A recent survey of physicians, published by the CMI Media Group, provides fresh evidence that Medical Representatives meetings with the physicians that have become trickier to arrange since COVID-19, still continue. This was also reported in the March 29, 2023, edition of Fierce Pharma.
The survey objective was to capture what are physicians’ preferences, when asked whether they want to meet with pharmaceutical reps in person more often, less often or in equal frequency as pre-pandemic. Some of the key findings of this recent study include the following:
- 25% of the doctors, reportedly said they are reducing face-to-face interactions.
- With 10% of doctors responding never seeing reps, it could be challenging for many pharma players to call on these doctors via the traditional in-person route.
- However, another 51% of physicians replied that the frequency of their in-person interactions is unchanged from pre-pandemic and 14% seeing reps more frequently than before.
- It also found that digital channels have potential to compensate for the pullback from in-person meetings.
- Most of such doctors prefer receiving resources for talking to reps via video or phone.
- Interestingly, 70% and 78% of physicians said digital resources are more convenient, educational and valuable than remote rep visits.
Let me hasten to add that the above study was carried out mostly in the European countries. Thus, in today’s deliberation, I would focus mainly on two areas:
1. How is this situation evolving in India and the way some of the Indian majors are gearing up to convert this challenge into opportunities to gain a competitive edge, and
2. What, in my view, needs to be a pharma marketing leadership mindset change, alongside its traits for effective change management, to excel in the changing market dynamics. More importantly, whether or not this trend is also visible within some of the Indian pharma majors.
The comparable situation in India:
I find some interesting data on the Indian pharma industry in this regard, from several public domain. These indicate that while some physicians may be open to virtual interactions with medical representatives during and after the COVID pandemic, there are also examples of physicians who were not too keen to meet with pharma reps. These seem to be for several reasons. Some reported examples are as follows:
- Delhi Medical Association (DMA), which represents more than 15,000 doctors in the Indian capital, has banned pharma med reps from entering hospitals or meeting with doctors in person. The DMA has cited concerns about the influence of pharma reps on prescribing practices, besides potential conflict of interest.
- With over 3.5 lakh memberships, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) appears to have discouraged physicians from meeting with MRs. Instead, the association has urged them to rely on evidence-based information and guidelines while prescribing drugs to patients.
- Some private hospital chains in India have also restricted or banned pharmaceutical sales representatives from interacting with physicians. This includes Fortis Healthcare, which has banned pharma reps from its hospitals in Delhi and Mumbai, and Max Healthcare, which has restricted interactions to virtual meetings only.
- The Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS) has issued guidelines for its members recommending that they avoid interactions with pharma med reps. The IPS has stated that interactions with pharma reps can create conflicts of interest and bias in prescribing practices and may not always provide accurate and reliable information.
- Some physicians in India are increasingly turning to online platforms to access unbiased information about medications and treatments, rather than relying on information provided by reps. Online platforms such as Medscape and Docplexus provide physicians with access to up-to-date medical information and peer-reviewed research studies.
With a changing mindset, some Indian players are facing this challenge:
Evidence suggests that there is a growing awareness among several physicians in India about the potential biases and conflicts of interest that can arise from interactions with pharma representatives. While virtual interactions and non-promotional information may still be acceptable to some physicians, others may prefer to rely on more objective sources of information or avoid interactions with pharma reps altogether.
There are several examples in this area highlighting how some Indian pharma majors are trying to stay ahead of the technology curve. As reported, some specific responses of Indian pharmaceutical companies to the restrictions on interactions with physicians
include, Cipla’s launch of a digital platform called CiplaMed to provide healthcare professionals with access to non-promotional medical information and education.
Post-pandemic changes in the mindset and outlook of marketing leadership:
As I see, the COVID pandemic experience has brought significant changes in the mindset and outlook, especially, in the marketing leadership of several Indian drug companies. One key reason could be the success requirements in contemporary pandemic market dynamics are going through a metamorphosis. Which is why the emerging situation demands new approaches and strategies for success.
