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Doctor with mask and glove

When the results of the COVID-19 pandemic hit businesses, it did not spare healthcare providers’ practices. The effects on those offices, on the roles of the healthcare sales reps that call on them, and on public health overall, will ripple outward for generations.

(This post includes data and content abridged from just one of the topics covered in our recent whitepaper, “The Aftermath: COVID-19 Insights and Recommendations: How the Pandemic Will Forever Change Pharmaceutical Sales & Marketing.”)

Stay-at-home orders came quickly, and most physicians found themselves in survival mode. According to the Washington Post, “Healthcare spending declined at an annualized rate of 18 percent in Q1 2020, according to Commerce Department data released in May. This represents the largest reduction since the government began keeping records in 1959.” HCPs on the front lines of fighting COVID-19 faced overwhelming working conditions, and some experienced cuts in hours, pay, and benefits. Conversely, other HCPs struggled with clinic closures, low patient volume, and/or a necessary transition to working remotely via telemedicine.

Moreover, those who could find the time for medical education were faced with the challenge of conferences being cancelled or shifted (with some difficulty) to virtual formats. Other in-person events designed to educate and inform physicians on new treatments disappeared too.

“Sales and marketing teams in 2021 will deal with a much different U.S. health system that was stretched way beyond capacity in 2020 and did not return to its previous shape,” said Joe Shields, President and Co-Founder, Health Accelerator, and one of the experts we interviewed.

“Many hospitals and practices will either be gone or financially unstable, and those that survive will have remade their priorities and policies on interactions with biopharma personnel.”

The new sales rep will be a concierge in an ecosystem of connected care. Access, even prior to the pandemic, had been on a steady decline – and the pandemic closed doors to nearly all reps. Most of the stakeholders we interviewed believed some level of this restricted access will continue. But 58% of doctors we surveyed also reported interest in “increased use of digital tools to interact with sales reps.”

One of our interviewees, who wished to remain anonymous, noted, “Non-personal promotion and engagement will not be an afterthought anymore. The relevance of the field force will not go away, but the balance between personal and non-personal promotion will be more equal, to match the newly formed behaviors and expectations of HCPs, patients and payers coming out of the global COVID-19 experience.”

The time for pharmaceutical companies to aggressively push hard-sell, brand-centric messages to physicians is behind us, and may not return for quite some time. Roberto Ascione, CEO of Healthware Group said, “It is imperative that pharma focuses on educating and supporting physicians on digital solutions, as well as the impact of stress, anxiety and depression on those suffering from chronic conditions (as well as physicians themselves) and offering tools to help alleviate those mental health concerns.”

In the near future, pharmaceutical manufacturers should refocus commercial marketing efforts on addressing immediate needs of the healthcare professional. Opportunities include helping HCPs support and serve their patients, focusing on long-term outcomes, and practicing transformation to become more digitally centric.

For further details, including additional research findings, expert opinions, and practical recommendations for the best ways to reach HCPs, download our recent whitepaper, “The Aftermath: COVID-19 Insights and Recommendations: How the Pandemic Will Forever Change Pharmaceutical Sales & Marketing.