By Russ Ward (@russcward)
Do you use Yelp? It’s a popular review site for restaurants, salons, retail outlets and, oh yeah, doctors. Yelp is just one of the the latest tools that helps patients find health care professionals and share their experiences online. It joins the vast arsenal of digital tools (including Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.) consumers can use to discuss their interactions with HCPs. And I think that digital tools like these are a real opportunity for Pharma to change the way we provide value to one of our primary target audiences.
Consider this. A recent Reuters article quoted this sobering study: “IMS Health researchers found that 43 percent of drug rep visits to British doctors were canceled, 87 percent lasted less than two minutes and only one in 10 was remembered.”
I’m sure a US based study would yield similar results and no one would be surprised. Why are these results so dismal? Doctors are more harried than ever, under pressure from HMOs and other economic forces to see more and more patients every day. What physician has time to sit through a paid commercial visit in the interests of “continuing education”. And what do they get out of the visit except free samples and a pen or t-shirt (i’m not trying to belittle the important role that reps have played in our business merely playing devil’s advocate here)? From a doctor’s perspective, there just aren’t enough hours in the day for this type of session.
But here is where the opportunity lies. If doctors are so crazily busy that they can’t sit through a visit with a sales rep, when are they going to find time to build their brand? When are they going to find time to respond to comments on Yelp (heck, do they even know about Yelp?)? Or build a Facebook page? Or start a blog to reach out to their patients? Or even just tweet that they’ll be away at a conference next week?
It’s as difficult for doctors to make this happen as anyone else. But it’s also very important for doctors that they pay attention to this type of communication. We live in an age of personal branding and a doctors personal brand is his livelihood. They need to be active players in the social media space and they need help to do it.
Re-enter our Pharma sales reps. Could a smart company hire a Chris Brogan or Peter Shankman to sit down with their sales force and teach them about social media? Of course they could. Could a forward thinking company make Facebook and blog templates available to HCPs free of charge (the same way they do samples)? Of course they could. Could physicians receive “The (insert Pharma Company’s name here) Guide to Using Twitter to Build Your Practice”. Of course they could.
And what would be the net/net of these efforts. Doctors would be more successful in communicating with patients. They might be able to see real time savings by using these tools. They would feel empowered. And they would see their sales rep (and by extension the parent company) as an ally and partner in building their business rather than a time sucking nuisance. They would see their sales rep providing value and a valuable service. Most importantly, they would see their sales rep.
Like all of our efforts in this space, the waters are muddy. No one knows for sure how much sponsorship is too much for some of these offerings. And as the FDA struggles with basic social media, these types of offerings would be far ahead of any regulatory curve.
Another study I read recently stated that Pharma sales reps account for 40% of the average company’s SGA costs and each individual rep costs the company $200,000 a year. Can’t we take these expensive resources and train them to execute a new business model? Can’t we renew our sense of partnership with the HCP community and provide them with real services? Of course, we can.
Who will lead the charge? Will your company be first?