According to a new Manhattan Research report called "Physicians in 2012: The Outlook for On Demand, Mobile, and Social Digital Media," 64% of U.S. physicians currently own smartphones and that number is expected to increase to 81% penetration in 2012. Also, according to the same study, the group of physicians who use smartphones increased by 20% last year over the previous year.
Several critical factors are influencing the adoption of digital technology in the medical world. One is HITECH or the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act signed into law in January 2009. HITECH mandates the adoption of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and other health information technology. Via the $20 billion earmarked for this effort, physicians will be eligible to receive $40,000 to $65,000 for showing that they are meaningfully using health information technology. As a result of this legislation, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that approximately 90% of doctors will be using comprehensive EHRs within the next decade.
At the same time, the traditional manner in which pharmaceutical companies communicate with and educate healthcare professionals is rapidly changing. The process whereby pharma sales reps call on physicians is known in the pharma world as "detailing" -- as in "Allow me to come in to provide you with the details of our new asthma treatment."
However, due to the need for pharma companies to cut costs and also due to push back from physicians who are feeling inundated by requests for sales rep meetings, Big Pharma is aggressively reducing the size of their sales teams. The Wall Street Journal now predicts that the number of pharmaceutical sales reps in the U.S. will drop to 70,000 by the year 2015. This is a tremendous change from the early 2000s, when the total number of reps exceeded 125,000.
So today, we are seeing the rise in what is now being called eDetailing, which can be defined as the use of digital technologies including mobile, to educate physicians about existing and new treatment options and provide them with the clinical data necessary for them to make vital patient treatment decisions. For instance according to a study from marketing-research firm SDI, Pfizer, the largest pharma company in the world, almost doubled its spending on e-detailing last year. Monique Levy, senior director of research at Manhattan Research, said that by 2012, all physicians will walk around with a stethoscope and a smart mobile device and there will be very few professional activities that physicians won't be doing on their handhelds.
The goal of eDetailing, then, is to start an electronic dialogue with physicians about or related to a brand using customized or off-the-shelf interactive programs. EDetailing programs can take just 5 to 10 minutes to complete and engage the physician through fact-based and creative messaging. Another engagement mechanism is via branded mobile applications or "apps" which physicians install on their smartphones can include both educational and promotional elements.
In future posts, I will provide examples of cutting-edge eDetailing and mobile marketing programs and demonstrate how marketing communications in the medical world are being transformed by digital media.