By N. Krishnamurthy, CEO at VSM Software Pvt. Ltd.
It all started in March 2020 and it is now Jan 2022. We still can’t declare the COVID pandemic as “finished”. How has the pandemic impacted the field marketing activity of Pharma companies? What should the industry do to prepare for what will definitely be a new world, post-COVID? There were many analysts who, even before the pandemic, were saying that the role of Medical Representatives will reduce. Now that the pandemic has affected face-to-face detailing, will they be proven right?
Impact of COVID-19 on field visits by MRs
There is no denying that field visits have been impacted during the pandemic. In situations where even patients had to make do with “teleconsulting”, doctors were far less willing to meet MR s. According to one survey by Accenture, before the pandemic, F2F detailing was at least 64% in developed markets. (Much more in India).
During the pandemic, virtual meetings account for 65% of detailing. Does that mean that MR s are becoming redundant? Far from that. In fact, their role is getting more complex.
Multi-channel marketing visits by MRs
According to another research by Reuters Events and Omnipresence, there has been a very significant increase in various multi-channel means of disseminating information to Healthcare Professionals (HCPs).
Their research provided the following important findings:
|% of Respondents who saw an increase
|Live remote or phone detailing
Interestingly, even rep-triggered mails are seeing increased usage. What is really interesting in the new COVID-19-impacted world, is that MR is still the key “conductor” of HCP interactions. Instruments have become more complex, but the conductor is still the MR!
What does the future hold?
I would like to talk about three very important things that have emerged or that have acquired far greater importance during the pandemic, and which will continue to become more significant.
|Hybrid approach Most pundits are of the view that multi-channel is here to stay and will co-exist with F2F detailing. “I don’t think we will have complete virtual HCP engagement post-pandemic. We already saw this in the first few months of the pandemic; there was an immediate move towards complete virtual HCP engagement, but once the pandemic restrictions were slightly loosened, we saw face-to-face coming back relatively strong. We do believe that remote engagements will continue — but they will be a hybrid engagement and not a purely virtual one.” CIO of an MNC Pharma company Proportion of usage of virtual engagement will vary from country to country, with F2F having a greater proportion in Emerging Markets. However, all markets will adopt a hybrid approach.
|Content harmonization Multiple modes of engagement will still have to convey a unified message to the HCP. But different media need different levels of detail, graphics, and animation: and yet they all need to jell together. This needs content harmonization. This will lead to a lot more effort on the part of content writers and administrators.
|Advanced data analytics include the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) More the channels, more the data is available as responses or perceived responses by the HCP. This means that it is now going to be a far more complex world when it comes to data analysis and interpretation “Data Analysis is probably the most challenging part of the digital transformation, as we need to acquire skills such as advanced analytics that we currently do not have, turn our customer model fully around, and implement tools that are able to create sophisticated AI-powered models that can manipulate billions of data points”, says the Group Head of Commercial Excellence of a large European Pharma company.
Impact of Multi-Channel Engagement on productivity and costs
Traditionally, in many countries, the most commonly used parameter for MR productivity is “Call Average”. Calls were largely F2F before the pandemic. Companies were setting a call average target taking into account distances traveled, traffic conditions, waiting time of the doctor, and expected duration of interaction with the doctor.
Let us take a hypothetical example of a Call Average of 10 for F2F calls. An illustrative breakdown of time utilization in minutes would be
No. of calls – 10
|Duration (In Minutes)
|Total Time for 10 calls (In Minutes)
|% to Total
With the adoption of Multichannel Engagement (MCE), can productivity increase? Let us take the following illustration
|No. of Calls
|Duration (In minutes)
|Total Time (In minutes)
|% to total
CEQ: Call Equivalent, with F2F taken as 1 call. The above CEQ s are used by some of our clients, and are realistic
Equivalent calls are arrived at by converting MCE calls to F2F
You will see from the above that
- “Productive time” has increased from 21% to 54% under MCE
- Average calls per day have increased from 10 to 14, a 40% increase!
This means that MRs can increase calls and therefore doctor engagement or the company can achieve a same number of calls, with 40% less field strength.
How should companies prepare for the post-pandemic future?
There are several things that the Industry needs to do, to be ready. Some of this is already getting done in developed countries. In Emerging Markets, there is perhaps more work needed.
•Invest in advanced CRM tools that can handle multi-channel and virtual engagement with HCPs
•Less F2F will mean less commuting and therefore productivity will improve. Consequently, be prepared to prune down the Sales Force Size
•Content repurposing and harmonization
•Training of the field force to handle multi-channel
•Improve capabilities in analytics and even adopt AI