In the social media era, pharma detailing should go online

by Anne Zieger on October 25, 2010

pharmaceutical detailingHere’s an interesting tidbit from Dr. Bryan Vartabedian, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Texas Children’s Hospital/Baylor College of Medicine.  Dr. Vartabedian, who writes an intriguing blog called 33 Charts, posted an interesting item this week about the need for pharmaceutical companies to find a new, sophisticated ways to shift detailing online.

Why does pharma need to do some inventing here?  His take:

*  There’s little in the way of a true social community for physicians online, at least one that has the loyalty of enough doctors to make the effort worthwhile.  (From what your editor has seen, prefab social communities like Sermo seem to be struggling, and the few doctors who linger on social networks are at the bleeding edge.) So there’s no painless way for reps to drop in and say hi  — no virtual practices, much less true communities.

*  Doctors aren’t in a great position to buy anyway.  Not only are health plans more aggressive than ever as to what they’ll cover, many institutions are banning most pharma sales rep/doctor interaction.  Not a channel you’d want to spent much time on, if you’re J&J or Glaxo anyway.

And here’s what may be his most interesting point:

* He argues that selling to patients is the wave of the future, with patients and e-patient opinion leaders wielding a lot of influence, if not more than some MDs, as to what meds they see as appropriate for them.  Working on doctor relationships may be a thing of the past, in fact, Dr. Vartabedian suggests.

Given these trends, why bother with doctor sales at all?  Well, here’s why, in his own words:

  • The divide between the physician online and offline will close.
  • Doctors will appear in greater numbers in public networks.
  • There will be a dominant physician social platform.
  • Medicine will evolve to embrace a social mindset and design.

If I were an exec with Sermo, Ozmosis or any of a number of social media platforms reaching for doctors, I’d be annoyed by Dr. Vartabedian’s earlier points but encouraged by his conclusion — i.e., that ultimately their model will work.  But in the mean time, it’s going to be the Wild West out there. Maybe a single pharma will jump in and control the channel by inventing the ideal online detailing model?

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