Ways to reach doctors

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For years, pharmaceutical and healthcare reps have flooded physicians' offices with product samples, information sheets and branded office supplies, hoping to increase sales and prescription rates. But the rep ranks are growing smaller, thanks to budget cutbacks and advances in technology, which make novelty and creativity more important than ever. Some effective campaigns even eliminate reps altogether, marketing directly to doctors via mail, e-mail and Web sites.

“Our physicians are online and using many resources to access records, so everything has become faster-paced,” says Jennifer George, senior product manager at ArthroCare, a company that develops, manufactures and markets medical devices. “In order to be efficient and catch [doctors'] attention in the limited time you have, your creative has to be spot-on. Your technique has to go way beyond dropping off a pamphlet.”

Marketing drugs and devices to physicians is already a difficult task, requiring awareness of regulations from what information can be passed along to how data can be displayed. Added challenges include doctors' busy schedules and plenty of competition. Then, there's the creative test.

“Creative agencies have been a lot better at getting physicians to stop in a busy hallway and pay attention,” says Marita Gomez, VP at Cushman/Amberg Communications. “Now, many sales reps find that if you make it too glitzy, it actually turns [physicians] off.”

Technology can create solutions that offer novelty, flexibility and, in some cases, measurable results. Tablet PCs allow reps to carry large amounts of information with them, customize a presentation according to a physician's questions and collect data about preferences. Similarly, companies such as ArthroCare upload video clips to PDAs and cell phones to demonstrate medical techniques. Because this sales technique is not yet widely practiced and clips are short, it has proven to be successful.

More widely used is e-detailing, in which busy doctors peruse product information in their own time through e-mail or on Web sites. Software tracks visited pages and logs the time a doctor spent with the information. Physicians can also request additional information and samples online.

Julian Parreño, SVP of pharmaceutical markets for Harte-Hanks, says e-detailing can be combined with direct marketing for a multi-pronged approach.

“We will target high-prescribing physicians with a creative mail campaign featuring something intrusive — such as a tube, box or talking mailer — as well a response device to find out what kinds of products he or she likes to prescribe and why,” Parreño says, adding that all the information is saved in a database. “Then, an e-mail campaign follows, along with a phone call to confirm they received the samples. Based on what we learn, we personalize communications.”

Of course, different campaigns work for different clients. Parreño warns that “there is no magic formula or secret recipe.” Still, despite restrictions and challenges, it is an exciting time to be a healthcare marketer.

“If we move back in time 10 years ago, the main means of communication was just data sheets, tech guides and faxes,” George points out. “Today we've got so much more going on.”

 

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