While universities, hospital organizations and others continue to raise more barriers to sales-rep/physician interaction, and while more surveys show less willingness by physicians to be visited, a handful of companies are building online portals purportedly to make this connection more accessible. Such online communities are hardly new; market leaders like WebMD have been around for years. But the latest offering are said to deploy more of the “social networking” features of the latest Web-based communities.
One of these is Vemics (Nanuet, NY), which has roots in providing connectivity among healthcare providers for sharing digital medical records, files and images. In February, the company announced a partnership with NaviNet, a company that has been developing online continuing medical education (CME) for physicians. Another element from Vemics, called ClearLobby, has been set up to provide direct contact between physicians and drug and device companies. In April, it announced that a major pharma company had signed on to provide medical information messaging on pain management.
Another player building out its foundation is Physicians Interactive LLC (Libertyville, IL), which acquired one of its business partners, MedManage Systems (Bothell, WA), whose business has been online drug-sample ordering. Physicians Interactive has developed over 1,000 online programs for life sciences companies since its founding in 1996, according to Donato Trumato, CEO. Last year, it was acquired by Perseus LLC, a private equity firm, and Trumato says that more acquisitions are being planned.
E-detailing en francais
A third entry comes from France: Kadrige (Paris), which has been operating in Europe since the late 1990s. According to Hubert Catanese, CEO, the e-detailing company is in the process of setting up operations in North America. In Europe, its experience has been in providing real-time, online interaction either for sales rep training, or for sales calls with physicians. Relative to other e-detailing companies, Catanese says, Kadrige puts an emphasis on advanced software (specifically, software-as-a-service, or SaaS); the service is set up so that interactions occur through a web browser, without any software being downloaded on the physician’s computer. Physicians can interact in real time with reps, order samples and review relevant medical papers. Subash Vaid, a former executive with Cegedim Dendrite, is assisting with the US entrance.
Catanese says that discussions are proceeding with both life sciences companies and contract sales organizations (CSOs)—and the CSOs might be the first to deploy the service in the US.
Grading the channels
All these services, as well as others such as Aptilon (Montreal), or physician-only communities like Sermo (Cambridge, MA), claim high penetration with the physician community, and significant results in communicating a sales message. Ziment (New York), a market research firm (now part of the Kantar Group, which in turn is a subsidiary of the global marketing agency WPP), is addressing this multiplying media array.
The company has just adapted an existing physician-segmentation service, SEGZ, to “channel optimization.” The company combines a physician panel of 200,000 members (as well as a 350,000-strong patient panel) with “state-of-the-art segmentation algorithms, including proprietary cluster approaches and latent-class analysis” to identify both key physician segments and what communication channels (including conventional ones like medical journals, dinner meeting or in-person sales calls) they are likely to use.
The approach might be new to life sciences, but it is not new to a variety of consumer market research activities, according to a presentation given by Josh Rossol, chief methodologist at Ziment, during the Pharmaceutical Market Research Group annual meeting (Las Vegas, March 8-10). Consumer banking and retailing has been using it for years to tailor the message they promote to the communication channels that desired audiences tend to use.
“Pharmaceutical marketers today face a staggering array of channel options—from print to CME to e-detailing to Web sites to new social media,” says John Tapper PhD., CEO of Ziment. “At the same time, they are coping with tightening budgets that restrict the number of options they can select—and make it essential they choose the ones that will truly drive business. PC