Doctors want pharma to provide 360-degree service
Cost and time constraints mean doctors want pharma's support to treat the patient in front of them now, as well as using the industry's data management skills to provide the latest and most relevant research in easily accessible form.
The challenge of tightening healthcare budgets is not just a problem for pharmaceutical companies. Medical professionals are also facing enormous pressure, as the drive to make health systems more cost effective is having a real impact on the way they operate. Simply put, doctors are being asked to see more patients and be more efficient in how they manage every one of them.
Is it any wonder, then, that they have little time to see the pharmaceutical sales rep, especially in the context of the 'big bad pharma' moniker that the industry has earned in popular media?
But instead of this being just another stage on the irreversible decline of the pharma-physician relationship, it represents a golden opportunity for the pharma industry to stop being the adversary and start being part of the solution. A recent survey of 549 GPs conducted by M3 and eyeforpharma showed that doctors see pharma as an essential partner in improving this situation, for themselves and their patients.
The survey also highlighted seven key findings describing which areas of partnership are most important to focus on if the relationship is to become a more mutually beneficial one. In addition, it called out the companies that doctors rated as providing the best interactions with them. Pfizer, Sanofi and Novartis came out as the top three, with the common strand being their focus on a 'customer-centric', rather than 'product-centric', approach to engagement. In other words, they are not just talking about their medicines, but showing a more human face to the industry by providing 360-degree services and support in helping doctors manage their patients.
Enabling technology to help doctors
Doctors want to see the industry continue to invest more time and money into developing new treatments and innovative ways to bring them to market quicker, but they also need help with the patients sat in front of them right now and it is here where technology holds significant potential.
Used in the right way, technology can deliver efficiencies for doctors and better outcomes for patients via a multitude of routes, including more efficient administration (e.g. electronic medical records), online consultation with patients and their peers, telemedicine (delivery of remote care), more accessible disease education, and better patient self-management, diagnosis and remote monitoring. While some of these areas – such as electronic medical records – may be beyond the remit of any single pharmaceutical company, there are also some quick wins on a smaller scale, for example the provision of remote applications to help patients monitor their blood pressure without having to physically see a doctor.
To build better relationships the pharmaceutical industry does not even need to be the provider of such technology. By simply keeping doctors informed of new technology (both hard and soft technology, such as online platforms and tools) and how to use it the sales rep becomes a vital and trusted source of information, rather than a pusher of products.
Helping doctors manage information overload
Another common challenge for doctors is managing the sheer volume of medical information they are expected to keep on top of, from ongoing education around disease symptoms and diagnosis, to keeping abreast of the latest treatment guidelines and, of course, the plethora of new clinical results and research papers being published every day. Data transparency may be the hot topic of the moment, but the ability to keep on top of all the information transparently available to doctors is just as difficult.
This is another area where doctors are looking to the pharmaceutical industry (itself highly analytical and used to dealing with enormous quantities of data) for help and two main areas of partnership emerge here. First, the doctors surveyed saw a continued need for the industry to remain involved in medical education, not just in areas such as evidence-based guidelines for themselves, but also in helping to arm their patients with critical information. They saw a clear role for pharmaceutical companies to become better 'health educators' across a range of media, with the benefits this provides to health systems and patients ranging from earlier/more accurate diagnosis through to better treatment adherence.
"Perhaps contrary to popular belief, the survey showed that doctors saw pharmaceutical sales reps as important providers of new information on specific products"
But, perhaps contrary to popular belief, the survey also showed that doctors saw pharmaceutical sales reps as an important provider of new information on specific products, provided it is delivered in the right way. The reality is that it is difficult for doctors to keep up-to-date with all the relevant information on new products and the industry is well placed to provide this offline and online, especially in the context of the tight regulatory framework within which it operates. The key point here, though, is that doctors do not want the 'hard sell' of being told how to use the product; they simply want pharma to act as an efficient conduit for providing the information, before allowing them to ascertain which patients it is most appropriate for.
In summary, there is a real opportunity for the industry to become 'good pharma' by being the helping hand that doctors need right now. By supporting doctors in delivering better patient outcomes more efficiently, through becoming a trusted and impartial partner in providing guidance on technology and medical information, pharma will invariably not only develop a better relationship with healthcare providers but also identify new commercial opportunities for its products.
Doctors live by the motto of 'first do no harm', but when it comes to their relationship with the pharmaceutical industry it may be more appropriate to say 'united we stand, divided we fall'. A new type of partnership with pharma is essential and desired, which would be to the benefit of both doctors and their patients.
About the author:
Dr Tim Ringrose is CEO of M3 (EU). He trained in nephrology and intensive care in Oxford before joining Doctors.net.uk, part of M3, in 2000. Tim has led the development of services provided to doctors and has had considerable experience working with a wide variety of healthcare clients to deliver market research, targeted online communications and educational programmes to doctors.
For more information please visit: www.eu.m3.com
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