In its October 2007 issue, Med Ad News profiled Pharmagistics as one of four Pharmaceutical Marketing Ventures to Watch. Part of Publicis Strategic Solutions Group, Pharmagistics (pharmagistics.com) offers pharmaceutical companies a single-source solution for direct marketing, PDMA compliance, and distribution and warehousing services. Keeping track of drug samples is Pharmagistics’ specialty. Two years later, Med Ad News senior editor Joshua Slatko caught up with Rick Keefer, president and CEO of Publicis Strategic Solutions Group (psellingsolutions.com), to get his insight into what the future holds for drug sampling.
Med Ad News: A few years ago we wrote about one of your component companies, Pharmagistics, and the technologies it had developed to support sampling. How has Pharmagistics progressed in this area over the last two years, and what is planned for the future?
Rick Keefer: Several marketplace trends have accelerated since that time, which has shaped our progression in the sampling arena over the last couple of years. 1) Regulation of sampling operations and interactions has become ever more rigorous – due to increasingly stringent sample compliance regulations and oversight. 2) The industry has experienced significant consolidation of internal resources and budget constraints – in response to the turbulent market climate. 3) Our clients have moved toward greater use of multichannel sales and marketing tactics – to more efficiently and effectively reach their key customers.
Based on these changes in our clients’ needs we have had several areas in which we have progressed since you last spoke with Pharmagistics (the sample compliance and distribution group within PSSG).
Our move to a highly integrated database platform was driven by each of the above trends. We have integrated our data management platform to seamlessly coordinate order processing, compliance, and fulfillment services. Today’s sample compliance environment requires a highly integrated platform. Consolidation impacting our clients’ internal resources has resulted in a greater need to outsource sample compliance services. And the trend toward multi-channel tactics also requires integrated systems to plan, execute, and analyze these programs.
The benefits of our newer, integrated technology platform are: multi-channel marketing requires a high degree of system integration to effectively design and analyze these programs; and sample compliance requires cutting-edge reporting capabilities. Our integrated database platform can provide clients with a physician-level and representative-level view of what is happening through various sample distribution channels to help them more efficiently manage and track for the best possible resource allocation and optimization.
This platform allows us to better support fully compliant sample distribution (with all modes of delivery) seamlessly integrated into the same validated backend system, including: field sales representatives “hand carry” sample distribution, and/or field sales representatives business reply card (BRC) delivery with direct-to-practitioner (DTP) sample distribution, and/or nonpersonal/remote DTP sample distribution programs such as teleSampling, eSampling, direct mail, and fax programs
We have also launched a robust e-sampling offering during that time frame. E-sampling is a sample distribution channel that is of high interest to prescribers, who are increasingly relying on web resources to support their busy medical practices. This Web-based sample distribution channel allows prescribers to request samples through an easy-to-use, self-service channel. Our e-sampling solution allows all sample requests to be processed in a “real-time” environment and all transactions occur in full accordance with PDMA guidelines for sample management. And of course all of our systems are fully validated and 21 Part 11 compliant. We expect e-sampling use to continue to increase based on physician Internet utilization trends and the advent of electronic medical records.
Med Ad News: Tell us about your vision of sampling as a marketing tool in 2015.
Rick Keefer: I don’t see samples “going away” in the future. The intent of sampling is one based on sound disease outcome principles. Since no single pharmaceutical product is ideal for every patient, samples are intended to give new patients a trial period on the new drug to allow the physician to assess effectiveness and tolerability in a given patient. While this intent isn’t always followed by every physician, appropriate sampling is a value to healthcare practitioners and patients.
Sampling will, however, change as our market continues to evolve. Industry continues to look at transforming every facet of our business model and samples will be part of that process.
I see several sampling trends as we move toward 2015.
Trend one is “smarter” sampling.
Bringing a more strategic approach to sampling is something I would expect to become quite standard by 2015. Sample programs are very expensive and there is a lot of inconsistency of how samples are actually used from physician to physician.
A number of companies are already providing sampling guidance to sales representatives to better manage and optimize samples being used appropriately (for new patient starts to allow an evaluation period of the new therapy by the physician and patient).
By 2015, companies will employ ever more sophisticated analytics to optimize sample distribution. Instead of fulfilling physician sample requests based solely on past prescribing habits, it will shift to a “smarter,” more complex analytic formula combining both quantitative and qualitative measures that looks at historic prescribing in addition to factors such as physician specialty, patient demographics, managed markets environment, and local market intelligence.
The ultimate objective for a strategic sampling program is to have a seamless, multi-channel, closed-loop system in place that allows companies to get samples in the hands of the right patients, at the right time, for the right reason; and then to continually assess and reassess the sampling approach and make changes as needed.
Trend two is increased use of alternative sampling channels.
We will see increased utilization of nonpersonal sampling modalities as an alternative and/or to augment field sales sample distribution such as e-sampling, tele-sampling, vouchers, and sample cards.
Vouchers, coupons, and sample cards will continue to gain momentum as new technologies expand allowing for more efficient data collection and management techniques. As the redemption rate of vouchers and coupons is not historically high compared to other modes of sampling, we see these continuing to be used as a supplement to other types of sampling methods.
