An extensive study carried out by Frost & Sullivan has revealed the tremendous potential for e-Detailing technology in Australia. E-Detailing is the latest approach, especially in the United States and Europe, for promoting pharmaceutical products among healthcare professionals. To unravel the immense potential of e-Detailing in the Australian market, Frost & Sullivan interviewed physicians to gauge their perceptions about the pharmaceuticals market in the country with a special emphasis on their views on current sales and promotional activities.
E-Detailing is likely to be the first step toward a network-oriented approach to product promotions in the healthcare industry.
Electronic detailing (e-Detailing) as a concept was first introduced in the United States and is now available across Europe with major pharmaceutical companies offering e-Detailing technology. Increased usage of the Internet by physicians and low satisfaction levels with information received from medical representatives gives a hint of the first-mover advantages available in Australia.
Prime Prospects in the Value Chain: Physicians
There are about 19,700 general practitioners in Australia comprising the highest percentage among medical practitioners, followed by obstetricians and general surgeons. Among all the healthcare professionals, general practitioners and general surgeons are likely to be the prime prospects for e-Detailing as the number and complexity of medicines they prescribe is higher than by any other category. Also, the variety of patients this category has to treat is much wider. This leads to a continuous thirst for the latest medicine and information.
Challenges Facing E-Detailing
Figure 1-1 represents the challenges facing e-Detailing technology in Australia.
Unawareness of e-Detailing as a Source of Information among Physicians
This study revealed the surprising fact that though physicians are Internet savvy most of them are not aware of `e-Detailing’ as a means of product information. Most physicians use search engines to get relevant information. However, they often end up with a vast amount of unnecessary information from which they have to select useful and precise data.
Promotion of the concept of e-Detailing will be the prime concern of the e-Detailing industry. This can be done by organizing seminars, conferences, and most efficiently through medical representatives themselves. Also, the Internet can be used to promote e-Detailing, by, for example, placing pop-up advertisements on popular search engines/web sites for healthcare-related information.
Need to Avoid the Negative Impact of Low Satisfaction Level Over Product Information from Current Sources of e-Detailing
Product details can be viewed from different angles such as product information, clinical specification, supporting literature, and the adverse reactions. Frost & Sullivan has identified that the information expected by the physicians from the sales representative plays a decisive role in the prescription of the drugs. Sales representative must be able to provide information on the adverse reactions as well as the clinical specifications of a product. The importance of supporting literature, however, varies from one physician to another, as most rely on medical journals and books for this information. The main reason for physicians disregarding supporting literature (brochures provided by pharmaceutical companies) is the biased information they contain.
Figure 1-2 represents the importance of product information expected by physicians from sales/medical representatives.
Chart 1.1 represents the importance of product information expected by physicians from sales/medical representatives.
After identifying the physicians’ expectations on product information, Frost & Sullivan has moved further to find out the physicians’ satisfaction levels on the product information received from medical representatives.
Figure 1-3 represents the satisfaction levels of the product information that physicians receive from sales representatives.
Chart 1.2 represents the satisfaction levels of the product information that physicians receive from sales representatives.
An extensive study on the expectations and actual satisfaction levels shows that the physicians are currently not satisfied with the overall product information being provided to them by sales representatives.
Reduction in Face-to-face Interaction with Sales/Medical Representatives
There is a possibility of reduction in face-to-face interaction with sales/medical representatives after the introduction of e-Detailing. During a face-to-face interaction, the direct response of a physician toward the particular brand or medicine can be studied. To ensure that this mode of getting information about a physician’s attitude to a brand or medicine is not lost, representative visits should still retain their primary role and should nurture e-Detailing to make it a strong promotional tool for the future.
Market Drivers: Figure 1-4 represents the market drivers for e-Detailing in Australia.
