Physicians are looking to pharma for COVID-19 comms. Where are they?

Doctor computer
COVID-19 is forcing pharma reps into digital interactions with doctors for now, but the practice may stay for the long term. (Getty/andrei_r)

During the COVID-19 crisis, physicians want specific treatment protocols tailored to their patient populations. And almost half (42%) want specific COVID-19-related information from pharma companies, according to a new survey from pharma and healthcare agency AbelsonTaylor. 

But that info has been slow to arrive. In the same study, 83% of physicians reported they hadn’t received any new information from reps in the week before the survey in late March. Overall, pharma rep visits, which included e-visits and tele-detailing calls, declined by 63%, according to the survey.

The dip can be attributed in part to pharma companies’ quickly necessitated shift from in-person sales calls to digital ones during the time of the survey. Another reason for the lag could be the regulatory steps that have to be taken and approvals gained in creating new collateral materials around prescription drugs.

RELATED: Pharma's reputation has soared during COVID-19 pandemic, poll finds

However, drugmakers' need to get up to speed with digital communications is essential not just for COVID-19 information distribution but also for other treatment protocols and for a future that's shifting, said Amanda Hartzmark, director of marketing intelligence and business intelligence at AbelsonTaylor.

One positive finding for pharma is that the interactions taking place now are more substantial. AbelsonTaylor said the average time for online meetings is now 17 minutes, versus a pre-COVID-19 average meeting time of just six minutes.

The agency’s findings are backed by recent data from Veeva Systems, which found a similar drop in meetings between physicians and sales reps of more than 50% between January and March, while emails between the two increased by 263% during the same time.

RELATED: Docs are talking about COVID-19 on social media—and pharma is looking for lessons

“People are now trying to figure out this digital engagement and 'What does that look like?'” Hartzmark said. “What both Veeva and AbelsonTaylor saw in our data is that this is going to lead to a seismic shift. The hybrid engagement model is going to be the new norm. Yes, we’re going to snap back and there will be more face-to-face contact once doors open up, but truthfully, this is teaching everyone how to swim.”

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