In the wake of the global pandemic, many healthcare providers switched to seeing patients via virtual appointments. Everyone has seen the benefit of virtual healthcare, and it’s clear it is here to stay.
According to Accenture’s Healthcare Provider Survey from May 2020, 36% of patients asked to have treatment remotely this year. Additionally, 62% of healthcare providers said they value tools for remote monitoring of their patients at home more than they did prior to COVID-19.
And because healthcare providers began prescribing medications for patients through virtual check-ups, pharma reps needed to change how they communicate valuable drug information to doctors and their patients. In fact, 61% of HCPs said they communicate with pharma sales reps more now than before COVID-19.
However, the majority of healthcare providers also said that the pharmaceutical companies don’t understand the real impact of COVID-19 on healthcare providers (57%) and their patients (51%).
So in order to stay relevant during a time that is challenging the success of medical sales reps, it’s time to redefine how you provide value in the world of virtual healthcare.
Being more flexible and understanding
Start by demonstrating in your sales calls that you understand how the pandemic has disrupted day-to-day life. Since healthcare providers don’t believe pharmaceutical companies understand the impacts, it is critical that you lead with empathy.
For example, the COVID-19 outbreak created an economic downturn with more than 14 million unemployed Americans at its peak. With so many people losing jobs, countless patients lost the ability to afford medical treatments. And without the ability to pay, many patients stopped seeking treatment.
According to the CDC, an estimated 41% of U.S. adults had delayed or avoided medical care including urgent or emergency care (12%) and routine care (32%) because of concerns about COVID-19. Avoidance is especially prevalent among unpaid caregivers for adults, those with underlying medical conditions, Black adults, Hispanic adults, young adults, and persons with disabilities.
As the market continues to stay in flux, pharmaceutical companies and medical sales reps must stay acutely aware of these changes. Develop a strategy that allows you to pivot during upswings and downturns. That way, healthcare providers know you understand and will respond to their struggles — as well as their patients’.
The pandemic has also created long-lasting mental health challenges for all of us. According to a recent study, anxiety, depression, and insomnia are prevalent in up to 60% of physicians, nurses, and medical residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a medical sales rep, you need to keep all of these challenges in mind when interacting with healthcare professionals. And remember that in addition to changing workloads, the pandemic also impacts everyone on a personal level.
Use this reminder to keep that human element in your sales conversations. Form relationships that are more than transactional by checking in on your clients’ well-being. Your goal should be to establish true partnerships, so that on days when anxiety is high, you’re not adding to a physician’s stress by solely focusing on selling virtual healthcare solutions to them.
Highlighting self-administrative treatments
According to the Accenture study, 65% of all healthcare providers said they value self-administration methods for patients (auto-injectors or on-body devices) more than they did before COVID-19. Nearly one in five healthcare providers expect that asking patients to self-administer more may be a permanent change.
Since both patients and healthcare providers want to see more self-administration methods than ever before, be sure to highlight these opportunities in your sales pitch. Also, conduct new market research and intake sessions with existing clients to understand their specific goals when it comes to home health care.
Additionally, take the burden off healthcare providers by making in-home care as easy as possible. Create patient onboarding instructions for every step of their treatment. Healthcare providers will be more likely to go with treatments that they feel confident patients can handle at home by themselves.
When sharing all the ways you’ve enabled patient self-administration, call attention to benchmark metrics to show data-driven benefits. For example, “With our new patient onboarding procedures, we’ve saved healthcare providers an average of X hours per month on logistical training.” Or, “By freeing up the time you would have spent administering this treatment yourself, we’re saving you X hours per week so that you can take on even more patients.”
While healthcare providers may be inclined to switch to self-administration on their own, showing them tangible benefits is the best way to convert more prospects into sales.
Saying yes to change!
Accenture also found that 88% of healthcare providers want companies to continue to launch new products for conditions they treat, despite ongoing prevalence of COVID-19. Nearly four in 10 report that their likelihood of starting patients on recently launched treatments increased since COVID-19.
