As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues in the United States, sales teams across the pharmaceutical industry are considering how and when to increase the volume of in-person promotion. In doing so, sales teams must evaluate a number of factors, including whether physicians/practices will require sales reps to be vaccinated for in-person interactions.

An assessment of US-based physician sentiment (n=125) provides a useful perspective on current appetite for in-person engagement with sales reps and insight into expectations for sales rep vaccination.

Most physicians have the freedom to choose whether or not they want to meet with sales reps in person.

Just over half of physicians report that their institution currently has a formal policy governing sales rep visits during the COVID-19 pandemic, and only one in four institutions currently bar in-person sales rep visits. Further, less than 10% of physicians expect a policy governing in-person sales rep visits to be put in place in the future. Moving forward, sales teams should expect that individual HCPs, rather than large institutions, will be the primary decision-makers regarding the suitability of in-person sales rep visits.

However, substantial differences exist across specialties and regions. Across five surveyed specialties, oncologists and rheumatologists were most likely to report current institutional guidelines. Regional differences are particularly pronounced, with almost 80% of West Coast-based physicians reporting that their practice has a policy in place regarding in-person visits with pharma sales reps.

Seven in ten physicians feel personally comfortable meeting sales reps in-person.

When asked about their personal attitudes towards in-person sales rep visits, 71% of all physicians indicate personal willingness to interact with sales reps in-person. Interestingly, individual physicians often indicate more openness to in-person sales rep visits than their practice policy suggests.

Virtually all physicians with institutional guidance allowing in-person rep visits reported a current openness to meeting sales reps in-person. Surprisingly, nearly half of physicians (43%) whose practices prohibit in-person sales rep visits would be willing to do so if such guidance were not present.

Physician expectations for sales rep vaccination vary widely.

Overall, a minority (38%) of surveyed physicians indicated a requirement that sales reps be vaccinated for COVID-19 in order to conduct in-person visits. However, there is evidence that sales rep vaccination may be a key driver of resuming in-person rep visits for a subset of physicians.

Demonstrating this point, a majority (54%) of physicians who are not currently seeing sales reps in-person expect reps to be vaccinated prior to resuming in-person visits.

Further, requirements for sales rep vaccinations vary by specialty and region, with half of all West Coast-based physicians expecting to require COVID-19 vaccination prior to in-person sales rep visits.

Most physicians requiring sales rep vaccination expect this communication to be driven by the sales reps themselves.

65% of physicians requiring sales rep vaccination indicated that they prefer verification of vaccination status through either a CDC vaccination card, digital vaccine passport, or verbal confirmation from sales reps.

So, while most physicians do not anticipate a strict requirement for sales reps to be vaccinated, proactive communication of vaccination status from reps may be the key to convincing more hesitant physicians to allow in-person rep visits once again.

Moving forward, brands should continue to use in-person promotion in a selective, targeted manner and as part of a broader, integrated customer engagement toolkit.

In recent months, in-person interactions have been substantially more effective in driving prescribing than remote interactions, leading many sales teams to seek to increase their in-person presence with physicians. (See our recent whitepaper for more on this analysis.)

Though many physicians may be willing to return to in-person interactions, this attitude is not universal. Many physicians who have yet to welcome in-person rep visits are likely to want further safety assurances prior to returning to normal, and voluntary disclosure of vaccination status from reps may substantially increase willingness to meet in person.

Sales teams should also keep in mind that most physicians have enthusiastically embraced a hybrid engagement model. Selective deployment of in-person engagement is a key driver of impactful sales calls. Not every interaction requires an in-person visit. Carefully considering both physician preferences and the content of discussion can help sales teams choose the best channel of communication in order to maximize the impact of their sales calls.

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