Tipping point? Digital communications from pharma finally get their due with doctors

Doctor computer medical records
Doctors prefer digital channels to sales reps to communicate with pharma companies, a study said for the first time. (Getty/BrianAJackson)

Pharma digital communications have crossed a threshold with physicians, according to one annual study. In Indegene’s annual healthcare provider survey, physicians scored digital communications higher than sales reps as their preferred form of communication for the first time in the four years the study has run.

Preference for digital channels has risen steadily since 2015, while the appeal of sales reps has plateaued, Gaurav Kapoor, Indegene co-founder and executive vice president, said. One reason doctors want more digital contact? More administrative work leaves less time to see reps even as complex drugs require more education.  

That could be why the survey also found a continued and growing desire for medical science liaisons (MSLs) as preferred contacts from pharma companies, rather than traditional medical or sales reps. Doctors with limited office time prefer the technical expertise and precise information MSLs deliver.

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Another key finding in the study is the growing demand from doctors for real-world evidence. Drug efficacy and safety still represented the most requested information by doctors, but physicians increasingly want real-world measures spurred by demand from regulators, payers and patients for better treatment outcomes.

Kapoor said pharma companies have begun to set up systems and infrastructure to deliver real-world evidence, and based on feedback from physicians, they will likely continue to work to deliver that kind of data using phase 4 trials and field studies.

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The study also looked at the preferred delivery channel with medical journals, both online and offline, getting the top spot with 66% of physicians citing them as the least biased source of pharma-sponsored information. The next most popular channel resources were brand websites (58%) and marketing emails (56%).

Indegene’s survey also asks physicians to rate which pharma companies are the best overall communicators. For 2018, the top four ranked by HCPs were GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Merck.