The recent expansion of digitization efforts in healthcare marketing that we’ve seen over the past five years could not have come at a better time. Welcome to our current reality. Pharmaceutical and life sciences sales teams who would typically meet with thousands of doctors in-person are now stuck making calls from home. Meanwhile, the world is looking to pharma companies for a COVID-19 cure. And hospital systems are both overwhelmed and yet unable to offer their routine, revenue-generating services. Now, everything is virtual, and everyone’s marketing must follow suit.
To get a grasp on what’s changed in the sales and marketing of pharma and life sciences, we asked four experts: What’s changed, where’s the opportunity, and what does the future hold?
Matt Botkin, Vice President, Pharmacy Solutions at Medicom Health
Angelo Campano, SVP of Point of Care Marketing at Ogilvy Health
Ritesh Patel, Chief Digital Officer of Ogilvy Consulting
Stephen Silvestro, CCO of OptimizeRX
Nobody foresaw the COVID-19 pandemic, and it has thrown organizations’ 2020 planning to the wind. Many are now in reactive mode. “Our plan was to continue what worked last year, and then COVID-19 came and punched us all in the mouth,” says Ritesh Patel, Chief Digital Officer, Ogilvy Consulting. “That plan went out the window. We’ve had to figure out how to engage our customers now that we couldn’t see them in person.”
If anyone’s feeling the burden right now, it’s the IT staff at hospitals, which can make selling them technology solutions difficult. The shift to remote work while maintaining secure, HIPAA-compliant access to patient information has been demanding. According to Matt Botkin, Vice President of Pharmacy Solutions at Medicom Health, Cleveland Clinic had 3,400 telehealth visits in February. By March it jumped to over 60,000. “Those resources get diverted from somewhere,” he says.
It’s also a challenging time for pharma and life sciences sales teams who rely on their ability to visit many doctors at once and who, while in the waiting rooms, connect with hospital staff who can be just as helpful as doctors. “There’s no more dropping by someone’s desk to say hey, says Botkin. “Informal meetings are gone. Everybody’s home and everybody’s calendar is blocked out like a brick wall.” For Botkin’s team, however, the impact on their pipeline has been muted. For Medicom Health, their Rx Savings Assistant, which helps hospitals increase prescription fills by making Rx more affordable for patients, has become even more important. With 36 million Americans unemployed and tightening their belts, health spending is among the first things people cut.
The opportunity for brands to distinguish themselves on digital is enormous but complicated. In the mad rush to move online, many brands are overwhelming a few channels. According to Patel: “My fear is this: Everybody goes to one thing like email and all of a sudden every doctor gets 100 emails from pharma companies thanking him or his service with their hand out. The opportunity here is to be clever and really engage customers.”
Right now is a big time for paid media. With everyone glued to their devices, the opportunity to reach people has increased. “One of our clients doubled their media plans,” shares Angelo Campano, SVP of Point of Care Marketing at Ogilvy Health. “They’re doing twice the amount of impressions to stay visible to their clinicians, knowing that they can’t have one-on-one conversations. Their thought process has been, ‘Let’s ensure doctors are seeing our name everywhere so we stay top of mind,’ which I think is a timely and appropriate approach.”
One of our clients doubled their media plans. – Angelo Campano, Ogilvy Health
There’s also an opportunity to streamline work for healthcare providers. “We spend a lot of time on the patient journey, but not on the HCP journey, and that’s radically changing,” admits Stephen Silvestro of OptimizeRX. “We have to understand this new reality for providers and enable that journey too.”
Where some manufacturers may have hesitated in the past, they’re now being pushed to doing what their customers always wanted: personalized, account-based marketing. “There’s a lot of opportunity when it comes to what Demandbase does. There’s a lot of opportunity in doing things at the point-of-care stage that are still newer to manufacturers,” says Campano. “Many are still letting regulations prevent them from being comfortable with something new, instead of executing what their customer actually needs, which is account-based marketing. But they’re coming around—they have to.”
There’s lots of talk these days about how the pandemic has achieved seven years’ worth of digital transformation in seven weeks. According to our experts, that experience is transforming healthcare marketers’ perception of digital; it’s not as scary as it once seemed and far more effective than anticipated. Those lessons will have a lasting impact on how life sciences teams conduct business in the future.
“Honestly, I fear what this will do to sales reps after this is over because the digital tactics are bringing companies just as much as the reps did,” says Campano. “The average cost of a digital program for three months could only be $30,000 USD, and it can cover a couple of million doctors.”
What does it mean for doctors to realize they can offload a significant number of expensive in-person visits to inexpensive telemedicine without a decline in outcomes? Today, someone might put off getting care because they can’t make time for a weekday visit. But what if they can call or text their doctor? Or engage in an online support group with other patients? You have more preventative medicine at marginal cost. The consensus is that more integrated healthcare journeys, more telemedicine, and more intelligent digital marketing can make the entire healthcare system more efficient with better patient outcomes.
“People are learning you can do more with video than they thought. Can you convert every doctor-patient interaction into telemedicine? No, not really. I mean, you could, but it wouldn’t be very valuable to a lot of patients,” concedes Botkin. “But there are a number of daily interactions between a doctor and a patient that can be via video, and that makes health systems more efficient.”
The future does look bright for pharma and life sciences, and it appears to be more of the same move to digital that’s already been in progress, only quickened. Botkin affirms that, “Having all that data come together in one electronic health record, that services a full patient journey, allows those doctors to actually give the patient better treatment because they understand the full condition of the patient. “I’m excited to see what that brings, both for patients and providing better, targeted services.”