Express Pharma

Why is a romance burgeoning between pharma and telehealth? 

An analysis of how these growing alliances can enable the pharma sector to seek more effective ways to reach out and communicate with prescribers and KoLs

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Pharma marketing is an area where one-on-one interactions reigned before the pandemic. But, as the coronavirus outbreak severely curtailed physical interactions, almost overnight, it became essential for the pharma industry to embrace newer ways and approaches to communicate with its key audiences – prescribers and patients. 

So, as pharma marketers redraw their plans to cope with the new normal, we are witnessing a burgeoning romance between pharma players and telehealth and/or physician-only platforms. 

Express Pharma approached pharma players, telehealth platforms and industry observers to understand the causes and implications of this development. What we found is that these alliances signal paradigm shifts in pharma marketing such as: 

Changing behavioural patterns

Traditional models of marketing are getting replaced by newer ones supported by digital technologies. But, what’s interesting is that this trend is likely to continue long after the pandemic subsides.

A report released in early June by Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA) and Boston Consulting Group (BCG), highlighted how imperative it is for pharma and healthcare companies to engage with prescribers through digital avenues. The report also revealed that “with restricted access becoming the new normal, 70 per cent prescribers are willing to continue engaging with healthcare companies through digital mediums and 60 per cent prescribers are inclined to continue virtual interactions with salespersons.” 

Stakeholders, partners and observers of the pharma industry corroborate these findings. 

Sudarshan Jain, Secretary-General – Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance, points out, “COVID-19 has impacted the traditional way of doing business and we are likely to see an increase in the emergence of technology platforms.” 

Sharad Tyagi, Managing Director, Boehringer Ingelheim India, informs, “Pharma industry has been evaluating the potential of digital platforms globally as a way of offering appropriate and customised solutions to doctors and other stakeholders. What coronavirus has done, is jolt the industry into overdrive in implementing several such initiatives because the traditional model of communicating face-to-face in doctors’ clinics was severely disrupted.”

He adds, “The industry, especially well-organised players, have had a very successful experience in digital interactions with doctors. Doctors in India are open to adopting digital mediums and the acceptance level is considerably higher than a lot of countries across the globe. Hence, there will be a rapid movement towards ‘on-demand’ platforms which will allow doctors to access the information they want, at the time and frequency they want. That is when digital will truly play to its potential for the industry.”

 “We are seeing an unforeseen shift in the mind-set of our pharma colleagues and customers. There is a push amongst everyone to move towards digital platforms. For all of us digital is no longer the future, it is the now. The best part is the customers are really receptive at present when they are reached online,” admits Kulwinder Singh, Chief Communication Officer at Cadila Pharma who spearheads digital initiatives. He adds, “The power of digital is immense and the current environment will require us to embrace this.”

Thus, pharma marketers started experimenting with different avenues to engage prescribers and consumers and this trend, in turn, contributed to growing collaborations between telehealth platforms and the pharma sector. 

A spokesperson from Merck Heal