A 2019 ePharma study from Decision Resources Group (DRG) found that an increasing number of physicians are searching for drug and treatment information on their own, rather than relying on meetings with pharmaceutical sales reps.
According to the report, 54% of surveyed physicians saw reps in person, down from 67% in 2018 — the lowest contact rate since DRG started asking in 2014. Moreover, rather than increasing phone and email engagements with pharma reps, as might be expected to fill the gap, many physicians are not interacting with reps at all (about 39% of the surveyed doctors, up from 24% in 2018). Nearly half of the surveyed doctors said they never had a question that could not be answered via their own online research. This lack of interaction varied somewhat by medical specialty, with the percentage of primary care physicians foregoing pharma rep interactions growing from 21% in 2018 to 40% in 2019, while medical specialties like gastroenterology and oncology experienced much smaller changes.
While the decrease in personal interaction between physicians and sales reps is being driven in some cases by institutional restrictions, the greatest barrier to such meetings is lack of time due to physicians’ increasing patient loads, duty to maintain electronic health records, and expanding bureaucratic tasks.
However, more doctors are finding pharma websites to be increasingly credible, offering more comprehensive, less promotional information than ever before. Surveyed physicians said they appreciate companies that act as a partner to help improve clinical care, rather than promoting a specific drug. Most physicians would like to see more proprietary efficacy and outcomes data, as well as clinical insights, unavailable elsewhere, that could drive their interest. Importantly, DRG reports that 37% of physicians now call pharma websites influential versus 25% in 2016.
The DRG report also pointed to several ways to improve communication between pharma and physicians. A suggestion is to ensure that the content of communications shifts over time, with physicians most open to product-specific messages such as indications and treatment guidelines in the first year of a new drug’s approval and more interested in value-added offerings like patient resources and financial support as the product matures. DRG also recommended that sales reps engage in more personalized email outreach based on a physician’s own interests. Notably, the report highlighted new digital opportunities for sales rep-physician engagement, including remote or self-detailing programs for doctors and AI-driven, medical science liaison chatbots that would enable physicians to easily obtain answers to clinical questions. In addition, the DRG report findings echoed those of a previous report from Deloitte that found physicians were open to engaging with pharma companies through social media channels as long as the information offered was transparent and free of bias and those interactions are kept private.
Notably, the report found that interactions between physicians and medical science liaisons have remained steady over the past five years, likely reflecting the need for the specialized scientific and clinical information provided by these professionals.