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U.S. physicians are using digital resources more to care for patients, access information and improve their practice amid the global pandemic, fresh study data from Decision Resources Group reveal.

U.S. physicians' use of virtual consults has soared since spring
Use of virtual consultations
Among U.S. physicians
Source: DRG, Taking the Pulse® U.S. 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020, and Re-Taking the Pulse® U.S. 2020
*Physicians surveyed in Summer 2020 were asked if they had conducted a virtual consult in the past 3 months; for all other periods they were asked if they had done so in the past 12 months
By mid-July, 4 in 5 U.S. physicians had conducted virtual consultations with patients in the past three months, as COVID mitigation measures pushed more than half of doctor visits online.
The recent surge in use of telemedicine was born of necessity, as hospitals and practices cancelled many visits and procedures deemed elective or non-essential amid the initial spike in COVID-19 cases this past spring. Regulators moved to make access to telemedicine easier in response, cutting red tape and revamping reimbursement policies.
But the effects of this emergency shift toward remote care are likely to persist beyond the current crisis of pandemic.
More than half of physicians surveyed in June and July (52%) said they intend to offer virtual consultations going forward.
However, nearly 3 in 5 (58%) expressed lingering reservations about the quality of care they can offer remotely.
Remote details have risen as in-person rep meetings crashed
How physicians met with reps
Among U.S. physicians
Source: Taking the Pulse, U.S. 2018-2020; Re-Taking the Pulse, U.S. 2020
Remote Detail: For the purposes of this survey, remote detailing was defined as a variety of live, remote interactions between a physician and a pharma rep, KOL or MSL to provide information and answer questions related to Rx drugs or treatments. Remote details can be conducted via phone, live web or text chat, or video chat (e.g. Skype), and can be scheduled ahead of time or initiated by the physician at an unplanned time.
Remote communication includes email, phone calls, text, or live video communication with pharma sales reps
The share of doctors saying they’d participated in remote details soared amid COVID-19, after years of very little movement, and it’s clear that reps are checking in with physicians much more frequently via phone (as did 36% by summer) and especially email (44%).
That tracks with physician preferences – 2 in 5 physicians surveyed in June and July cited email as a preferred means of connecting with physicians during the pandemic – more than any other means – while just 1 in 4 said they still prefer to meet with reps in person.
Modes of remote communication with reps (in past 3 months, as of Summer 2020)
40% of physicians would prefer to communicate with reps via email during the COVID-19 pandemic
Among U.S. physicians
Source: Re-Taking the Pulse® U.S. 2020
Physicians are turning to social networks for collegial input as in-person avenues close down
Asked what information sources they were using more often as a result of COVID-19 related disruptions, 52% of physicians surveyed in June and July cited physician-only social networks.
Info sources physicians are using more because of COVID-19
Among U.S. physicians
Source: Re-Taking the Pulse® U.S. 2020
This shift was already taking shape in spring, when we found a broad, if shallow, rise in physician use of digital resources spanning many channels and types of online tools.
Most notable were a sharp rise in use of social networks – monthly use was up 17 percentage points to 81% among physicians surveyed in the spring -- and in online interaction with peers via social networks, with monthly use up 15 points to 70%.
Among U.S. physicians
Source: DRG, Taking the Pulse® U.S. 2020
Those increases are being driven chiefly by physician-only social networks, monthly use of which rose to 77% of physicians, a big jump from last year’s 58%. Use of general social networks for professional purposes also rose, however – to 49% in 2020 from 40% in 2019.
Physicians have, for years, cited their colleagues as a top source of clinical information, so these data reflect collegial information-sharing being pushed online as the pandemic set in.
To learn more about Taking the Pulse and how DRG’s physician, patient and payer research helps life science companies better engage and inform their stakeholders, please contact us