Convenience is the main reason doctors choose digital channels sponsored by drug companies over in-person visits from pharmaceutical reps.

Ken Terry, Contributor

December 5, 2013

4 Min Read
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­­Two-thirds of physicians prefer to get information on specific medications through digital channels, according to a survey conducted by CapGemini and QuantiaMD, an online physician community. An even higher percentage (80%) of younger doctors held that view.

Time, availability, and ease of use were said to be the prime reasons for doctors to choose digital channels sponsored by drug companies. Those channels include pharmaceutical websites, e-detailing, online physician communities, and educational or reference sites, such as those of Epocrates and Medscape.

Only 20% of the nearly 3,000 respondents said they preferred to get drug information through in-person meetings with pharmaceutical reps. This percentage is shrinking rapidly. Last year, it was 27%.

Concurrently, a growing number of physicians are working for healthcare organizations that restrict the doctors' contact with drug reps or bar the reps from physician offices entirely. This was true for 64% of all respondents and for 90% of doctors who had been in practice for 10 years or fewer.

[ Doctors have not exactly embraced electronic health record systems. Read Why Doctors Hate EHR Software. ]

Overall, 37% of respondents said they saw drug reps one to three times a month, 27% never saw them, 22% met with them more than once a week, and 14% received them more than once a day. Eighty percent of those who never met with reps were restricted by their organizations. The rest chose not to see them.

"It's roughly a third that are willing to meet with reps on a more frequent basis," Dan Malloy, senior vice president of client services for QuantiaMD, told InformationWeek. "Those doctors are probably in private practice and older."

Interestingly, however, 85% of the respondents said they'd be willing to try new technologies such as "virtual services" to access sales reps. Virtual services allow physicians to contact a rep online and request information or support services. The doctors can contact the reps when they want to, rather than having to carve out time to see them during their workday.

Malloy said that the survey provides evidence that the shift of drug sales from in-person detailing to digital channels is accelerating. "Physicians want less pharma presence in their office," he noted. "At the same time, digital is more convenient, and it provides easier access. Much of this is also being done on mobile devices, which is how doctors often access information."

For example, he pointed out, half of the physicians who belong to Quantia now use mobile devices to enter its "social learning platform," which provides clinical content and discussion forums.

Quantia does business with most of the leading pharma companies, which sponsor presentations to market their drugs. Up to 20% of Quantia's content is sponsored, he said, but it is clearly distinguished from independent educational content. The sponsored segments usually last four to seven minutes. That's not a long time, he noted, but is much longer than the face time that drug reps normally get with doctors who are willing to see them.

The trend away from in-person meetings with reps is progressing so rapidly that within several years, Malloy said, it will be very difficult for the pharmaceutical companies to use this sales approach. The pharma firms are already downsizing their sales forces, he said, partly because their access to doctors is decreasing.

At the same time, he said, the companies have been shifting their marketing dollars online. They will invest in any digital channel that allows them to engage doctors and get their message through, he said.

One way to do that is to use physician experts who are known as "key opinion leaders." Knowing that physicians are more apt to listen to other doctors they respect, pharma firms have long hired these experts to give presentations at conferences and dinner meetings. The same people are now making the sponsored presentations on QuantiaMD, he said. Both the sponsored and unsponsored content on the social media site come from these experts, "and that's why our docs listen."

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About the Author(s)

Ken Terry


Ken Terry is a freelance healthcare writer, specializing in health IT. A former technology editor of Medical Economics Magazine, he is also the author of the book Rx For Healthcare Reform.

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