This is great news for medical sales reps! You can continue to deliver new and innovative solutions for preventive care, as long as you keep the changing needs of healthcare providers in mind.
For example, new products should enable healthcare professionals to easily monitor patient response to their treatment. Whether this means a dashboard that’s accessible to both the patient and the physician or even a mobile app that communicates with the device, these features are critical with new self-administering treatments.
Additionally, while healthcare providers want greater access to information on newer products, you must also make it as easy as possible for them to learn about what’s new. Help them sort through trends in pharmaceuticals and medical devices as part of your pitch.
Let them know about the new products you’re hearing about and where yours fits into the bigger picture. While it may seem counterintuitive to mention other products in your pitch, you can show them you’ve done your research as to why your specific product will benefit them. You can still make your product the clear choice while giving them their other options.
For instance, if you’ve noticed that many companies are offering personalized patient treatments, share what you know is working for them and where you see room for improvement. Then, you can transition into how your personalized patient treatment solves for the gaps in your competitors’ treatments.
Selling more than a product
More than 80% of healthcare providers say they have seen pharma companies change what they communicate about, delivering not just product information, but support that meets their most pressing needs.
For example, companies might provide digital patient education beyond onboarding their specific products. You can expand your support by helping patients understand where they can access labs, infusion centers, or imaging centers related to their treatments.
What’s more, you might provide access to specific information to help patients manage their conditions during COVID-19, as well as education on how treatment options may change after the pandemic.
All of this can be housed within your website or app that patients already use to monitor their treatment. Personalize it even further by installing a virtual chatbot into your platform. Then, you can make the experience even easier for patients to ask questions they may have about the treatment, extra resources, or pandemic. Use artificial intelligence to answer frequently asked questions and automatically escalate questions that need more information.
You can also offer education to healthcare providers on how to budget for and keep stock of therapies. For example, you might provide them with a toolkit of templates that help keep track of their inventory and patients, with formulas already implemented based on your treatment’s recommended dosages.
Committing to virtual health care
While telehealth was already on the rise before 2020, healthcare providers and pharmaceutical reps didn’t get to ease into a transition. As a result of the pandemic, there was a surge of providers who moved to telehealth all at once in March.
During the first quarter of 2020, the CDC reported the number of virtual healthcare visits increased by 50% compared with the same period in 2019. And despite this increase being tied to the pandemic, virtual healthcare is here to stay. Most doctors who switched to telehealth services won’t drop the option entirely after the pandemic is over.
Even before the pandemic, Crossover Health acquired Sherpaa in anticipation of an increase in telehealth. The deal was designed to help Crossover keep up with the rise of the remote workforce.
After over seven years of data generated by Sherpaa’s virtual care platform, they found that 71% of care journeys were diagnosed and managed entirely online without an in-person visit. “Does that really mean that 71% of all doctor visits don’t actually need to happen? Yes, it does,” said Dr. Jay Parkinson, CEO, and founder of Sherpaa.
After COVID-19, 58% of patients said they would be more interested in options for getting treatment without visiting a healthcare provider’s office or a hospital, according to Accenture.
Most offices are now offering virtual healthcare for all patients regardless of symptoms. And during the peak of the pandemic in the first half of the year, anyone who did not urgently need to see a doctor in-person was seen virtually. It’s safe to assume we have just witnessed a permanent evolution in how patients and doctors use telehealth.
This shift likely means that healthcare providers will also be less inclined to meet with sales reps in-person to protect their staff and patients.
In the past, sales reps might have delivered educational materials and samples for doctors to distribute. Now, since healthcare providers are not seeing as many patients in-person, they will not be able to distribute these materials as readily.
Medical sales reps must devise new solutions to educate doctors and their patients remotely. Additionally, you must show healthcare providers how to share treatment info with patients just as easily as you educate them virtually.