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Past Meetings

September 25, 2018

A reflection on digital pharma practices

For several years, pharmaceutical companies have been leveraging digital practices across many functional areas. It’s time we take stock of what we’ve learned and where we are going next. In the kick-off meeting for the 2018–2019 season, we invited a panel of local Canadian pharma experts to discuss the current status and recent evolution of digital business practices in pharma, as well as how digital strategies can apply specifically to Medical, Sales, and Marketing.

Opening Remarks and Housekeeping -   Shannon Quinn, PMCQ President

  • A big thank you to our sponsors and supporting partners who help to make these meetings possible.
  • The year’s theme: To Focus the Way Forward. Check out the great topics we will cover!
  • Membership perks: Did you know that all PMCQ members had access to a 20% discount for the Global Digital Pharma Summit? Don’t miss out on future opportunities — check your emails!
  • Good to know: The annual PAAB Workshop is coming up in November.
  • The next PMCQ event: An expert will tell us how to hire the right candidate and tips on how to effectively promote ourselves. Don’t miss it!
  • Thank you to Anderson DDB for doing the creative for this event and Pfizer for their sponsorship of the event.

Introduction of Speakers -   Brett Miles, PMCQ VP Education

The meeting featured a panel of pharma experts, including:

Digital Engagement in Pharma -   Martin Husar

Martin discussed marketing strategy and higher-level concepts and practices with regard to customer engagement.

  • A typical evolution of digital practices in pharma:
    • Allowed reps to text HCPs → Built branded websites → Started using platforms to send second-party emails → Equipped the sales force with iPads; remote detailing → Sent marketer emails directly from the brand upon receiving consent from customer → Built digital self-serve platforms (such as portals, apps) → Integrated multi-channel experiences
  • Chat bots and voice apps are the next big thing.
    • It is hard to provide 1-on-1 service at all times, so we can use digital technology to fill gaps; e.g., chat bots on Facebook Messenger could provide preliminary information and guidance for customers.
    • Voice apps (such as Alexa and Google Home) are forecasted to be the highest growing areas.
  • Digital innovation requires two considerations: 1) design thinking; 2) agile practices.
    • Design thinking has 5 steps:
      • Empathize with the issue and gather insights
      • Define the problem
      • Initiate ideation phase and plan a solution
      • Test prototype
      • Assess outcome and adjust as needed
    • Agile practices: This goes against our normal practice because we face regulatory challenges in creating prototypes and testing them so that we can launch quickly.
  • Ultimately, the value of engaging digitally is in the opportunity to provide a better service and experience in order to improve relationships with our customers. Digital engagements generate a lot of data. If we take these insights to help us understand engagements better, then that will ultimately lead to better business performance.

Digital Practices in Sales -   Tamer Hanna

Tamer discussed how AbbVie’s IT team used design thinking and agile practices to provide technical solutions to support digital marketing brand strategies.

  • Started by building a multidisciplinary team called e-AbbVie that bridges technology, communications, commercial, medical and patient engagement teams.
  • They discovered through social media an unmet need amongst undiagnosed patients with hidradenitis suppurativa. AbbVie developed an online solution to give patients the information that they need to receive a diagnosis.
  • AbbVie also collaborated with HCPs who are treating this condition to build a library of content that the doctor is able to share with the patient when he/she leaves the office.
  • AbbVie’s latest innovation is a chat bot that has built-in pre-approved content. They are piloting this chat bot with a small patient population to see if patients are willing to use this type of technology as a substitute for a call to a HCP.
  • The future is all about data. AI will be able to look at the massive sets of data and find the opportunities for us — this can even be applied to product development during clinical trials.

