Research predicts the post-COVID landscape for HCP engagement

IQVIA’s Liz Murray takes us through the company’s latest research into HCPs’ attitudes to pharma engagement, and asks how pharma sales forces can adapt for future changes.

There’s no doubt that remote engagement has been extremely important for pharma sales teams over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, but adapting for the future HCP landscape will require reps to do more than simply take their engagement online.

Recent ChannelDynamics data from IQVIA shows that while there has been a marked positive change in HCPs’ views of remote rep platforms over the past 12 months, there has not actually been much change in their views of face-to-face engagement, and there has only been a small positive change for telephone, email and automated online detailing.

“Physicians are not saying that their views of in-person interactions have gone backwards,” says Liz Murray, global lead, HCP Engagement Centre of Excellence, Contract Sales & Medical Solutions, at IQVIA. “That’s a really interesting point to keep in mind.”

Murray also notes that HCPs’ attitudes to engagement have varied wildly between different countries both before and during the pandemic.

“Countries like the UK saw a huge slowdown in HCP engagement over COVID, supplemented by remote engagement, and things haven’t really changed in the last 12 months,” she says. “Meanwhile, countries like Italy are now seeing a shift back towards face-to-face engagement – almost to pre-pandemic levels – while countries like Spain sit somewhere in-between.

“Even before the pandemic, there was an expectation from HCPs in Italy that they would talk to reps on a regular basis, and that doesn’t seem to have changed.”

These statistics might go against conventional wisdom that digital dominance is here to stay, but Murray says that examples like Italy show that future strategies will not be a question of digital versus face-to-face.

Instead, companies will need to consider how those channels can be blended to fit different HCPs and environments.

“There will certainly be plenty of examples of standalone digital engagement, but we’re also going to see reps’ roles evolving into a more multichannel-orientated way of working.”

And this seems to be something HCPs are keen to see themselves – IQVIA’s data suggests that, more than anything else, doctors believe flexibility will be key for the future of engagement.

“HCP satisfaction feedback on remote interactions delivered by IQVIA showed that 96% of HCPs are highly satisfied or satisfied with the remote interactions and 93% are highly likely or likely to repeat the experience in the future,” says Murray.

“And HCPs who participated in recent qualitative research by IQVIA, and who are used to regular meetings with representatives, said that face-to-face meetings remain essential to building and maintain trust with the industry.

“What they like about new, remote approaches is that it allows engagement to happen at times that are convenient for them – for example, outside of clinic hours.

“A blended approach might involve using face-to-face interaction only a couple of times a year, then using remote touchpoints in between that.”

She says that this will ultimately mean reps are talking to HCPs in a “more connected way”.

“The tradition of reps just pushing key messages is probably not going to work anymore. HCPs want content with true added-value; they want it to be solution-focused and considerate of what they actually want and need.”

Indeed, Murray notes that IQVIA has already seen a shift away from promotional activities to more medically orientated solutions in some markets.

“In the past, the industry’s relationship with HCPs was on industry terms – now companies need to be having relationships on the HCPs’ terms.”

She adds that companies’ vision should ultimately be to personalise each HCP interaction.

“To do that, pharma needs to bring together all its existing customer data – which is often quite fragmented – then apply more advanced business intelligence to shape engagement experiences.

“They can then start to build an understanding of what their customers want, where they want it and when they want it.”

But not all companies are as far along this path as they could be.

“The pandemic has been the motivation missing for the past 15 years, forcing the industry to look at alternative ways of doing things, but the speed at which a company actually changes is dependent on how forward-thinking they were beforehand. For example, did they already have e-consents in place, or were they completely reliant on face-to-face and are now having to start from scratch?

“It’s going to take longer for those in the latter camp to get up to speed,” says Murray. “It might help for them to learn from what other companies have done, or bring in specialists who can help run pilots and look after the back office elements.”

Beyond that, companies who need to transform their sales teams from scratch can also look at the existing structures they have in place and build upon those.

“There are some fundamentals those companies need to wrap their heads around, such as getting their strategy together and thinking about the technology infrastructure they need, but the easiest way to get started is to look at the rep teams they’ve already got in place, which already work well, and build out from there.

“Some reps have already been using phone calls or emails to follow-up with HCPs, but that can be broadened further, towards a more integrated omnichannel approach.”

This again shows the importance of a blended approach – and Murray notes that it’s sales teams should not overemphasise digital and remote engagement as a catch-all solution,and remember that holistic strategies will be key.

“I hear a lot of people talking about omnichannel now, but omnichannel itself isn’t the endgame – it’s a means to an end.

“That end is the customer having a good experience and getting what they want to achieve out of the engagement.”

About the interviewee

Liz Murray

Liz Murray is global lead, HCP Engagement Centre of Excellence, Contract Sales & Medical Solutions, at IQVIA. Liz is a specialist in HCP engagement, and has significant expertise in new channels and remote interactions​. Prior to joining IQVIA, she worked at Pfizer for 13 years in sales, marketing, account management, market access, customer strategy, business effectiveness​.



IQVIA is a leading global provider of advanced analytics, technology solutions and clinical research services to the life sciences industry. Powered by the IQVIA CORE™, IQVIA delivers unique and actionable insights at the intersection of large-scale analytics, transformative technology and extensive domain expertise, as well as execution capabilities. Formed through the merger of IMS Health and Quintiles, IQVIA has approximately 68,000 employees worldwide.

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About the author


George Underwood is the editor for pharmaphorum’s Deep Dive digital magazine. He has been reporting on the pharma industry since 2014 and has worked at a number of leading publications in the UK.

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