Pharma rep visits have plunged, and non-personal promotion isn’t making up the gap

We’ve been talking about rep automation and remote communication between reps and physicians for years (live and recorded/on-demand webinars, remote details, chatbots, etc.), because we know that as physicians grow ever-more time crunched and increasingly face employer restrictions on interacting with reps, it’s getting harder for reps to get in to see them.

This year we saw a substantial drop in the share of U.S. physicians who had had in-person meetings with pharma reps – the first in several years – to 54% from 67%, along with a corresponding rise in the number of physicians that had had no interaction with reps, from 24% to 39%.

The number one reason, cited by 43% of physicians, was that they just didn’t have time. Another factor is the self-serve nature of the Internet – 49% of physicians told us that in the past year, they haven’t had a single question that required a pharma rep to answer, because they can find anything they need online.

The drop in in-person rep interaction really isn’t a shocker, but it’s a bit surprising that remote communication (email, phone, remote details) and MSLs aren’t picking up any of the slack. Remote details and other live, on-demand resources can be costly to support, and so are not always offered (12% of physicians report using them, though half would use them more often if more pharmas offered them, and almost half say they’re a valuable supplementary info source between visits). Ditto MSLs (only 28% of physicians have interacted with an MSL in the past 6 months).

However, it’s also true that only 1 in 5 physicians have emailed with reps. This seems like low-hanging fruit for commercial teams. And while it reflects, to some extent, physician preference for face-to-face interaction with reps, we see that physicians who email with reps are far less hidebound in that preference than their in-person-only peers.

This finding suggests that supply of non-personal channels for communication creates demand. Ultimately, we expect to see physicians connecting with pharmas through many touchpoints, including reps and MSLs but also a number of non-personal channels, including self-detailing (which 38% of physicians expect to eventually replace in-person details) and chatbots (30% of physicians are interested in using them to access MSL info).

For now, directing sales forces to check in with their accounts by phone or email seems like the low-hanging fruit. And while communications should always be tailored to the tastes of the individual customer, reps shouldn’t necessarily be afraid to lead this dance – a plurality of physicians either prefer reps initiate emails or want shared initiation.

Our physician research tells us that doctors continue to value the rep relationship -- reps have actually grown more influential with physicians in recent years. They just don’t have time for a traditional cadence of in-person visits anymore. In response, commercial teams will need to learn to utilize pull tactics and multiple touchpoints to keep them informed and engaged.



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