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Perspectives on Pharma Field Force Strategy: Part 1

Posted by Matt Breese on Mar 15, 2016

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A Focus on Personal Promotion

Personal promotion by a pharmaceutical sales force is not dead — despite a more restrictive environment that greatly limits person-to-person interactions between sales representatives and physicians. It’s just morphing.

Personal visits with physicians still contribute a value-added benefit to a company’s pharmaceutical marketing strategy, but visits can no longer be the primary communication channel driving success. Instead, the pharmaceutical sales force becomes a single component of a comprehensive plan that takes advantage of healthcare’s changing landscape.

How Did We Get Here?

“The pharmaceutical industry is in the middle of a fast, steady decline in physician access and we expect this pattern to continue for the foreseeable future,” says Pratap Khedkar, managing principal and leaders of ZS’s global pharmaceuticals practice. “Even traditionally rep-friendly physicians now limit sales rep access.”

Significant and ongoing changes in the healthcare industry, such as outcomes-based reimbursements, shifting policy control and the advent of medical informatics, have downstream implications for pharmaceutical companies.

Outcomes-based reimbursements. Healthcare reform changes the way in which treatment reimbursement occurs. This transformation shifts the focus to outcomes, over the historically dominant prescribing volume. This year Medicare will tie 85 percent of provider payments to outcomes. By 2018, that linkage will increase to 90 percent, which will surely affect how physicians pursue treatments and therapies for their patients. And, it’s one of the more common facts of healthcare life — as Medicare goes, so goes conventional health plans. Whether their practice accepts Medicare assignment or not, physicians expect more scrutiny of their treatment plans and outcomes, and practices carefully evaluate drugs and therapies that support these new reimbursement policies.

Shifting policy control. Integrated delivery networks now own more than 60 percent of physician group practices. Providers at the frontline of patient care no longer control operational policies, such as access to physicians by pharmaceutical representatives or purchasing. Rather, the C-suite, legal department or centralized personnel with authority to make supply-chain decisions now make and enforce many of the policies related to operations, logistics, finances and personnel.

The age of medical informatics. Hospitals and medical practices were late to the technology table. They did not begin embracing the digital age until the 1990s. Today, however, few — if any — medical practices do not have electronic health records and ready access to test results, drug and device information and online order entry. Rather than waiting for a printed mailer, interactions with pharmaceutical representatives or a case study or ad in peer-reviewed professional journals, physicians use computers, smart phones and tablets to quickly and easily access the latest information about new drugs, changes in therapeutic dosing or the latest outcomes data. In fact, recent research by Accenture found that digital interactions have replaced nearly one in four direct sales force interactions targeting doctors.

How does your organization leverage personal promotion to improve product awareness? Check back later this week for more perspectives on pharma sales force strategy.

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Topics: Industry Trends, Market Access, Provider