Promise or peril: the future of promotional medical education

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Promotional medical education has for decades been a fixture of pharmaceutical marketing. In it”s “traditional” form, sales reps from a drug company invite physicians to a live, in-person meeting to listen to a key opinion leader discuss a medicine. The value from the physician”s viewpoint is learning about a new medicine and to network with colleagues and a prominent speaker. And, the value to the drug maker is the educational impact that comes from a credible speaker and interactions with one”s peers.

These days, however, this “traditional model” is under pressure from multiple forces. Firstly, sales reps, the industry”s primary recruitment vehicle, are increasingly challenged to deliver invitations to physicians in person. By some estimates, upwards of 40% of physicians in the U.S. are “access-constrained”. These are docs who limit a rep”s access either by policy (to adhere to institutional Conflict of Interest policies) or by choice, to manage an increasing work load or for philosophical reasons. Sales rep access has long been on the radar at Pharmaceutical companies. What”s changed, however, is that the rate of access decline is accelerating. One reason is practice consolidation which leads to newly acquired practices inheriting the rep access policies of their parent.

Beyond access, the value of traditional promotional medical meetings is also being eroded as the costs of attending them begin to exceed the benefits. Increased administrative burden, Open Label Payments requirements, and the ability to access high-quality information about new medicines online, through institution-provided education or through for-credit CME all contribute to the shifting value equation.

So what”s a brand to do?

In this environment, we need to rethink convention and revisit the traditional approach to promotional med-ed to ensure we better compete with the alternatives. It”s a customer experience challenge. But one that can be addressed with a systematic focus over time. We need to examine each element of the model to ensure value exceed costs throughout.

Start with recruitment. Brand”s need to aggressively experiment with cross-channel forms of recruitment to complement and in some cases replace the access-constrained rep. There are customers who would appreciate learning about promotional education but simply don”t know about the meetings because reps can no longer deliver invitations.

Next up is meeting formats. Today, we have three primary categories of educational formats: live in person, live virtual and self-guided. A balanced meeting mix should integrate all three in an effort to maximize reach and depth of engagement. The innovation opportunity is to experiment with format variations to find the right balance between convenience and engagement. For example, physicians we have spoken to routinely complain that typical self-guided and live virtual meetings lack sufficient interactivity.

Then, we can discuss the pre and post event experience. Today, promotional events typically run as one-off interactions. A largely untapped opportunity, especially for access constrained doctors, is to think about how to convert each event into an opportunity to enter into a non-personal relationship through the HCP”s channel of choice. This not only strengthens the customer experience but it amortizes the fixed costs associated with events.

Finally is the subject of value measurement. Today, promotional medical education effectiveness is largely measured by qualified attendance, which we”ve established is going down. Going forward we need to broaden the definition of success to consider customer-centric measures of engagement and satisfaction tracked at the customer level as well as in aggregate. If we can deliver against these customer-centric metrics, qualified attendance rates (a brand-centric measure) will rise and ultimately ROI will climb as well.

The medical education promotional landscape is rapidly evolving but there is ample opportunity for Life Sciences companies to remain vibrant sources of education through promotional medical education. But realizing that promise requires a systematic focus on innovating the customer experience.

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