailblazer Brand Champions for a virtual discussion on how the point of care space is evolving due to the pandemic, and how life sciences marketers need to adapt their tactics in this new normal. Moderated by Croom Lawrence, Strategy Lead, Merkle Health, the discussion covers how to deal with restricted access to physicians, changes to patient education, what good leadership looks like at the point of care, organizational barriers, ultimate wish lists, and so much more. Participants included:
We would like to thank Health Monitor Network (HMN) for sponsoring this Circle of Excellence.
Ethan Armstrong, Sales Director
Irene Broderick, Sale Director
Augie Caruso, Vice President of Sales
Michael Decembrino, Sale Director
Richard Grossman, Sales Director
Cynthia Walsh, Sales Director
Larry Walsh, Vice President, Sales
Augie Caruso: Good afternoon everyone and welcome to the PM360 Annual Roundtable event. My name is Augie Caruso and I’m joined by my counterpart Larry Walsh. Larry and I head up the sales team over at Health Monitor and are very excited to be a part of today’s roundtable discussion. Just a little background, HM has been a long-time sponsor of this event and we’re thrilled to be here despite the obvious circumstances that we’ve all been faced with over the last couple months. I have to be honest, I can’t say I ever expected this to be a virtual event, so with that we have to give special thanks to the entire PM360 team and The Inception Company group for going above and beyond to pull this event together in the virtual environment. So before I turn it over to Croom, I would personally like to congratulate all the 2020 Trailblazer Award winners for your outstanding work this year. Croom over to you.
Croom Lawrence: Thanks, Augie, and welcome everyone. Today, we plan to talk about key themes around experience optimization at the point of care. But I want to start with a few facts from IQVIA and Symphony Health from August that make it clear patients have returned to the point of care. Patient attendance at their physician’s office is around 97% of what it was pre-COVID. However, many in the industry are concerned about rep access, which is still down about 67% from pre-COVID levels. So, I would love to just go around to each of you to see how the industry is going to cover the point of care itself during this time. How do we make it better? What challenges do we face? Don, how about you get us started?
Donald Abramo: I’m in rare disease, which from a scale perspective is much smaller than some other diseases. So we haven’t seen those same rates you mentioned in terms of patients returning to the physician office. We’re still working through some challenges related to that as well as from a rep access standpoint.
We’re working with our reps to make sure they have access and the right tools, and then we’re also making a shift to direct-to-HCP to complement what the reps are doing. We’re also looking for innovative ways to engage both physicians and patients, such as through eligibility data. Since many doctors may have only one or two patients suffering from a rare disease, we use that data to help engage at the most relevant moment.
Alejandro Arciniegas: I’m in rare disease as well and having similar rep access issues to what Don described. Our patients are also afraid (or not allowed) of going into the hospital which impacts our previous understanding of their journey and therefore their point of care. What is interesting though is that in many instances, there have been increased engagement opportunities with HCPs (and patients) through virtual channels than before; opening a range of new engagement opportunities and ways to leverage field efforts. Like I expect most have, we have quickly pivoted our efforts and have a much larger overlap of our personal and non-personal activities. This approach along with a thorough understanding of their new journey have impacted how we define success and target key inflection points. It’s also important to note that we don’t know when things are going to return to normal, so everything we’re doing has to also be able to be leveraged when things return to some normalcy.
Eric Bachman: We had the misfortune of getting FDA approval on March 2, just a week before Sanofi decided to shut down our field teams because of COVID. That gave us one week when we were operating as a normal brand. Everything beyond that has been about switching to virtual and thinking about how we create the right types of engagements. We’ve tried to identify critical points within the decision-making process for multiple myeloma and then find ways to identify physicians and patients who are facing those challenges and be there with the right information at the right time.
It has forced us to rethink a lot of the technology we’ve previously relied on for non-personal promotion. I don’t know if anybody else has had this experience, but platforms such as Veeva end up getting blocked by a lot of our customers and we’re forced to find new ways to make sure the right messages actually get into those practices. And across the board for everything from conferences to email interaction to how we share content virtually, we’ve had to revisit all of those pieces and think about whether we’re doing it the right way in this environment with the right types of content.
Croom Lawrence: Eric, how are you better listening at the point of care in terms of primary research, qualitative interviews, social media, etc.? How are you gathering insights and using that to recast your point of care strategy?
