In a COVID-19 twist, pharma's doc-rep relationships are actually improving: study

27 August 2020

Beth Snyder Bulik / FiercePharma

Among the many shifts wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic is the relationship between pharma sales reps and physicians. But that might be a good thing. A new Accenture study has actually found plenty of pandemic positives for pharma reps.

Docs didn’t have time to learn about a drug before? They do now. More than half (55%) surveyed said they have more time to learn about new therapies, and 53% said they’re interested in doing so.

Healthcare providers also want to know more about pharma support services through reps. Doctors said more than before they want digital patient education (69%), education on remote patient care (67%), specific information on conditions relative to COVID-19 (65%) and information to help patients access labs, tests and imaging (65%).

Ray Pressburger, Accenture's global Life Sciences marketing, sales and access lead, offered a real-life example of how drugmakers can meet these needs. One of his clients, which serves an immunocompromised patient population in spinal muscular atrophy, decided to gather information for doctors. The pharma company called every eligible testing facility in the country and asked about provisions for immunocompromised patients during the pandemic, as well as their hours and locations. Then they created a database for reps to take to physicians with details about the testing facilities in the area for their patients.

But those aren't the only types of information doctors want. They're also eager for financial assistance information and education about local access and care programs, the study found. The sales reps who provide that information and support are rewarded with better relationships.

“Our pharma clients started focusing on messages that were much more germane and relevant for the time,” Pressburger said. “HCPs have said, and this research confirmed, that it is dramatically more useful and relevant for them and of better quality. As a result, the companies who are focusing on that are getting more time with doctors and building better relationships.”

The research showed major differences from the initial days of the pandemic. Gone is the scramble to figure out simply how sales reps can use digital technology; today, there's a more evolved focus on what reps should talk about.

Pressburger predicts the support and financial messaging from reps to doctors will stick, even after the pandemic. The old way, with reps getting a few minutes of in-person time to quickly recite product benefits, will give way to support and assistance messages. Why? Because the reps doing it now are gaining real rewards—and docs will keep asking.

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