One of the most obvious consequences of COVID-19 for the life sciences industry is overcoming the unprecedented physical distance between patients and care. In the past several weeks, due to stay at home orders, many patients were unable to maintain regular doctor visits and many clinical trials were deferred or cancelled. Despite technologies that facilitate virtual engagement, life sciences companies are facing challenges to reset customer relationships as well as how they work as organizations.
Although our clients are investing and collaborating tirelessly to fast-track testing and treatment while striving to advance their current pipelines, they recognize the need to reconfigure current operations beyond the immediate crisis. Not surprisingly, I am now often asked by commercial executives in life sciences companies a variation of this question: “What can and should we realistically do to help our patients maintain access to care?”
In the near term, much has been done across the industry but there is room to go.
- Prioritize access to care. Quickly assemble resources that help patients find locations and resources for necessary and safe testing, administration of therapy, or other needs.
- Address the compounded affordability crisis. Skyrocketing unemployment and already pressured out of pocket costs requires companies to take on this existing challenge head on. Offer unique benefit and formulary partnerships with payers in markets like the US.
- Be there, tangibly and visibly for HCPs. This means life sciences companies need to create awareness that practices can rely on hub support services further, receive samples digitally, or use the digital disease resources you have for their patients. We can’t just show up providing product details virtually – or we aren’t worth their time.
- Extend programs to adapt to gaps. For example, some life sciences companies have extended working hours to triage COVID-19-specific medical questions or ramped up virtual peer-to-peer programs for HCPs who need to connect.
- Strengthen technology and acumen. Virtual tools are new at scale, so close gaps in things like virtual field engagement features and training.
- Scale new channels. Such as SMS for callbacks with Health Care Professional (HCP) and patients.
Beyond the near term, it will be important to bolster virtual engagement tools and stabilize operations.
- Make human roles more digital. New virtual ways of working have impact on talent, expectations, metrics, and more. This includes sales, medical, reimbursement, and account management.
- Make digital more human. Evaluate learnings from this experience on how being more supportive and less focused on pushing content can be sustained.
- Evaluate implications to launches. New constraints and innovations on the engagement model will need to be solidified so that awareness doesn’t get muted when new treatments are needed.
- Future proof operations. Call planning, recording, medical engagement tracking, incentive compensation are all impacted by a dramatic ramp in virtual engagement.
Ultimately, I believe the most overlooked permanent change will be in the relevance of what we engage our customers on more than the channels by which we engage them. In the future, will a doctor want to make time for a virtual conversation with you if you aren’t bringing them something of material relevance? In my conversations with companies the past several weeks – this is the real eye-opening realization. Customers will still need us, virtually or physically – but only if we are bringing something truly valuable for them and their patients.
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