Eric Bachman: We have a very large Facebook presence for our brand and that’s been one way we’ve engaged directly with patients. We’ve also been actively looking for data and trying to understand the types of testing and analysis that would be done throughout the course of multiple myeloma. For instance, multiple myeloma is diagnosed by an M spike, a protein level within the blood, and as we better understand that data, we start to think about how we can use it in marketing. Can we identify areas where labs are seeing more M spikes happening or are there specific physicians who are sending out more tests? We’re looking for ways we can identify those opportunities for more engagement and provide the right type of information.
Croom Lawrence: Thank you so much. When we look at the overall contribution of all the channels in the mix, we have a clear sense that the sales touch is the most impactful and then there’s an ROI cascade. James, if the sales rep touches have declined, how are we going to make up for that share of voice loss?
James Berger: Our ability to make face-to-face calls has definitely been more difficult that in the past. To make up for the loss, I think we really need to start by understanding what patients and physicians are going through in the first place now. The natural reaction once the pandemic hit is the is to start putting solutions in place that you think may be right. To some extent, that is what you need to do. However, it’s really important to step back and remap what that new patient and physician experience is and how that might evolve over time. We’ve been doing as much of that as we can in this world, but it was originally constrained by our ability to do outreach to physicians or patients to gather the necessary information. That’s where I would start and I’ve tried to emphasize that within my organization.
Croom Lawrence: These are very interesting times. Last year, we felt so much more secure in our tactical selection. Mike, how do you think about rationalizing your tactical selection now, especially in regards to human-to-human contact at the point of care?
Mike Edwards: As everyone has alluded to, the current climate has forced everyone to just blow up your tactical plan and start all over again. And we’re no different. Thankfully, one of the things we’ve started to notice is the online space—even prior to the pandemic—has become a bigger part of everyone’s budgets. Digital is where we all live and this just compounds the need for pharma to adapt. We’ve put more emphasis around online efforts, knowing that for the foreseeable future even if we return to some degree of “normalcy” that this digital era is here to stay and will continue to be amplified moving forward.
Nick Ferrara: We’ve actually been rather fortunate to a large degree. We call on orthopedic surgeons, who we have pretty good access to at the moment because even though the medical device sector has been shut out of the OR and surgical suite center due to COVID, we’re an in-office product. Probably more than 90% of our interactions are face to face, which is almost at normal levels. But we have always struggled with the point of care in terms of the amount of effort we put behind there.
We’ve explored it many times, but because of the way our product works, simply put there are surgeons who use our product and those who don’t. Instead, we focus a lot of attention on TV and digital—at a much lower level than some of the bigger brands—and those investments have really been driving patients in to seek treatment. But when the quarantine first happened, the organization tightened the belt and our investment into TV was shut down. We were hoping to get back on the air in the August/September time frame, but fortunately because of the earlier results that we were seeing in sales, we actually went back live on air in June.
Croom Lawrence: It’s great to hear about your business being successful and having access. Does that afford you more wiggle room or investment dollars to innovate at a faster pace?
Nick Ferrara: I think we’ve done quite a bit, but I definitely believe there is more opportunity for us. The exciting part is when your business is generating results, then senior leadership is willing to put those dollars there. So, it’s allowing us to experiment, make investments that we would otherwise not have been able to make, but shift those dollars to more of a proof of concept rather than a point of care.
Croom Lawrence: Love it. Now let’s move onto what good patient education looks like. Matt, what equals good patient education?
Matt Gibson: It’s among many of the challenges we’ve been talking about—and 2020 has been the year of challenges. So, when it comes to patient education in this new normal it is all about listening, learning, and a timely pivot.
Patient education starts with a full understanding of the patient journey, and right now it looks very different—take for example the waiting room…you have some patients waiting to see their HCP in their car and others who never leave the home because they are utilizing telehealth. Our team’s access to physicians and staff to share the latest patient education is also limited. We’ve turned our focus to increased social listening.
In order to understand what education the patient needs, we need to fully understand what their experience has been. We have started with groups on social media that are focused on the disease state. While conversations have always happened there, in the past six months we have seen increased activity and the discussion of new hurdles patients face in this dynamic environment. The learnings have resulted in more relevant messages and materials that are ultimately helping the patient with their journey.
Croom Lawrence: Now, I want to do two quick lightning rounds. First up, in your view what does good leadership look like at the point of care?
