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How Did COVID-19 Change the Role of Medical and Pharma Sales?

Medical sales representatives took a massive hit with the rise of the COVID-19 since face-to-face interactions became merely impossible because of the dangers of spreading the virus. Consequently, the medical field as a whole rose during this pandemic, since everyone laid their eyes on doctors and medical professionals during this time.


But how exactly did the pandemic affect medical and pharma sales? Read on, and let’s dive deeper.


How The Pandemic Affected Medical Sales


Health care providers and professionals have their eyes focused mainly on the virus during these past years. Even though pharmaceutical companies are booming because they are developing vaccines, medical sales reps took a different turn.


The pandemic didn’t affect the launch of pharmaceutical drugs, but its sales were.


Medical professionals closed their doors on medical representatives, and things shifted to digital meetings rather than face-to-face interactions. Some were liking it, and others aren’t.


However, the effect wasn’t really too big. In fact, after a slight dip in sales in 2020, businesses quickly picked up. Some of the main winners are diagnostic and imaging companies.


“We had different kinds of companies that were able to benefit on some level from COVID and shutdowns,” SVB Leerink senior research analyst Richard Newitter said in an interview with Medical Design & Outsourcing. “Companies that do diagnostic tests saw sales increase throughout COVID. We also had other companies that had products that were well-suited for at-home type of treatment or things that require fewer in-person visits that also unironically saw a tailwind throughout COVID.”


“A lot of large-cap medical device companies did see revenue decreases in 2020,” Truist Securities managing director Kaila Krum said in the same report. “It was pretty diverse across our sector. We did see revenue decline in our midsize and small-size companies, too. Despite that, about two-thirds of our stocks within the medtech universe outperformed in 2020. I think we learned [the medtech industry] isn’t bulletproof, but the stocks held up pretty well, albeit with a little bit of volatility throughout the year. We learned that procedure volumes can swing to pretty big degrees, and we learned that procedures that aren’t traditionally considered elective procedures were still getting pushed out.”


Diagnostic and imaging devices were widely used on patients since it is related to the symptoms of COVID-19 patients.


Online Interaction


Although there are some downsides, some companies saw the advantage of online presence and capitalized on it.


The emergence of online presentations and video meetings for drug promotions helped companies cut some budgets as they have no longer have to pay for flights and set up physical meetings.


In addition to that, video presentations can be recorded or streamed live and can reach a far larger audience than it was intended to.


This is looking like the future of this field, just like how other fields evolved during this pandemic and capitalized on the digital platform.


Physical Presence Of Medical Reps


There may be upsides and disadvantages when things are digitized in this field, but others still like to see the physical interaction of reps rather than relying on everything online.


They noticed how important these individuals were to the field and how it helps present drugs or products.


Even HCPs are unsure how to feel about it, but some say that having the physical presence of med reps is still essential for their field, and digitizing their job can make things difficult for them.


“I think there’ll be a shift – an increased focus on the value of the engagement to the physician,” Veeva Europe vice president for commercial strategy Jan van den Burg said in an interview. “But, as we are all experiencing now in our personal lives, doing everything through digital is absolutely not the way forward. It’s not how human beings work. I think we’re all desperate to get out and mix and mingle with our friends and family, and the same applies to the interactions between pharma and physicians.”


However, some believe that as the buying patterns evolve for some people, so does the selling.


Generally speaking, one factor is social selling, where people listen to what’s being fed to them thru social channels or thru word of mouth rather than believing in how a product is supposed to be used.


Furthermore, most doctors still believe that the touch of humans is needed, especially in medical sales.


Possible Future Of Medical Sales


Most professionals say, the need for medical representatives even in this digital age is crucial since a person would know how a product works since some are specific to some patients.


This field would be challenging to do online and is more crucial done face-to-face.


“It’s important to consider what added value the sales rep provides – they do a lot more than parade product information.”


Once the pandemic is entirely over, doctors would still want to see medical representatives in their offices but would prefer a changed quality on how they perceive their field. Experts say that it would be nice to see the combination of expertise of an experienced med rep with the brains of technology to create a better outcome.


“If we mean a rep who understands the science, who is interested in patients, who are capable of having a meaningful discussion with the HCP on a patient case, and not trying to push a marketing message but instead finding the right treatment for the right patient and giving advice on how to use the product properly – then yes, I would like that to come back,” Grünenthal group senior vice president Florent Edouard stated. “And I think it is going to come back because it’s still needed.”


“But what will not come back is the army of reps running around, calling doctors, and just presenting marketing messages. I think these types of activities need to stop. They are pointless.”


This could be the future of medical and pharmaceutical sales and be something companies need to focus on, especially when the pandemic is over.