Many pharma marketing leaders are now trying for early identification of even the nuanced change requirements relevant to their respective organizations for sustainable business success in the current paradigm. Some of these requirements were identified as:
Agility and Adaptability: The pandemic has highlighted the importance of being agile and adaptable. Pharma marketing leaders must now be able to quickly pivot their strategies and tactics based on changing market conditions and consumer needs.
For example, Cipla adapted quickly to the changing market conditions during the pandemic by ramping up the production of essential medicines and medical supplies. The company also developed innovative product solutions, such as a portable mechanical ventilator, to address the critical shortage of medical equipment during the pandemic.
Similarly, Lupin demonstrated agility by diversifying its product portfolio to include COVID-19 testing kits, PPE, and other pandemic-related products, besides helping to develop innovative solutions to address the pandemic, such as a telemedicine platform that enables patients to consult with doctors remotely.
Digitalization: The pandemic has accelerated the shift towards digitalization in the pharma industry. Marketing leaders must be able to effectively leverage digital channels such as social media, online advertising, and telemedicine to reach and engage with consumers.
For instance, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories leveraged digital technologies to enhance its customer engagement efforts. The company developed a mobile app called - ‘Medznat.’ It is touted as a one-stop solution for physicians, medical students and other healthcare professionals to stay abreast with the latest medical knowledge. It offers an umbrella of offerings, such as news, scientific articles, case studies, regulatory updates, medical events, drug flashcards, and many more. The app offers some key features, such as: personalized quality content, any time, anywhere and patient education materials.
Customer-centricity: The pandemic has increased the need for customer-centricity in the pharma industry. Marketing leaders must now prioritize customer needs and preferences and tailor their marketing strategies accordingly.
Sun Pharma appears to be another leading example that, reportedly, demonstrated customer-centricity by developing patient assistance programs that provide financial support to patients who cannot afford their medications. The company also partnered with healthcare providers to develop disease management programs that improve patient outcomes and reduce healthcare costs.
Data Analytics: The pandemic has highlighted the importance of leveraging data science and data analytics in the pharma industry. Marketing leaders must be able to effectively analyze data to understand customer behavior and preferences and to measure the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns.
The name of Glenmark Pharmaceuticals comes to the top of mind in this area. The Company is now using data analytics to analyze sales data and identify trends in the market. The company is also using analytics to track physician interactions and ensure compliance with government regulations.
Continuous Innovation: The pandemic has created new opportunities for innovation in the marketing domain. Thus, marketing leaders must be willing to experiment with new approaches and technologies to stay ahead of the competition and meet changing customer needs.
As is known to many, Zydus Cadila has developed a COVID-19 vaccine and has also been working on the development of a COVID-19 drug. The company has also been involved in the development of new drugs to treat various other diseases.
Collaboration: The pandemic has underscored the need for collaboration across the healthcare ecosystem. Pharma marketing leaders need to work closely with other stakeholders, including healthcare providers, payers, patient advocacy groups, and government agencies, to develop solutions that meet the needs of all stakeholders.
In this area, Biocon, for instance, collaborated with government agencies and NGOs to distribute COVID-19 vaccines and treatments to underserved communities. The company also worked with healthcare providers and patient advocacy groups to develop education and awareness campaigns that promote better health outcomes.
Similarly, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories partnered with IQVIA to rollout IQVIA’s OCE application to its entire field force and marketing users in India to drive more meaningful and impactful customer engagement.
These are a few areas with examples from a few Indian pharma majors that would give a sense of how the mindset and outlook of their marketing leadership teams are changing. This is happening, as is widely believed, after having experienced the last two years’ unprecedented disruptions in business and customer behavior.
It’s equally interesting to note that our domestic drug industry, which was not traditionally well known for effecting significant proactive changes – is transforming itself while stepping into the post-pandemic world – in pursuit of excellence.
By: Tapan J. Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.