Public safety is the world’s singular goal as mandatory quarantines, shelter-in-place orders, travel restrictions, and mandatory work-from-home policies go into effect to curb the spread of COVID-19. In response, many biopharmaceutical companies are shifting how they work: Amarin withdrew part of its field force, while Amgen and Merck have instructed their sales teams to halt all in-person meetings with physicians and hospitals.

At the same time, every industry is doing its best to keep day-to-day business operations going as much as possible. In life sciences, this means keeping life sciences and pharmaceutical companies connected with the healthcare professionals delivering care to patients.

Physical access has been a challenge for the life sciences industry as the number of accessible prescribers in the U.S. has declined to an estimated 47 percent in recent years. To address the continuing decline in HCP access, the industry has made significant progress in accelerating its use of digital channels to complement in-person visits. The growing pandemic has now made the use of digital channels a necessity to keep doctors informed on the latest treatment options for their patients in any therapeutic area. Just in a matter of weeks, there’s been an abrupt shift to virtual HCP engagement among many pharmaceutical customers. See the figure for a snapshot comparing the engagement landscape from January 2020 to March 2020, where face-to-face calls between Veeva customers’ field reps and HCPs dropped in half while digital channels for engagement have all risen with the number of online meetings rising 2,347 percent – and lasting at least 16 minutes.

There is now a sense of urgency to accelerate digital transformation efforts and use these new ways to connect with HCPs. Digital engagement – remote video, email, and text messaging – can help ensure doctors get the information they need to deliver high-quality care as face-to-face interactions are limited or non-existent in the short term. Longer term, digital will become an even more important and useful component to companies’ engagement strategies.

Online meetings and virtual events keep the lines of communication open

Amid the growing pandemic, patients with acute and chronic illnesses will continue to need regular care. Pharmaceutical reps and medical professionals remain an important conduit for doctors needing information on the latest research and medicines.

This is especially true for oncologists and cancer treatment. More than two-thirds of surveyed oncologists said pharmaceutical sales representatives play an important role in helping them learn about new drugs and 44 percent said reps rank as one of the most valued sources of information.

“Specialty therapeutic areas that once only had one or two possible treatments may today have a dozen or more and new therapies continue to become more specialized, creating an environment where healthcare providers need more data and a deeper understanding of all treatment options to select the best therapy for each patient,” notes Eli Phillips, Jr., VP of insights and engagement at Cardinal Health Specialty Solutions.

New digital engagement technologies will play a vital role in keeping the lines of communication open between the industry and doctors. In fact, many pharmaceutical companies are already benefiting from industry-specific technologies that enable both compliant and impactful digital interactions.

For instance, users report significantly longer HCP engagement times through online meetings which last seven to eight times longer than in-person visits. For specialists like oncologists, video calls last an average of 30 minutes at a time they prefer. This additional time can be used to provide valuable content and assist physicians in making more accurate determinations about a course of treatment, which can translate into better patient care.

Virtual events are also an effective substitution for traditional lunch-and-learns, invite-only seminars, and industry conferences. They offer alternative channels to share information, develop relationships, and build credibility.

For example, with digital lunch-and-learns, an entire office can gather in a conference room to hear the latest information from a life sciences field rep using video. With screen-sharing functionality, field teams can present the same information as they would in person. Some additional long-term advantages include reduced travel expenses – the typical cost of a face-to-face visit is six-times higher than the average monthly cost to license a video engagement platform – and more time with patients.

Invite-only seminars, a standard among specialists, can be similarly structured, but using multiple locations to conduct one-to-many group meeting. The pharmaceutical rep acting as the host can conduct the seminar just as they would if all participants were in the same room, including the potential of answering questions in real-time or pointing the attendees to the process for capturing medical information requests.

Even larger, multi-day conferences can become online summits, with each day’s agenda published in advance and registration options that include all-access passes, one-day passes, or even lifetime replay access to the content after the completion of the summit. At the designated time of the session, instead of attendees pouring into a conference room, they simply click a link on their computer to participate in the meeting with the presenter and other attendees.

Establish a new commercial operating model for business continuity

Most life sciences companies are somewhere on the path to digital transformation, but now there is a sense of urgency. Even as there has been tremendous digital progress industrywide, the pace of progress has been gradual and measured. As the impact of COVID-19 on business spreads, it’s clear that there’s still more work to be done. Post-crisis, expect digital transformation initiatives to shift into hyperdrive so the industry is better prepared to handle disruptions to the business continuity. medadnews

Andy Fuchs is VP of commercial strategy at Veeva Systems. Veeva is providing free licenses of Veeva CRM Engage to customers affected by coronavirus so field teams can meet with doctors virtually and continue delivering patient care. More than 200,000 reps across dozens of companies have started using the technology since the program was announced with thousands more being added every day. For more information, email [email protected].