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March 26, 2020

Digital Technologies are Keeping Health Professionals Current

Public health authorities and local governments ask us to socially distance ourselves from each other; that’s critically important to fight COVID-19. While we are physically apart, technologies that we have possessed for many years are now being used to their fullest potential, making it possible for us to be together, personally and virtually, even when we’re not under the same roof.

The global health crisis is also causing a re-examination of many aspects of business structure. A shift in marketing resources has been going on for quite some time, and while a pandemic isn’t the reason anyone wanted to expedite it, it is nonetheless a catalyst for many to take a new stance. In the long run, companies that can adapt to a new environment will be better positioned for the future.

Life science and pharmaceutical companies have long grappled with change when it comes to the organization and size of their field teams. They equipped their frontline ambassadors with laptops and iPads. They developed digital selling tools to underscore “mechanism of action,” yet have moved slowly to embrace digital sales calls. Perhaps they were waiting for someone else to go first or took the mindset of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Now, the need to change is going to have a lasting impact on how they build relationships.

For years, the life science industry has tried to measure and assess true return on investment in large field forces. As more and more provider institutions blocked industry field representatives from crossing their thresholds, company innovators sought alternative paths to bring healthcare professionals up-to-speed on the proper, effective use of medical devices and therapies. Likewise, for physicians seeking information on products they planned to use with their patients, the waiting room where their field representative was once sitting has now disappeared.

On the heels of “shelter in place” orders, response to COVID-19 is accelerating technology adoption and application even as it keeps people socially distant. Our communal commitment to “flatten the curve” of new coronavirus cases is resulting in field representatives leaving their cars parked in the garage and firing up their laptops to connect with their customer instead. Providers’ urgent need to receive vital health information and technology is enabling the next challenge: the virtual physician-field force interaction.

In the COVID-19 environment, biopharma, life sciences and other health disciplines are moving to personal, digital selling. It’s essential that this shift continues; people with health issues unrelated to COVID-19 still have urgent needs. If you face risk of stroke, have an infection that requires surgery or unhealed wounds that could result in amputation, those are not elective procedures.

Doctors rely on medical sales representatives, who are trained for their roles and often are medical professionals ranging from nurse practitioners to research assistants to pharmacists, for much more than delivering samples. Most health professionals seek opinions from their highly trained visitors, who also serve as conduits to breaking medical data, as well as a source of expertise on the therapies, medicines, devices and other technologies that they represent. In our current reality, these technology-driven collaborations have become a way to do more than conduct and optimize business: they are a way to help sustain life.

With this in mind, digital technology doesn’t just enable remote selling; it allows ideas that people have collaborated on in the service of health to be shared. As companies embrace this change, they are looking for ideas about best practice in a remote environment. Here are some tips to consider:

  1. Don’t wait! Start now. Looking at major noncommunicable diseases, the totality of deaths from heart conditions, cancer and other illnesses continues to take priority. Companies who champion the customers’ ability to access new clinical information by way of digital platforms now will be ahead of the curve later. These tools and platforms are already being used by other industries to strengthen customer interactions – health is now being pushed into the high-tech sales game. Integration is a heavy lift, but it is far easier to be proactive than to be forced to play catch-up when adopting new technologies.
  2. Diseases aren’t taking a vacation; science can’t either, though it may need to reconfigure. From clinical trials to medical conferences, we see the rise of connections powered by integrated communications platforms – shifting us from in-person exchanges to personal, yet virtual, exchanges. Many of the events that we thought couldn’t change just two weeks ago have shifted to meet these needs. Adobe has taken their largest conference of the year online and the 2020 Olympics are going to take place in 2021. Mountains are easier to move than we thought.
  3. Exposure to benefits will be accelerated. A large population will be exposed to the benefits of digital care, very quickly. It’s already happening, though it may not be taking place in the way that proponents would have wanted/expected. COVID-19 is driving patients to adopt and expect access to digital care, and this shift will continue to accelerate. The convenience and speed of these platforms will be experienced by a far greater portion of the public, many of whom will demand those benefits moving forward. The physician-company representative experience and connections with clinical staff may be lagging indicators, but they aren’t far behind.
  4. Digital must be the same quality as in-person interaction. Digital interaction is not the same as face-to-face, but neither is it the “wild west” of selling. You don’t have free rein to say anything you want. Sales representatives and marketeers need to continue to abide by the standards of industry and regulation. Safeguards must be in place, even if your meetings aren’t in the same place. Many other highly regulated industries utilize these technologies and have been for years. The regulations change and evolve to accommodate them.
  5. Don’t be reactive – be positively productive. This crisis may and likely will go on for several months. We literally have no time for negativity and must confront our new reality with calm, focused presence of mind in order to continue in our common mission to help those who need to be healed. It is a good time to focus on what is next for our country, our industries and ourselves. Setting your organization up for the future is time very well spent for both your organization and the people you help.

This isn’t all a crisis exercise, there actually is much to gain. Better-equipped sales and field teams can serve as liaisons to clinicians’ needs in new ways. Marketing budgets can be quickly optimized to deliver better returns. The adaptation of health companies will provide new avenues for service delivery. Customer care and experience will become differentiators in a remote environment. Costs can be reduced. There may be ancillary benefits as well, such as a reduced carbon footprint and new opportunities to diversify the workforce.

Digital communication is the bridge from now to a near future in which the COVID-19 crisis has passed. But when this storm subsides, we won’t return to “normal;” the definition of “normal” has forever changed. In that near future, health professionals will remain the healers, but they will increasingly rely on digital platforms in order to connect and treat their patients. For those healthcare teams willing and dedicated to making that shift, the possibilities for those waiting to be healed will be just as close and personal as their laptop screens.

 

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