Lack of Effectiveness and Increasing Costs of Sales Representatives Calls for An Efficient Supportive Method to Promote Pharmaceutical Products
A major portion of a sales representative’s time is consumed in commuting from one physician to another, trying to wedge an appointment in the physician’s already tight schedule, and cooling his heels in the reception room before being granted a few minutes to detail the concerned product. This affects the efficiency and cost effectiveness of the medical representatives in achieving their targets. Therefore, there is a need for a faster and cost-effective method of detailing that can act as an additional/supportive tool to the traditional promoting methods.
Meeting with sales representatives have only a 2.0 percent weightage of the physicians activities. This illustrates the degree to which a sales representative has to compete for the physicians’ time and attention to promote and provide relevant product information.
Chart 1.3 depicts the time spent on different activities by physicians.
High Degree of Connectivity and Acceptance of the Internet by Physicians Prompts the Industry to Venture in to Promotion through Electronic Media
Frost & Sullivan estimates that more than 66.0 percent of physicians in Australia use the Internet as a source of information. This number continues to increase because of the convenience 24-hour accessibility of the Net. It has been estimated that physicians in Australia spend two-and-a-half hours per week on the Internet, on an average, to get relevant information on medicines and therapies. The pharmaceutical industry can utilize this time to promote its products.
Market Restraints: Figure 1-5 represents the market restraints for e-Detailing in Australia.
Biased Information Delivered By The Pharmaceutical Industry Could Deter Physicians From Using E-Detailing
There is an overall impression among the physicians that the product information provided by medical representatives is biased. Physicians, therefore, spend more time reading medical journals and magazines for product information. Herein lies the need for an alternative source that will be able to provide information that is at par or better in terms of being unbiased, accurate, and cost effective than medical journals.
Some physicians are of the opinion that though e-Detailing is likely to be used in future for product promotions, the information it provides is likely to be biased as the technology is expected to be sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry. Pharmaceutical companies/sponsors should keep this point under consideration, as the success of e-Detailing in the introductory phase will largely depend on this factor.
Technical Barriers Could Slow Down the Spread of e-Detailing
Technical barriers such as the non-availability of computer hardware or software are of prime importance in the initial phase of e-Detailing. Internet connectivity and speed of the software will also play important roles as the prospects of e-Detailing are based on easy availability and speediness of the required information.
Physicians’ Opinion about Sales/Medical Representatives
Physicians’ opinion of medical/sales representatives is of paramount importance as the latter form the major proportion of sales promotional activities. All physicians agreed that most sales representatives are likely to have at least one year’s prior industry experience. Also, 82.0 percent of the physicians are of the opinion that sales representatives are usually responsible for sales of more than one product category.
Meanwhile, 39.0 percent of the physicians argue that not all sales representative visits / meetings with the physicians bring value-added information to physicians. This implies that the information presented to the physician during the short interaction is not of much value. This is because the information is presented in a wrong format and at the wrong time.
Figure 1-6 represents physicians’ opinion about sales/medical representative.
Chart 1.4 represents physicians’ opinion about sales personnel of the pharmaceuticals industry.
Different Sources of Information Useful in Making the Prescription Decision
An intensive study of the sources of information physicians use to help decide on the prescription has shed light on the various media or channels of communication. The most common sources are association journals, product brochures, sales representative meetings, CME meetings, colleague’s suggestion, and the Internet. Each channel has its pros and cons. However, the traditional channels are preferred because the physicians are used to them. Also, until the last decade, the pharmaceuticals industry too had no alternative to replace them with. The Internet is a new, efficient, and unbiased source of information for physicians. Yet, sources of information such as e-Detailing, video conferencing, call centers, and PDA are still lagging behind in physicians’ perception. Unbiased sources of information top physicians’ most preferred list of sources.
Figure 1-7 represents the utility of major sources of information to physicians.
Note: All figures are rounded. Source: Frost & Sullivan
Chart 1.5 represents utility of major sources of information by physicians.
