E-detailing Evolves

Published: Monday, May 12, 2008
E-detailing is currently being piloted, or is at least under consideration, by many pharmaceutical companies as a way to maximize sales force time, cut costs, and increase interaction with physicians. E-detailing is not a single entity, but can take many different forms, from remote live discussion with a sales rep to a purely scripted interaction with a website, or in some cases, an interactive voice-response phone line. Most e-detailing models are being tried in the US now, with each model differing in popularity and applicability among specific medical specialties; for example, primary care physicians are more easily accessed than specialists with scripted e-detailing.

The various forms

With virtual live e-detailing—a model seldom used anymore—physicians are provided with a computer that is pre-loaded with the necessary software, a webcam, and incentives. In return for which, doctors are obliged to contact the respective pharmaceutical company’s sales representatives a set number of times per month. With this approach, the timing and duration of the e-detailing session is controlled by the physician. During the e-detailing session, the physician is able to interact with the sales representative via video and audio in real time. A variant of this approach is an e-detail in which only the sales representative is viewed or only audio and data slides are shown, depending on the wishes of the physician. This type of model has been associated with providing a longer interaction with the physician—which is more cost-effective when compared to the cost and length of the traditional face-to-face call—allowing for more sales representative calls per day and an increased number of physician interactions.

As any busy physician knows, time is precious. So, when virtual live e-detailing came on the scene, many physicians were happy to participate, as the advantages outweighed the disadvantages—the time of the call was on the physician’s terms (calls were usually scheduled at the physician’s convenience with little notice, with direct calls to live, virtual representatives able to be made at any time up to midnight).  In addition, it saved canceled representative visits, as calls were scheduled at the moment the physician wanted them, rather than in advance.  Such calls also meant physicians didn’t have to take time out of their busy day to see a sales representative. For most physicians, the most convenient times to participate in this form of e-detailing were in the morning (before clinics opened), during lunch, and around 9:00pm. All was well for virtual live e-detailing, until more pharmaceutical companies began using this approach and physicians who had signed up for it were required to make calls to all the pharmaceutical sales representatives signed up to the system at some time throughout each month. This daunting task caused many physicians to withdraw from virtual live e-detailing.  Partially fi lling the void left by virtual live e-detailing is scripted e-detailing, in which the physician views a series of interactive screens, usually through an Internet or Intranet site. With no live interaction, the physician has the option to contact a representative by e-mail or telephone but is not required to do so. This model has been shown to deliver clear, well-structured messages that are fi ve-to-10 times longer than the normal face-toface sales representative call, but at a reduced cost and on the physician’s terms. Participating physicians especially like the convenience of the anytime availability of this model.

Another option for e-detailing takes advantage of portals that offer access to ready-made communities of physicians and can be used to deliver broad, sponsorship marketing messages or more product-specific ones, like traditional detailing. Potentially, physician portals can provide access to hard-to-reach physicians (eg, specialists); although, for most portals, the number of physicians who actively use that portal is usually signifi cantly less than the offi cial membership lists. Portals can usually provide online statistics that give insight into where physicians spend their time and hence, an insight into their Web habits and interests. However, these are not necessarily easy to interpret. For instance, there is no easy way to know whether the reason a physician spent 10 minutes looking at a Web page was because he was interested or because he was bored and took a break to do something else while the page was open.

The story so far

“Pure” e-detailing companies, such as Lathian Systems, are well established, with most of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies signed up as clients.  Many other marketing service companies also off er an e-detailing package. In the US, all of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies have some involvement or investment in e-detailing.  A number of e-detailing companies have a strategic alliance with physician portals, giving them potential access to large numbers of professionals. Aside from overall development of the Internet in everyday life, there are three direct drivers behind the growth of e-detailing:

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