Pfizer rolls out digital reps in U.K., hoping for access to primary-care docs

Which sort of pharma rep would a doctor prefer to see--a live rep, in the flesh, possibly carrying an iPad? Or an electronic version, piped in via Skype at the physician's convenience? Pfizer ($PFE) aims to find out, with its latest foray into e-detailing.

As Pharmafile reports, the U.S.-based pharma giant has been promoting a new service in the U.K. called Pfizerline, which allows primary care doctors to book time with reps. Ads in the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) tout the convenience of anytime, anywhere contact with Pfizer reps bearing info about the company's products.

It's far from the first of Big Pharma's experiments with electronic promotions. Merck ($MRK) was one of the first to spend heavily on e-detailing, and other companies have amped up their efforts as well. It's a potential work-around to medical practices barring pharma reps at the door. Doctors apparently like it; a CMI/Compas study last year found that 38% of physicians prefer pharma information via e-detailing. Plus, it requires less people-power, and with the thousands of sales layoffs in recent years, Big Pharma needs to deploy its remaining reps efficiently.

Electronic promotions also have a compliance advantage: If presentations are vetted ahead of time, and Skype conversations recorded, then off-label shenanigans would be more difficult to hide. This may or may not be motivating Pfizer's moves--or any e-detailing effort, for that matter--but a series of multibillion-dollar marketing settlements with the U.S. government might well make compliance a contributing factor.

Plus, primary care is ripe for e-detailing, or any promotional method that requires less staff and less money. With specialty drugs in ascendance and primary-care blockbusters falling off patent left and right, drugmakers have focused their sales force cuts in primary care. Pfizer itself laid off hundreds of reps as Lipitor's patent expiration neared, and even more after Ranbaxy Laboratories' generic exclusivity expired, allowing a slew of new rivals into the market.

- see the Pharmafile story

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