Use of Internet as a Source of Information by Physicians
The Internet has become an efficient and reliable source of information for medical practitioners in the United States and Europe and is on its way to becoming the same in Australia as well. A study shows that about 9.0 percent of physicians in Australia use the Internet regularly (2.5 hours /week) for obtaining medical information. This ensures that the physician can look for information at his convenience either during practice hours or at home. The Internet also gives basic information quickly that is unbiased.
On the other hand, physicians lack the time to see medical representatives. Around 64.0 percent of the appointments are between 12 pm and 2 pm, which is generally the lunch and post-lunch session for physicians. Another 24.0 percent of appointments are between 8 am and 9am, just before the opening of the OPD (Out patient Department) or when patient rush is minimal. It is very difficult or almost impossible for a medical representative to get an appointment in the afternoon or evening session when the inflow of patients is greater. This time restriction makes the sales system inefficient in terms of communication with and promotion of medicines to physicians.
Some of the advantages of the Internet as a medium for the promotion of medicines are listed below:
Can be explored at any time as per convenience
The main disadvantage of this media is that the information is not live. Besides, there is a vast amount of information, all of which is not necessarily useful from the physician’s point of view. To get the precise information, the physician has to waste a lot of time in reading and scrolling the Internet pages.
Some of the disadvantages of the Internet are listed below:
Lack of social interaction (Face-to-face) with sales representatives
Imprecise information/ information overload
Figure 1-8 represents use of the Internet by physicians as a source of information.
Note: All figures are rounded. Source: Frost & Sullivan
Figure 1-8 illustrates that physicians not only use the Internet during the busy practice hours, but also in the non-practice hours. This is an added advantage for product promotion via electronic media.
Major Findings and Recommendations
Chart 1.6 represents the major findings regarding physicians’ perspective.
Chart 1.7 represents the scope of e-Detailing.
Even though the physicians’ satisfaction level with the information obtained from sales/medical representatives is not high, there is a traditional bond or a relationship between a physician and the representatives because of face-to-face interaction. It not advisable to replace the current communication system by e-Detailing. Rather, e-Detailing should be used as a support system that will facilitate the traditional methods of communication.
Though physicians are comfortable with the traditional communication methods, there are large gaps between the actual delivery by the industry, the expectation of the physician, and the satisfaction level. The information given by the medical representative is mostly biased and physicians are waiting for a system that can provide accurate, speedy, and unbiased information.
E-Detailing versus Stages of Life Cycle of a Product
Physicians devote more time over the detailing of new products as compared to old and established ones. E-Detailing is likely to be the most appropriate promotional tool for a new product about which not much is known to physicians.
E-Detailing versus Product Category
It is very important to select the product category for e-Detailing. Products that require a variety of information such as clinical specification, pharmacology, indications, contraindication, precautions, adverse reactions, dosage and administration, compatibility with other fluids, overdosage, and storage, which are very difficult to communicate to a physician in a short time, should be the prime prospects for e-Detailing.
Promotion of e-Detailing
Most physicians are unaware of e-Detailing as a tool for the promotion of pharmaceutical product. Therefore, major steps have to be taken to promote and build awareness of e-Detailing. This can be done efficiently through the current sales/ medical representative force. Also seminars, conferences, and incentive schemes to physicians are likely to play an important role in creating awareness and will help attract the attention of physicians.
Chart 1.8 represents possible ways of promoting e-Detailing.
Compared to traditional face-to-face representative calls with the physicians, e-Detailing is unquestionably an advanced technology. E-Detailing can also provide a solution for physicians trying to incorporate product information in between their daily hectic schedules. Physicians can now have easy access to information at their convenience. Consequently, they can devote more time and attention to marketing presentations when compared to the earlier 10 to 15-minute rushed sessions with sales representatives.
To conclude on an interesting note, this study revealed that though physicians were ready to adopt new electronic media for detailing, they would like medical representative to remain a part and parcel of promotional activities.