Pharma looks to mobile strategies to effectively reach prescribers

Sanjay Pingle, President of Skyscape and Physicians Interactive Holdings

It is well documented that the pharma industry is facing many challenges in 2012. Drug makers are losing exclusive patents on drugs that have matured, causing unexpected losses of revenue in the billions of dollars. As a result, companies are cutting costs and significantly reducing their sales force – which in turn creates the new challenge of reaching practices and hospitals with fewer face-to-face office visits.

In the last five years, the size of the sales rep force has shrunk by nearly 30 percent, according to FiercePharma.com. In 2012, Novartis announced it was reducing its U.S. staff by nearly 2,000, including 1,630 sales reps – approximately 1.6 percent of its worldwide staff. This trend of reducing pharma sales forces also reflects impatience among prescribers with the hard sell from sales reps and tighter governmental regulations on what salespeople can convey to the healthcare professionals (HCPs) they’re trying to educate and inform.

Successful companies are those that will transition effectively from being primarily sales-driven to service-driven using a multi-channel marketing approach to reaching physicians and other prescribers. A key focus is providing services that fit into providers’ increasingly busy daily workflow: At point of care, when they’re making diagnosis and treatment decisions and when they’re prescribing medications for their patients.

Companies on the forward edge are putting a heavy emphasis on digital in their commercial models — but how can mobile technologies assist pharmaceutical and biotech firms in this transition?

Here are a few examples:

Tablets to support the sales force – While sales forces are shrinking, they still play a vital role in educating prescribers on new medications. The pharma industry, taking the lead of companies like GSK, is starting to incent sales reps based on quality of service versus amount of sales (read more here in the WSJ). One of the tools that is helping deliver better service is the tablet. Reps with an iPad can deliver more interactive and engaging product information, capture signatures for compliance and make the most of a few quick minutes with a doctor in the time it would take a laptop to boot up.

Online and mobile drug sampling programs – Companies now have the ability to leverage PDMA-compliant mobile apps and websites that allow physicians to request free product samples that they can distribute to their patients to gauge efficacy and assist with adherence. Because the Internet never sleeps, physicians can do this no matter what shifts they are working, independent of time zone or location, 24 hours a day.

Direct-to-HCP mobile advertising – It used to be that most online and mobile advertisements for drugs were placed only in industry magazines, blogs and online communities geared toward healthcare professionals and general consumer websites. We see this changing, with emergence of mobile networks focused on healthcare such as Tomorrow Networks, which is comprised of more than 50 medical apps. Pharma companies can now buy ad placements in mobile apps made exclusively for physicians and other healthcare professionals. A physician can be looking up treatment information at the point of care and see an ad for a medication that is relevant to their patient’s ailment. That’s incredibly powerful for the physician and advantageous for the advertiser.

mDetails – Physicians want to learn about the best drugs and treatments for their patients. mDetails are multimedia mobile product presentations that provide information about drugs in a way that allows physicians to absorb detailed information at their own pace — and in their own time. Because mDetails are distributed on smartphones – it lets physicians fit pharma product education into ‘found time’ at any point during their day that’s convenient for them.

By employing a multi-channel approach and by helping healthcare professionals do their jobs better instead of just selling to them, pharmaceutical companies can reach their target audiences and develop deeper value-based relationships. The aforementioned examples are just a few of the ways that pharmaceutical companies can leverage the ever-growing mobile channel; there are many more evolving every day.

What other strategies are you seeing pharma companies adopt in order to reach time-strapped physicians?

Sanjay Pingle is president of Skyscape and Physicians Interactive and has oversight of the combined pharma and eCommerce business. Prior to joining PI, he was co-founder and executive vice president of Medsite, the biotechnology and pharmaceutical marketing firm named a market leader by Forrester, Jupiter Research and Frost & Sullivan.

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