The one-on-one meeting between individual physicians and pharmaceutical sales representatives was the core element of pharmaceutical marketing for decades. It provided drug manufacturers credible insight into physician needs, and offered providers immediate access to relevant information for patient treatments. That type of personal marketing, however, has waned in the last few years as practices and hospitals build barriers that limit access to their prescribing providers. Three years ago, about 35 percent of physician practices in the United States restricted pharmacy sales representatives from direct access to their physicians. That access-limiting control is now at 53 percent, with oncology, a prime target for drug manufacturers, the most restrictive.
There are various reasons practices and hospitals choose to limit direct access to their providers, such as:
- Perception: Teaching hospitals are concerned about the perception patients and other visitors may have when they see pharmaceutical sales representatives in the hallways.
- Transparency: Legislative interest in transparency peeked during the development of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), with increased regulations and restrictions included in the final rules.
- Availability: Tight patient visit schedules give providers little time for anything other than direct patient care.
- Consolidation: Practice consolidation as a means of surviving the changing healthcare environment often cedes control of operational policies, such as direct access by pharmacy sales representatives, to a larger organization or healthcare system.
The timing could not be worse for drug manufactures that are intent on launching new products to replace those with expiring patents, given the backlog of requests for FDA approval. Although many consider person-to-person communication the most effective method of sharing information with physicians regarding the benefits of a new drug, pharmaceutical companies must consider other marketing strategies in order to overcome access restrictions.
Data Driven Strategy
Pharmaceutical sales leaders invest significant resources in creative work-arounds to manage the barriers that limit their access to prescribing providers. The very nature of a work-around, however, limits its effectiveness. A “back-door approach” may only work temporarily or for a sub-section of practices. To successfully launch a new product or reinforce the benefits of an existing drug, pharmaceutical companies must develop more effective marketing strategies.
Good data is the foundation of every successful marketing campaign, whether that campaign is based on personal interactions or non-personal channels that use advertising and technology for messaging. Data offers provider demographics (age, location, specialty, prescribing preferences), as well as market access, drug utilization and outcomes information that supports product promotion. It can also provide insight into provider and system messaging preferences, such as:
- Where do they prefer to get their information (mailers, professional journals, email, web)?
- Do they want specific product messaging or would they rather have educational content about a drug, such as relevant case studies or clinical trial results, or patient education materials?
- How much time do they dedicate to learning about new medications?
- Do they want information pushed out to them, or do they prefer to access information on their own schedule?
- How do they respond to patients who ask about specific drugs?
Pharmaceutical companies and other key healthcare stakeholders are in a unique position to use targeted, relevant non-personal promotion to meet the needs of physicians to educate their patients, to remain professionally current and to deliver treatments that produce the best possible outcomes. In so doing, pharmaceutical companies overcome barriers and become trusted providers of clinical information, while developing strong relationships and deeper levels of engagement.
Is your healthcare organization optimizing non-personal promotion? Stay tuned for more on non-personal promotion later this week.