E-Detailing – selling to physicians anytime anywhere

Sales and marketing costs represent the single greatest expenditure for pharmaceutical companies today, and this diminishing return on this investment is a cause for concern. Detailing is the only way in which the medical representatives reach their consumer base and inform them about their company products. To revolutionise this aspect of detailing has come into picture e-detailing.

Putting it simply, e-detailing is the digital equivalent of a medical representative’s visit, using Internet-enabled technology in the product detailing process to supplement and reinforce other offline investments. E-detailing uses the Internet to promote products among medical professionals.

E-detailing solutions vary in interactivity from those that provide static product information online to those that require doctors to go through interactive product materials online to those which involves the doctors in a ’face-to-face’ video detail via the computer.

E-detailing has come into prominence due to various reasons – The healthcare professionals today are busier than ever, not only do they have more patients to see but the patients are also more educated and well aware.

Physicians’ need for medical information, particularly that around pharmaceutical products and services, is greater than ever yet they have less time available to see medical representatives (MR) who they so often rely on for this information. Hence e-detailing seems to be a feasible option for physicians who can avail information anytime.

The ubiquitous nature of internet, in theory, provides access anytime, anyplace and anywhere. This means that the busy healthcare professional can receive information whenever they want and that too in the comfort of their own home when they are far more likely to be receptive to it. Thus, the potential of e-detailing becomes clear.

On the other side of the coin, the pharmaceutical industry is becoming a more and more competitive place, with large number of companies trying to promote more products to a consumer base that has less time to deal with them.

Medical representatives visit physicians to provide product information and to campaign for their products so that the doctors will prescribe their products to the patients. Though detailing is very effective in increasing sales, face-to-face interactions are very expensive. Medical representatives spend considerable time just traveling from one physician’s office to the next, spending only a fraction of their time on the actual sales process.

Physicians often view detailing as a distraction – it provides much needed product information, but medical representatives visits during office hours interrupt them in their work and intrude on the patient-care time. The e-detailing products, on the other hand, use Web-based, self-service concepts to provide a low-cost option for detailing to the pharmaceutical companies. It also allows physicians to pull information as they need it rather than information being pushed onto them by the sales reps.

E-detailing applications are now emerging across the world. The market is still very fragmented with many different vendors, mostly small and private companies taking various approaches to address the ultimate goal of providing a cost-effective solution for product detailing.

Certain e-detailing products may use a 5 minute product educational program to the physicians on behalf of pharmaceutical companies. The companies can also offer incentives (cash/gifts) to the physicians for participating in their programs. These services are available 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Pharmaceutical companies can also perform user surveys to measure the effectiveness of their e-detailing programs, as well as to offer awards to increase participation from physicians.

A few e-detailing products also provide sample ordering services to physicians. Pharmaceutical companies can also use e-mail campaigns and then present personalized, interactive product presentations online. Physicians can also use the solution to experience live, two-way interaction with MR’s of the pharmaceutical companies. In addition, physicians can access medical references and latest medical information.

Though e-detailing provides cost effectiveness we cannot forget the personalised touch which face-to-face product detailing offers. Hence, it is best for pharmaceutical companies to provide a mixed blend of face-to-face detailing and e-detailing. They should try to increase e-detailing promotions but at the same time not completely eliminate face to face detailing.

E-detailing trends are picking up in USA as well as Europe pre-dominantly; India still has a far way to go. Average IT spending by Indian pharmaceutical companies is far less than their US counter parts. In terms of marketing and sales most of the Indian pharmaceutical companies spend money on ‘‘Sales Force Automation’’ software and e-detailing is not currently on their agenda.

But the fact also remains that the medical professionals in India are now becoming tech savvy. They now surf the internet for latest medical news but we are still a way away from total net suaveness from our healthcare professionals. But we can’t ignore the fact that Indian pharmaceutical companies today compete across the global markets, they have made their presence felt across the globe. E-detailing is a trend which will definitely pick up in India sooner or later. Top Indian pharmaceutical companies can surely be proactive and think about investing in this.

E-detailing has thus seen a very interesting journey. It started with a huge hype of being a killer e-business application for today’s pharmaceutical industry but faced somewhat muted success. But now e-detailing models are finally picking up in demands by pharmaceutical companies and are fulfilling the initial hope and promise.

The writer is business analyst, Mphasis, Mumbai