Tele-sampling and e-sampling will also continue to grow. Today these sampling channels are primarily driven by marketing/brand management. In the future, tele-sampling and e-sampling will also be increasingly used by sales to augment field sales force efforts.
Tele-sampling involves an inside sales or service representative contacting the physician and/or his or her staff to facilitate the sample need, authorization, and distribution remotely. This can also be combined with a product detailing call if needed. Tele-sampling is particularly effective in support of vacant territories, “white space” areas, and non-called on healthcare professionals.
As an example, a recent multiproduct tele-sampling program for approximately 50,000 prescriber targets resulted in 65% of these prescribers receiving samples. This is significantly higher than traditional remote sampling programs (eg, letter/fax/BRC) that typically yield around 20% fulfillment rates.
With increasing utilization of the Internet by physicians and the future implementation of electronic medical records, we will also see an increase in e-sampling.
E-sampling is a Web-based sampling option that allows prescribers to request samples through a self service channel at their convenience. We do provide dynamic, e-sampling solutions that interface with our robust sample management system.
Trend three is stronger integration of sample distribution with other tactics/channels.
Increased use of closed-loop technology and data analysis will lead to stronger links with which to integrate sampling with other message delivery channels such as virtual and inside sales, e-detailing, etc.
As a more strategic sampling approach takes hold I believe we’ll also see greater integration of some other message delivery channels that are focused on the same goal of optimal disease state outcomes. For example, Clinical Health Educators (who are credentialed healthcare professionals such as nurses, diabetes educators, etc.) work with physicians and patients (with the physician’s and patient’s consent) specifically to improve disease outcomes. This is all fully HIPAA-compliant and it would be fairly easy to integrated sampling programs into this type of Clinical Health Education Program.
Trend four is increased government regulation/oversight.
I do see the potential for increasing government scrutiny in sampling (and in all areas of biopharma communications). Certainly medical associations may weigh in on this as well, but we’ll likely see the broadest changes coming from government regulation.
Given what we’ve seen to date, we can expect future regulations that require even greater transparency than we have today. Today we track sample distribution (no matter the channel) to physicians – primarily as a control to prevent sample diversion. I would not be surprised to see the government take that to the next level – assigning a dollar value to the samples distributed and tracking both quantity and value provided to prescribers. (Similar to what is now being required in medical education, where the value of food provided at a med ed event is tracked.) Because of this trend, we have invested in new technology allowing us to better meet the industry’s future requirements in this area of physician-level spend tracking.
Government may also seek greater separation between the physical sample and the sales representative. Some companies have already separated this function where the sales representative’s clear role is to educate healthcare practitioners; with samples being physically shipped to each office. A continuation of this trend – either due to government regulation or company preference – would increase the nonpersonal sampling modalities we’re already starting to see today such as tele-sampling, e-sampling, vouchers, and sampling card programs.
Med Ad News: What can ad agencies and other marketing partners do to strengthen pharma’s sampling efforts?
Rick Keefer: At Publicis Strategic Solutions Group, we recently consolidated Publicis Healthcare message delivery companies under one cohesive “management roof” to better serve our clients in today’s new marketplace. Appropriate, strategic sampling is a perfect example of why this type of seamlessly integrated multi-channel approach is necessary. Many of the enhancements we have made in our sample management offerings have been in response to our clients’ need to expand their multi-channel marketing efforts.
I feel our tools and systems strengthen pharma’s sampling efforts – and any industry partner that is involved in sampling must operate in a highly compliant environment – in today’s world that is now an essential cost of doing business. They must provide a multi-channel approach to sampling – the new biopharma environment requires a customized approach to each prescriber. Sampling distribution has expanded beyond distribution exclusively through field representatives to tele-sampling, vouchers, coupons, e-sampling, sampling cards, etc. Partners need to be able to provide a full-spectrum of sampling offerings and do so in a fully compliant manner. And they must employ cutting-edge technology – from sample accountability to e-sampling and from vouchers to tele-sampling – technology is critical. Clients require integration of their various sampling modalities and robust, timely reporting.
Med Ad News: Have you observed any examples of particularly creative, non-traditional use of sampling that have been exceptionally effective in establishing or strengthening brands? What has Publicis done in this area?
Rick Keefer: Absolutely. While we can’t discuss specific client programs, as we are bound by client confidentiality, we can give you some examples of the types of creating sampling programs we are implementing.
We are implementing many more multi-channel sampling programs over the last several years. In other words, sampling programs that incorporate a combination of tele-sampling, e-sampling, e-mail, fax, direct mail, vouchers, and copay cards all of which frequently augment field sales “hand carry” sampling efforts.
We are also seeing programs that provide assistance in determining 3rd Party/managed markets coverage during the sample trial period.
And we’re seeing voucher programs becoming more integrated into the trial/starter period. For example, during the therapy evaluation period where the patient is on sample product and once a trial is complete and determined to be successful, the patient is then immediately enrolled in a voucher program.