Over the past 2 years, pharma companies have faced substantial challenges with medical visits. One doctor out of two refuses to be visited in his/her office by medical representatives and, at the same time, we have seen a reduction in the overall time spent on visit. Health professionals were on the front line in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic; the consequence of this was an explosion in the number of consultations. With a view to maintaining communications with healthcare professionals, pharma companies have had to review their approach and communication strategies.
Indeed, manufacturers in the pharmaceutical sector have had to face the challenge of overloaded schedules and, as a result, the digital channel has quickly emerged as a major ally in facilitating exchanges between the two stakeholders. The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic has proved to be an accelerator of the digitalization of the health sector in both for patients (via teleconsultation) and for pharma companies (via remote medical visits). However, even if we quote Machiavelli “two great motives make Man act; fear and novelty1“, a question remains: Knowing that the face-to-face medical visit is the traditional cornerstone of this dual relationship, how can pharma companies succeed in engaging healthcare professionals through a digital process?
A shift to digital initiated by the crisis
The health sector faces a split between face-to-face and remote pharma medical visits. Indeed, if in a pre-Covid era more than 70% of medical visits2 were physical visits3, this has now completely changed. Faced with a pandemic outbreak, pharma companies had to adapt their approach and find a way to reach doctors without traditional “field” activity.
The pharmaceutical sector has deployed a new digital approach by opting for direct marketing activity. Push marketing4 strategies have been put in place. There has been a fourfold increase in the volume of commercial content5, i.e. an overload in marketing solicitation of physicians.
However, will these new habits and expectations, put in place during confinement, survive in a post-Covid era, to the point of permanently shifting the contact methods of medical visitors? Indeed, a digital strategy should not only be a short term fix in the context of a pandemic; this is why the development of digital approaches for medical representatives will be a sign of marketing innovation.
Today, healthcare professionals approve of remote medical visiting channels, which are now the primary means of contact with pharma companies. Indeed, doctors are inclined to switch to digital forms of contact. A model of “hybrid visits” is developing – at least for so-called ”follow-up” medical visits.
Adapted and attractive content: the key to remote medical visits
The digitization of the medical visit is based on three essential pillars:
• the medical visitors who hold the meetings remotely,
• the technology that makes it possible to support digital formats,
• the content that forms the basis of the exchange between healthcare professionals and medical representatives.
Thus, as the saying “The content is king6” proves, content remains one of the cornerstones of the remote visit and is essential for doctors.
Today, the main flaw lies in the lack of diversification of content when it is a simply a “copy and paste” of paper documents. According to a study conducted by Euris Group7, healthcare professionals give priority to theoretical information (clinical data, pathology training, etc.), while medical representatives offer practical information. This is by far the least interesting type of content according to the doctors interviewed. Therefore, if no overhaul is carried out, the gap between the content offered by medical representatives and the content preferred by doctors tends to widen considerably.
Based on several studies8, the solution is within reach. Content should be presented that provides real benefits for the doctor, and meets their expectations. This would effectively encourage them to accept the digital content and commit to it on an ongoing basis. Since videoconferencing requires more concentration than face-to-face visits, it is essential that the content is adapted to be more compelling.
The opportunities offered by the digital channel
With the growing enthusiasm of doctors for digital channels, a trend is emerging: the development of a pull marketing strategy9. Faced with doctors overwhelmed with appointments with very little time to devote to medical visitors, the goal of this strategy is to position oneself as a receiver of information and no longer a transmitter. You have to make yourself available to the doctor when he/she needs information and no longer just provide him/her with information when he/she doesn’t need or ask for it.
From a commercial point of view, pharma companies must adopt a doctor-centered approach to engage their interest and engage them in the long term. Therefore, it is a question10 of segmenting the doctor ‘target market’ using a qualitative database to establish specific action plans according to the profile of each doctor (digital engage11 – digital learner12 – traditionalist13) in order to be able to develop clusters14. This process makes it possible to provide almost tailor-made messages for each sub-cluster and increase the customer experience of doctors in order to engage them until they retain them.
Relying on the digital channel by organizing virtual events, for example, means understanding everyone’s preferences in depth, monitoring the information provided, analyzing attendance trends and obtaining valuable feedback to inform future strategic planning. Finally, it is a matter of using digital channels to develop digitalization by pushing the concept of hybrid visits: offering remote visits to complement face-to-face visits. Also, the use of this channel bring advantages such as increased flexibility, options development or the possibility of obtaining up-to-date scientific data.
Some companies have already seized this opportunity by offering new digital solutions such as webinars, remote workshop sessions or even a chatbot via the creation of a social network intended solely for healthcare professionals. The delivery of information and training to physicians is changing and some agencies specializing in healthcare are developing processes to serve laboratories in their promotional approach to physicians15. The content offered by these innovations brings significant added value when used as part of closed loop marketing16.
The use of different digital channels favors the omnichannel engagement strategy for the pharma industry. As a results, sales reps can better communicate with their target audience, and reach healthcare professionals beyond their office. Understanding healthcare professionals’ engagement preferences will help the stakeholders make better and faster decisions that will benefit sales. As healthcare industry specialists, understanding the importance of digital activities will help us deliver the right message, at the right time, to the right audience.
In conclusion, the digitization of health professionals is underway. However, the adoption of digital tools is not yet everyone’s preference, which suggests that there is now a real opportunity. To effectively and sustainably engage doctors in this practice, it is essential to offer partially modified content adapted to digital tools, in the form of appealing and relevant content. The most suitable solution for laboratories is hybrid visits – a concept synonymous with agility and adaptability to the world of tomorrow – by offering remote visits as a complementary element to the face-to-face visit.
(1) Nicolas Machiavelli, The Prince, 1532
(2) On entend par « visite médicale » les visites faites par les visiteurs médicaux des laboratoires au sein du cabinet d’un médecin ou d’un spécialiste.
(3) Etude menée par le Leem et ACTIS, Visite médicale, impact du Covid sur les relations avec les professionnels de santé, septembre 2020.
(4) On entend par stratégie de push marketing, une stratégie proactive qui vise à créer le besoin pour ensuite pouvoir le satisfaire.
(5) Selon une étude VEEVA
(6) « The content is king », Bill Gates, 1996.
(7) Euris Group, How Covid-19 crisis triggered digital innovation in pharma industry ? , 2020.
(8) Etude benchmark rélaisée par Veeva Pulse (2021) | Etude visite médicale, impact du Covid-19 sur les relations avec les PDS, Leem et Actis, septembre 2020.
(9) On entend par stratégie de pull marketing, une stratégie s’articulant autour d’une démarche réactive qui vise à répondre à un besoin sans avoir créer ce besoin en amont.
(10) Etude VEEVA réalisée en 2021.
(11) Digital engager: professionnel de santé qui est déjà engagé dans une démarche digitale.
(12) Digital learner: professionnel de santé qui a la volonté de se digitaliser.
(13) Traditionalist: professionnel de santé qui reste attaché aux formats traditionnels de visite en face-à-face.
(14) Clusters: groupes d’individus ayant les mêmes caractéristiques et préférences.
(15) Agence Karma Communication Digitale, projet FillMed e-academy | Application 360 Medics
(16) Close loop marketing: stratégie marketing collectionnant les données et des offrants les retours des utilisateurs afin de pouvoir les analyser dans le but d’améliorer le plan de communication et l’expérience utilisateur.