Digital Practices in Medical -   Elodie Martin

Elodie discussed how Medical teams can use digital tools in order to handle resource constraints:

  • Medical is dealing with limited resources; smaller teams are catering to larger customer bases and managing growing portfolios of products. Customer needs are also changing: medical used to provide clinical data, but now customers have better information access, so customers need help to sort through all of the information for their needs.
  • Common Medical initiatives:
    • E-congresses and e-conferences — streamed live, so no travel required and customers only pay for sessions of interest
    • Virtual meetings — connecting HCPs with experts around the world
    • Virtual ad boards — can have e-synchronous meetings where, instead of everyone being available at the same time, you can have them go through the materials and comment on their peers’ answers. This provides some of the same kind of insights as a face-to-face consult, but reaches out to HCPs who live remotely, so allows for a broader base of advisors.
    • Virtual calls with customers — can share your screen and show your face. Not the same as an in-person call, but it is better than a phone conversation or email.
  • A specific example from Sanofi is an app for a product with tricky route of administration. The app houses all of the dosing and administration tools so that a customer can get a refresher long after he/she received the training. This ensures the patient is always treated correctly.
  • A Med Info team in Europe is using WhatsApp to provide Medical updates (e.g. product label updates) to customers. Users can take a look at the feed without their inbox being flooded.
  • Other ways Medical could be enhanced with digital technology: see IBM Watson, Evidation, Science 37, Cutanea and Natural Cycles

Digital Practices in Marketing -   Joel Erickson

Joel provided a third-party perspective and showcased a real-world model to demonstrate the possibilities you can have with an integrated marketing and sales team:

  • The model puts the customer at the centre; it’s a combination of field-based sales teams, e-sales teams (office-based), eCSRs (office-based), websites, apps, multichannel sampling (where appropriate within the brands), and portals.
  • The model covers 12,000 customers. Traditionally, that would equate to a field team of 60 reps covering 200 targets each, but this model has far fewer field reps than that.
  • The model is supporting a number of promoted brands as well as an LOE portfolio. All of the teams have been resourced against the most productive customers.
  • The field team is resourced appropriately to be highly successful with significant expertise of the promoted brands. The eCSRs cover the LOE portfolio, where the margins are small so resource allocation is important. There is significant collaboration between the e-sales and field teams, giving the model agility. Incentives are in place to encourage collaboration and sharing targets where appropriate.
  • The digital platform is across all customers, excluding sampling which is available only on some brands.
  • Some of the original objectives were around reach, frequency, channel preference and collaboration, but the model has far exceeded those objectives and has become increasingly more efficient over the years with a manageable cost of engagement. Now, the various types of reps are actually owning many of their own accounts with the targets out there. The healthcare community sees this as a great value.

Open Q & A Session -   All Speakers

There were many questions for the speakers. A few of them are outlined below.

  • How do we navigate the regulatory and compliance hurdles? The sooner compliance and regulatory are involved, the better. For anything promotional, PAAB has made huge efforts to compromise and provide guidance. If we don’t involve them, then they won’t ever know there is a need for these solutions. Let them know what you are trying to achieve — it’s not always advertising.
  • Is pharma falling behind other industries regarding digital technology? Yes, it is, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have the expertise and capability to catch up.
  • Is Canada ready for virtual clinical trials? The FDA has already approved some of these trials and are working at developing guidelines to do this again in the future. Perhaps Health Canada will get on board soon.
  • Is anyone using social media influencers and how does that work with our regulatory environment? In order to attract followers on Instagram, it’s all about putting out content with value. With the right message, the followers will come. There is significant opportunity here, but not necessarily right for branded product information — it could help with disease education.
  • What are good ways to get consent from HCPs to use their data? Asking them to subscribe to a newsletter or something similar. By subscribing, they are giving their consent. It always has to be clear that they can opt out at any time.

Closing Remarks -   Brett Miles

Digital technologies can be used to help us reach out to the right customer or patient at the right time, but we need to earn their trust first. Digital technology continues to evolve – let’s all work together!


Justine Garner
Freelance Medical Writer
Cell: (514) 605-5109


Wednesday, March 17, 2021

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Time: 6:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
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