Donald Abramo: I think it’s making sure we’re staying in communication with our stakeholders, with our customers, with physicians, and with patients and understanding their journey and how that is evolving over time. Things have changed in terms of conference engagements, physician engagements, etc., so keeping that open line of communication is going to be critical.
Alejandro Arciniegas: There’s been a lot of discussion on how we can get our messages across in the most effective way. But a big part of leadership in this new normal is the aspect of empathy for what our customers and patients are going through and what they need at this point in time. For example, a promotional heavy message that we may have tested and felt confident about back in 2019 may actually backfire in this new environment. We need to stay close to what our customers really need and how we can help—that’s good leadership. It’s getting our promotional message across but with value add as well.
James Berger: I think nimbleness is a big challenge for any big organization. Companies that are able to bring all the necessary stakeholders together quickly and make decisions, not just once at the beginning, not just the second time when we start to get a better understanding of how we’re pulling out of it, but continually adjusting to the situation will have the most success. This requires very high-level people in the right position to make the decisions necessary for all of the brands to be able to operate in a nimble way and adjust to that patient experience.
Eric Bachman: Alejandro took the words right out of my mouth. I think 2020 is the year of empathy and understanding. Because of COVID, because of politics, because of the racial issues, it’s important to just take that moment and understand who is across the table or web camera from you and what their challenges are. Every meeting we have with customers always starts with that empathy and understanding perspective.
Matt Gibson: “Listen, learn, pivot” are the guiding principles of leadership. An example of that in practice: our key product is a single-use disposable and a couple months into the shutdown HCPs started to have expired product on hand. We shifted our message to one that centered on “care” and told our HCPs we would replace all their disposables at no cost. It was the right thing to do for our customers, but it also had a tremendous impact in the market. In fact, we received several calls from non-customers who saw the message and reached out because our pro-active approach was a refreshing change from other companies they were working with.
Croom Lawrence: Great, and now for the final lightning round. What is the biggest barrier you deal with and what is the one thing on your wish list?
Matt Gibson: Our barriers are noise and time. Like many people, our HCPs are getting overloaded with communication and with limited time many messages go unnoticed. We are trailblazing an effort for patient access that we believe will cut-through the white-noise and allow HCPs increased time to provide great patient care.
Nick Ferrara: The barrier for us is the ability to target some of our efforts given our audience and the fact that we don’t have as many fellow pharma companies in the space. For my wish list, I’m going to aim a bit bigger. I know there’s no going back to normal, but I’d love to know when we’re going to get back to some type of equilibrium, whatever that is. There’s still just so much uncertainty and it is making things challenging looking at 2021.
James Berger: The biggest obstacle is habit. If you’re stuck in your ways, then you’re not going to be able to change. My wish list item would be a universal solution. We’re figuring out solutions in all aspects of how we promote and communicate. Every way we get across our messages or interact with our customers in the old model may be changing to some degree. It’s just a different world, and there is no specific solution to optimize everything at once. If I could have that, that would be great.
Eric Bachman: One of the challenges we have as an organization is we’re very conservative. It makes it hard in this environment to get a quick hit out to HCPs, patients, or anybody to talk about the challenges that they’re facing and how we think we can help. As far as a wish list, it’s recognizing it will probably be a while until we get back to a lot of conferences or major meetings, but I would love to see at least the “top-to-top” types of meetings happening again. I think the ability to meet with leadership of hospitals or community oncology practices just to exchange information and talk about how we’re aligned to their objectives and helping to meet the needs of their patients is an important part of building the oncology community.
Donald Abramo: We have an IV product in a therapeutic area that’s increasingly driven by convenience, so the challenge in a COVID/telehealth world is how to get physicians and patients to consider an IV product? For my wish list, it’s just getting back to some sense of normalcy.
Croom Lawrence: I want to thank all of you so much for participating today. Larry, would you like to provide the final word?
Larry Walsh: Thank you to all of the participants. It was an engaging and informative discussion. We all learned a lot today. Everyone brought a different perspective. Common themes were shared around flexibility and how the patient journey is changing. There were many great ideas brought up among the group on developing and implementing creative marketing solutions in this very uncertain environment. At Health Monitor, we remain committed to working alongside all of you to help educate, inform, and inspire patients to engage with their healthcare providers at the final leg of the patient journey, the point of care.
The opinions expressed in this article are the participants’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of their affiliated companies or organizations.