Online detailing: The new way to sell

Several times a month, Edward Berman, MD, a solo internist in Ridgefield, Conn., logs onto a PC-based videoconferencing system in his office and enters a user ID and password to hold real-time video detailing sessions with pharmaceutical sales representatives.


The image of the sales rep is displayed on one part of the computer screen. Information about appropriate use, efficacy, dosage, side effects, contraindications and studies about new and existing prescription drugs appear elsewhere on the screen as Dr. Berman and the sales rep discuss it.

Dr. Berman is among several thousand physicians who are believed to be participating in “e-detailing” — electronically accessing details, ordering samples and requesting visits from sales reps. But that definition has been evolving.

Some observers broadly define e-detailing as any online marketing and learning program targeting physicians, including CME programs or electronic mail notifying them of a new indication or a meeting at a hotel with drug reps.

Whatever the definition, online detailing is in a nascent stage.

In the past few years, several technology startups whose business plans depend on serving as conduits between physicians and drug companies have sprouted. Their job is to help the pharmaceutical industry better target and deliver their sales pitch to physicians.

20,000 to 40,000 physicians are currently participating in pilot on-line detailing programs, according to industry estimates.

But these startups also claim to offer value to physicians.

That’s because online detailing lets doctors control the interaction with the pharmaceutical company, get information at their convenience and obtain more relevant information than they can from brief visits with sales reps.

On the other end of the equation, online detailing potentially offers drug companies a more efficient way to reach physicians, says Mark Bard, director of health practice at Cyber Dialogue, New York, a customer relationship management company.

For example, an electronic detail averages about 10 minutes, which is several times the 30 seconds to 2 minutes of “face time” sales reps typically get from physicians, assuming they even get that far, he said. Quite often, sales reps cool their heels for hours in the waiting room only to be told to return another time.

Online detailing, however, minimizes those problems because it lets pharmaceutical companies reach doctors who are interested in getting drug information or don’t see sales reps, Bard said. It also lets drug companies economically reach doctors who aren’t a priority for them now because they aren’t high prescribers.

Online detailing “is the second, if not the first, priority [of every pharmaceutical company] for two reasons,” added Josh Fisher, analyst at WR Hambrecht & Co., San Francisco. “One is the return on investment. Second, it’s a case of everyone is doing it and we don’t want to miss out for competitive reasons.”