Since the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., many pharmaceutical field forces have been adapting their efforts to a world where in-person interactions are, for the moment, on pause. At the same time, physicians across specialties are indicating a willingness to engage with field forces through a variety of virtual channels.

This mutual interest in virtual interactions presents an opportunity for reimagining current models of engagement and manufacturer-customer relations. By examining the current state of these virtual interactions and listening to the physician response, pharmaceutical manufacturers can begin to plan for the longer-term shifts COVID-19 will certainly engender.

Preparing field forces for high quality virtual interactions with physicians

In order to demonstrate value and to lay the groundwork for potential long-term virtual engagement models, pharmaceutical manufacturers need to listen and respond to evolving physician needs and preferences.

Recent research presents a path forward for physician engagement. Below are a few recommended actions pharmaceutical manufacturers can take to set their teams up for success:

Align your strategy with physician-preferences by making field forces available virtually

80% of physicians report they would like some degree of contact with pharmaceutical reps at this time (ZoomRx study, fielded 5/5-5/18). Manufacturers have an opportunity to respond to this demand by making their field forces readily available for virtual interactions.

In addition to expressing a willingness to engage with pharmaceutical reps virtually, physicians are reacting positively to the virtual interactions they have had thus far. Physicians cite that virtual interactions take less time, are generally more convenient, and are more easily set up to address concerns on-demand.

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, it's actually been nice to have appointments to talk to the representatives over my lunch hour.”
“If we're going to meet by telephone and video, it is actually a bit more convenient than some of the usual drop-in interactions."
“Virtual lunches seem to work great”

Address immediate needs and concerns regarding product safety during virtual interactions

When an underlying condition is life-threatening or perceived to present a greater risk to the patient than COVID-19, physicians are likely to continue to see patients in person and unlikely to change treatments.

However, when an underlying condition is not life-threatening, to be viewed as a viable treatment option in the age of COVID-19, physicians must be convinced that:

  • a medication will not engender increased risk with respect to COVID-19.
  • a medication is sufficiently safe to be administered and monitored remotely via telemedicine.

In order to be effective, pharmaceutical reps must place an even greater emphasis on safety than they would under normal circumstances.

Utilize visual aids during video-conference interactions

Pharmaceutical field forces are employing a wide range of strategies to incorporate visual aids into virtual interactions—from screen-sharing digital materials to requesting physicians review physical mailers during interactions. Regardless of medium, visual aids continue to be a critical part of a successful rep interaction.

Currently, 51% of video conferences between physicians and pharmaceutical reps that feature a visual aid result in an increased likelihood of the physician prescribing the product (as reported by physicians). Only 20% of video-conferences where no visual aid is employed produce a similar outcome. While pharmaceutical reps are using a wide range of aid types during these meetings, teams should begin to develop and optimize visual aids fit for this particular medium.

Anticipating the long-term impact

Over a short period of time, the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly affected the relationship between pharmaceutical field forces and physicians. While many manufacturers have adapted quickly to the acute needs of the moment, teams must start preparing for long-term change.

At ZoomRx, we’re continuing to explore open questions related to the future of physician-manufacturer engagement, including:

  • How long will COVID-19-related safety concerns remain top of mind for physicians? What other concerns (eg. access) may come to replace them?
  • To what extent will virtual interactions remain a primary mode of engagement post-crisis?
  • What type of information do physicians prefer to receive through a personal 1:1 interaction vs. other non-personal channels?

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