Commentary--Medical sales reps know the scenario: It's a typical, busy day in the doctor's office, and—as is increasingly the case—there's a roadblock. The office nurse suggests that today is not a good day for the doctor to receive details.
But then the rep strikes up a conversation with the nurse and starts a demonstration of a new medical-software program on a handheld device or PDA. "This program will be an excellent resource for the doctor," he explains. Ninety seconds into the demonstration, the nurse says, "Stop and come with me. The doctor will want to see this." Thirty minutes later, the doctor turns to the nurse and says, "Load the program onto my PDA so we can use this."
With medical software that can easily be loaded onto PDAs and smartphones in high demand, pharma companies are arming their reps with a valuable new tool. Not only are these software programs medically relevant for doctors, they also are customizable, which means pharmaceutical companies can brand each piece of software to match their own identities. Above all, though, give-away software programs encourage physicians—by trading value for value—to find the time to accept an office visit or participate in an e-detailing program or Webinar.
In use and in demand
Doctors have been using PDAs for years. But the number of physicians who consider the devices an integral part of patient care—rather than just a personal organizing tool—has skyrocketed as of late. According to Manhattan Research, PDA use has grown 300 percent since 2004. Moreover, use of these devices has expanded outside the physician's office to a system-wide level. Hospitals and educational institutions are deploying and supporting the use of handheld software by doctors, residents, nurses, medical students, and instructors.
In a survey of 2,800 medical professionals conducted by Skyscape, a majority of medical professionals said they're providing better and more efficient patient care as a result of using handheld units:
• 84 percent reported a decrease of potential medical errors
• 88 percent said they increased efficiencies in their practice
• 72 percent reported being able to provide more care in less time
• 70 percent of medical professionals called PDAs an important or critical tool.
PDA use among medical professionals is increasing as portable Internet access, e-medical records, and e-prescribing become available on handheld devices. Doctors now can manage an office full of records while on the road or from their homes.
Overcoming sales-rep fatigue
Better incentives, such as handheld decision-support technology, may help reinvigorate physician interest around a mature drug, as well as the sales effort that's promoting that brand.
According to recent surveys, pharmaceutical sales reps that offered physicians free medical software reported an increase in their detailing time, improved relationships with physicians, and a boost in overall productivity.
Reps reported the PDA-based strategies delivered more physician contacts:
• 58 percent of participants said they gained five or more extra contacts by offering doctors free software.
• 89 percent gained three or more extra contacts.
Reps also reported improved access to doctors who previously restricted contact.
• 82 percent saw between one and three extra physicians who had previously restricted access beforehand
• 42 percent gained access to three or more physicians who had previously restricted access
• 45 percent had subsequent meetings after the initial visit.
And reps experienced improved detail time:
• 69 percent got an additional five minutes or more with doctors
• 33 percent saw an increase in detail time of 10 minutes or more.
In addition, 70 percent of field reps said they want additional PDA-based resources for physicians in the future.
Combining useful disease information with brand identity, PDAs can be used for much more than just data storage. For example, one mobile reference program was built as a comprehensive PDA portal that includes clinical studies, reference material, a dosing calculator, and patient management information. The program, branded to reflect the pharmaceutical company offering it, is provided to physicians on a CD-ROM that can be downloaded onto their personal, handheld device.
The PDA medical-reference software includes the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) Staging Handbook, indications and dosing information, clinical data supporting the efficacy of the cancer drug, patient-management information with a dosing calculator, patient side-effects management, and educational and safety information.
Another unique marketing feature is the AJCC TNM Staging Calculator, which flashes a note on the PDA screen stating that a patient might be a candidate for a particular cancer drug. Most importantly, this customized in-context messaging is done without affecting the integrity of the trusted AJCC Cancer Staging Handbook.
The software was personalized and branded for the pharmaceutical firm, becoming part of the company's promotional program. The final product is a tool that serves not just as a physician resource, but also as a cancer treatment tool.
The solution also provided opportunities for reps to make repeat or follow-up visits to offer additional information, updates, or other related material to refresh older—but still relevant—information on the company's cancer drug. This, in turn, kept doctors interested and produced additional questions—and free time.
Access equals more quality time
PDA-based incentive programs range from customizable PDA solutions, integrated with trusted medical references, to the latest editions of valued medical reference material. Such incentive programs are delivering positive results across the board on a number of key success indicators, including more access to physicians. In addition, the solutions are providing physicians with valuable information and tools at the point of care, while continuing to serve as a "silent salesperson" long after the rep has gone.
John Ryder is vice president of Skyscape. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.