The post-COVID future of physician sample access and engagement

Building modern commercialisation strategies requires pharma to find the right balance of old ways and new approaches, says Cardinal Health’s Jennifer Baughman.

COVID-19 has fundamentally changed much of our lives – from how we interact with people to how we work. For the pharma industry, the pandemic’s changes were both abrupt and industry-altering, requiring companies to rapidly adapt their approaches to drug development and commercialisation. It also led to changes in how we manufacturer, market and ship medications.

One of the most significant challenges for pharma companies to navigate was how to continue to access and engage with healthcare providers (HCPs) as part of the commercialisation strategy. The paradigm shift from in-office visits to mandatory shutdowns was almost instantaneous and reliance on tele-solutions and digital communications consequently shot up.

While pharma reps making visits to doctor’s offices has always been a core tactic for delivering information and samples to HCPs, research conducted before COVID began indicated that these visits were only semi-effective – with only 44% of physicians accepting visits.

Now, as the healthcare industry begins to define its ‘new normal’ in a post-COVID world, is it time to re-examine which strategies work, why, and what comes next for the future of pharma sampling.

Below are three things pharma teams should consider as they build out the next iteration of their HCP sampling programs.

Consider an omnichannel approach

With increased usage of digital tools including tele-detailing, tele-sampling and direct-to-physician sampling during the pandemic, many teams are questioning whether in-office pharma sales rep visits will decrease over the long term. The answer is probably, but to stop using them entirely would be short-sighted.

A report from McKinsey shows that healthcare providers vary widely in their channel preferences and content expectations: only 31% are willing to accept regular visits from pharma sales reps, 18% do not want to receive emails from pharma companies, and less than a third (28%) are interested in digital recommendations.

Recognising the drastic divide in preferences among HCPs, pharma teams and their partners must deliver more sampling options to effectively reach their entire target market. While there may be fewer boots on the ground, narrowing the focus for pharma reps to key areas, while beginning digital and tele-solutions strategies in other areas, will do a better job of blanketing the market – particularly in more rural areas where HCPs receive fewer visits overall.

Personalisation is Key

Post-COVID is the time to start doing more with less by focusing on the right messages to the right audiences.

Similar to how the advertising industry has shifted to using digital tools rather than older methods of mass marketing such as newspapers and tv commercials, personalisation is key to the future of pharma sampling.

“An omnichannel approach will be the key to driving forward a futuristic commercialisation strategy”

While many HCPs are open to receive digital communications and sampling programmes, one group that is not ready is older HCPs. Research shows that the number of licensed physicians over the age of 60 in the US has increased to more than 30% – and this age group is less likely to adopt any form of digital tools. Segmenting physicians by age group is an excellent way to begin personalising a sampling programme to better engage with the right HCPs.

Similarly, location could also have an effect on how HCPs want to receive messages and the type of messaging they want to receive. Analytics tools managed by the pharma sales team can be valuable for tracking physician preferences when developing your omnichannel approach.

Redefining Success Metrics

Historically, the success of a sampling programme has been measured by the quantity of samples distributed and the number of prescriptions written by the physician that reps have engaged with.

However, as more precision therapies and biologics enter the market, pharma needs to shift its definitions of success. Reach, frequency and the quality of engagements need to be measured to match the updated multichannel platform. Not all outreach opportunities might result in a sale, but it is assumed there will be more touchpoints. The real tangible success measure will be how engaged prescribers are with your efforts, and the types of interactions your approach results in.

Needless to say, the pandemic forced the pharma industry to try new methods of digitisation, and as we redefine approaches for engaging HCPs post-COVID, finding the balance of old ways versus the new, with an omnichannel approach will be the key to driving forward a futuristic commercialisation strategy.

About the author

Jennifer Baughman is director of customer operations at Cardinal Health Third Party Logistics (3PL) Services