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The Tech Doctor: From In-Person to Online


The days of “detailer” visits may be ending. As physicians shift rapidly to the Internet for clinical and professional information, pharma companies are following suit.

Often pegged as IT averse, an increasing number of physicians are going paperless to stay up-to-date on the latest clinical advances within their specialties.

So says Mark Bard, president of the New York-based Manhattan Research Group, a healthcare market research and services firm that conducts an annual survey of physicians on their adoption of emerging information technologies.

“The most visible shifts from offline to online are the following: professional journals, conferences, and accessing clinical news,” Bard says.

“In fact, more physicians get their clinical news online today more than they do from offline sources.”

The Manhattan Research Group’s most recent survey reports that the number of physicians who say that technology is vital to their practice surged from 114,000 in 2002 to 488,000 in 2007.

Pharmaceutical companies have taken notice of this trend, and they are increasingly exploiting their online presence to complement and reinforce the personal representative visits they have traditionally used to educate physicians about their new product offerings.

“Many of these [pharmaceutical] programs are purely promotional in nature, but increasingly we are seeing programs being developed that truly desire to establish a respectful online relationship with the physician,” says Jon Sawyer, vice president of integrated marketing services at Closerlook, a Chicago-based marketing and communications firm whose clients include pharmaceutical companies.

Closerlook’s programs help pharmaceutical companies focus on physicians’ specific areas of interest and then prioritize those interests when physicians visit their Web sites. “The content is aimed at providing physicians with the essential clinical and product information they need to enhance patient care,” says Sawyer.

Online, physicians can access company-provided case studies, product safety information, videos, and more. Pharmaceutical firms point out that physicians can log onto their sites whenever they have time for research, so their time spent online doesn’t interfere with patient appointments. Physicians can also e-mail companies to inquire about a drug, request samples, or ask that a representative visit their practice.

Pharmaceutical companies say that such convenient, value-added services benefit clinicians by helping them build virtual two-way online relationships with companies with which they may not otherwise have time to interact. The pharma companies opting for this method of physician contact say they have significantly reduced the number of sales reps they send to practice offices; typically, these companies say they make personal visits to the top 20 percent of their prescribers who indicate they have time to visit with sales representatives.

Your Tech Doc Q&As

QShould I provide feedback to pharma companies about their electronic channels of communication available to providers?
A Do let them know what you think and what you would like to see from them. The development of electronic relationship marketing evolves through a give-and-take approach. If you do your part, smart companies will do theirs and develop content that is most relevant to your needs.

Do you have a question for the Tech Doctor?

E-mail it to editor@physicianspractice.com.

Susan Kreimer is a New York-based freelance medical and business writer. She can be reached via editor@physicianspractice.com.

This article originally appeared in the May 2008 issue of Physicians Practice.

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