By Mark Schoeman

At this point, in the midst of a global pandemic, both medical science liaisons (MSLs) and commercial sales representatives are virtually unable to engage anyone face-to-face. This represents a significant shift, as face-to-face engagement has long been the bread and butter for most pharma representatives on both the medical and sales sides of the aisle.  

For example, physicians have come to expect their lunch to be delivered along with information to be shared by their sales reps; this dynamic also applies to medical professionals and their expectations of MSLs to a degree. Over time, the different stakeholders in healthcare have developed an expectation of face-to-face relationships.

Now, we’re experiencing a drastic transition whereby we’ve switched exclusively to virtual and digital engagements, whether that be phone, email, or, in most cases, videoconferencing. When examining this new reality, it’s important to consider both channel and content. Today, let’s take a look at the importance of the channel.

Pharma reps are utilizing a variety of different platforms at the moment. But one key consideration is whether we will stick with these virtual channels in the future, or whether we will instead be able to return to normal face-to-face engagement in a year or two. Let’s explore some of the most important questions that companies should be asking right now with regard to the delivery of scientific education.

What channels will comprise the new reality of medical stakeholder engagement?

At this point, we really don’t know. Many companies are making the assumption that we will return to the face-to-face model at some point, but is it going to be the same as before? Prior to COVID-19, the breakdown of channels of engagement in the U.S. was 80 percent face-to-face and 20 percent virtual. That breakdown has flipped to almost 100 percent virtual at this point, with in-person engagement exceedingly rare and only occurring under specific CDC-approved conditions where it is absolutely critical. For the most part, it’s not happening.

Are we moving toward a blend of virtual and in-person engagement?

Several leading consulting companies in the U.S. are advising their clients that in the future, the model will move toward 80 percent virtual and 20 percent face-to face. With that in mind, there are a few key variables that remain critical regardless of channel. In my next article, I’ll explain that when the viability of one channel versus another is hard to predict for the near future, it’s more important than ever to focus on the quality of your content.

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