Several months into the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare professionals (HCPs) remain largely uncomfortable with the thought of seeing pharmaceutical sales reps in person, according to the latest data, which reflect the predictions of our recent whitepaper, “The Aftermath: COVID-19 Insights & Recommendations.”

According to the latest (June 10) market tracking report by InCrowd, while 36% of HCPs surveyed were considering virtual meetings with pharma reps in the next few weeks, only 13% would consider an in-person meeting, and only 34% would be open to an in-person meeting this year. (In addition, 39% of respondents weren’t meeting with reps in person even before the pandemic.)

Most respondents found that in-person rep meetings did not confer enough benefit to justify endangering their patients and staff. They pointed to a lack of PPE, protocol, and testing as practical reasons, in addition to feeling that the meetings did not provide unbiased information.

Recent data from McKinsey, based on claims data and Sermo surveys, echo this as well. While most of those surveyed expected that at least some of their in-person interactions with pharma sales reps will resume after the crisis, one-third believed that it is not currently helpful to have in-person visits from pharma reps, and two-thirds agreed that reps should “stay out of the hospital/clinic until the pandemic is better controlled.”

Moreover, 28% said that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting impact on their willingness to have in-person meetings with sales reps.

Those surveyed expected that remote consultations will figure more largely in their post-pandemic interactions. They predicted a 15% decline reduction in their overall interactions with sales reps, with that decline coming entirely from in-person meetings.

Decline in healthcare professional-pharmaco engagement

As the McKinsey report noted, “[T]he crisis could be a wake-up call for commercial pharma. Historically, many in the industry have had a vision for how to transform the customer-interaction model but have suffered from ‘pilot paralysis’ or unwillingness to risk near-term sales disruptions to make a change with long-term benefits. Now, for many, the disruption has happened.”

This acceleration of digital transformation was foreseen by Intouch in our whitepaper, “The Aftermath: COVID-19 Insights & Recommendations,” issued June 2 and developed with DHC Group. Based on interviews and surveys with hundreds of HCPs, patient advocates, pharmaceutical executives, and industry stakeholders, the report offers current predictions and guidance for pharma marketers to evolve in order to succeed during, and after, the pandemic.

Opportunities Still Abound
While in-person rep visits will decline, opportunities abound for brands. “Patterns developed during the pandemic will be dialed back — but still retained — as digital engagements with reps will overtake traditional, in-person exchanges,” said Mark Bard, co-founder, DHC Group, in an interview for the whitepaper. One pharmaceutical marketer surveyed, who wished to remain anonymous, noted, “Non-personal promotion and engagement will not be an afterthought anymore. The relevance of the field force will not go away, but the balance between personal and non-personal promotion will be more equal, to match the newly formed behaviors and expectations of HCPs, patients and payers coming out of the global COVID-19 experience.”

From telemedicine to sales reps, patient support to digital transformation, reputation management to digital transformation, the COVID-19 pandemic is changing pharma marketing rapidly and permanently. Access the full report and its recommendations; to schedule a virtual workshop to review its findings and apply the recommendations to your unique brand needs, contact Brady Walcott.