As the first part of our package on reaching no-see physicians, our expert examines the changing environment and what sales reps must do to adapt.

For decades, the relationship between pharmaceutical representatives and healthcare providers was a mutually beneficial one. The drug companies used the latest scientific information available to sell their newest products to clinicians, who, in turn, adopted exciting and innovative treatments for the benefit of their patients.

Historically, sales representatives accounted for 60% of all pharmaceutical marketing expenditures during the past 50 years, according to experts. However, a series of legal and academic arguments have been made in favor of curtailing this relationship. This may have pulled out the collective rug from under the industry, but life goes on— as in nature, the key to thriving in any new environment is adaptation.

The Challenges In Access

In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Hypertension, researchers from AstraZeneca, ZS Associates and Temple University noted that in 2010, more than 10% of U.S. physicians had “severe” or “no-see” access limits to pharmaceutical representatives. Furthermore, ZS Associates’ 2010 AccessMonitor survey found that no specialists allowed representatives to see them more than 24 times a year. By comparison, 3% of primary care physicians met with representatives more than 24 times annually.

The authors of the study found that severe access limits could slow down physicians’ rate of adopting new therapies by between 1.4 and 4.6 times. This is obviously detrimental to sales, but in the end, it may be the patients who are losing out.

Ganesh Vedarajan, principal and leader of the oncology and specialty therapeutics practice at ZS Associates, pointed out that the problem may only get worse as physician practices consolidate or are taken over by institutions that have strict limitations. (For more information, see his sidebar on page 36). Ultimately, pharmaceutical companies have to figure out new strategies around these changes and how to measure whether their tactics are effective.

Examining The Physician Experience

Vedarajan and his colleagues argue that understanding the physician experience is key to having a flexible mindset in pharmaceutical marketing. So what are we finding out about these customers? Several resources indicate that digital platforms are becoming more prominent within healthcare. Experts at New Colony Partners found that more than two-thirds of physicians use the Internet at least once a day for professional purposes, and look for information on non-pharmaceutical websites.

When it comes to hardware, Manhattan Research found that 62% of physicians who participated in the Taking the Pulse U.S. 2012 survey had adopted tablet computers for professional use, a rate that is double what it was in 2011. Other results showed that doctors who used three types of screens— computers, tablets or smartphones—spent more time online than those who had two screens. Additionally, two-thirds of those surveyed said they used online video to stay up-to-date on the latest information.

“Physicians are evolving in ways we expected—only faster,” Monique Levy, vice president of research at Manhattan Research, said in a statement. “The skyrocketing adoption rates of tablets alone, especially iPads, means healthcare stakeholders should revisit many of their assumptions about reaching and engaging with this audience.”

These trends are reflective of what is happening in overall marketing. A webinar conducted by eMarketer indicated that online video advertising will exceed $3 billion in 2012, making it the fastest growing online ad format. The wide reach of this platform is one of the driving forces in its popularity. Also, between 2011 and 2012, the proportion of mobile phone owners in the U.S. who use smartphones went up from 38% to 44%, while the rate of people who surf the web on a tablet jumped from 15% to 23%.

How Is Pharma Responding?

The top players in the industry have already made note of these trends. Cutting Edge Information released a study in July that surveyed 33 pharmaceutical companies. More than 90% of participants devoted internal resources to electronic efforts, including social media. Within this group, 58% had dedicated digital marketing teams.

However, there is room for improvement. One-third of companies surveyed had only one full-time employee working on digital platforms. By comparison, the top 10 businesses averaged 23 full-time employees focused on new media.

But while the role of digital marketing continues to expand, pharmaceutical companies should not overlook the value of direct mail (see chart above). A study by Communications Media emphasized that the latter platform has a low start-up cost, wide reach, variability and outstanding ability to drive awareness. Furthermore, it can be easily integrated with digital marketing with the help of business reply cards or web keys.

Companies that offer these solutions can take customers from direct mail campaigns to online resource centers that allow healthcare providers to view videos, ask for samples and print patient education materials.

ROI Chart

CRM does not end with executing a campaign. While seemingly turnkey, behind the scenes, data analytics includes determining the best targets and recommending complementary personal and non-personal promotion executed in a multiwave campaign for optimal ROI.

How Do We Know It’s Working?

One of the obstacles of working with digital media is measuring ROI. Web keys can help keep track of direct mail’s success and monitoring web traffic and online ad clicks can gauge the success of Internet campaigns, according to Cutting Edge Information. Social media can be a different challenge because the metrics, such as brand sentiment, are still evolving.

Measuring the ROI of a multi-channel campaign may be complicated, but it is not impossible. Experts who specialize in healthcare marketing can help make the process efficient during all stages of a campaign. One crucial step is analyzing the prescribing practices of a targeted healthcare provider beforehand and using predictive modeling to enhance marketing activities. After looking at ROI on the back end, consultants can use this information to guide future campaigns.

Physicians may make it more difficult for sales representatives to meet them in person, but the evolution of pharmaceutical marketing is running along the same lines of other businesses that make their presence known on the web. Following the audience will not only ensure that the message is heard, but also that healthcare patients are receiving the best treatments available.

  • David Duplay

    Dave Duplay is the president and founder of MedTera, an integrated marketing solutions company dedicated to improving education, promotion and communications in the healthcare, life sciences and pharmaceutical industries


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