Promise or peril: the future of promotional medical education


Promotional medical education has for decades been a fixture of pharmaceutical marketing. In it’s “traditional” form, sales reps from a drug company invite physicians to a live, in-person meeting to listen to a key opinion leader discuss a medicine. The value from the physician’s viewpoint is learning about a new medicine and to network with colleagues and a prominent speaker. And, the value to the drug maker is the educational impact that comes from a credible speaker and interactions with one’s peers.

These days, however, this “traditional model” is under pressure from a convergence of forces. Firstly, sales reps, the industry’s primary recruitment vehicle, are increasingly challenged to deliver invitations to physicians in person. By some estimates, upwards of 40% of physicians in the U.S. are “access-constrained”. These are docs who limit a rep’s access either by policy (to adhere to institutional Conflict of Interest policies) or by choice, to manage an increasing work load or for philosophical reasons. Sales rep access has long been on the radar at Pharmaceutical companies. What’s changed, however, is that the rate of access decline is accelerating. One reason is practice consolidation which leads to newly acquired practices inheriting the rep access policies of their parent.

Beyond access, the value of traditional promotional medical meetings is also being eroded as the costs of attending them begin to exceed the benefits. Increased administrative burden, Open Label Payments requirements, and the ability to access high-quality information about new medicines online or through for-credit CME all contribute to the shifting value equation.

So what’s a brand to do?

In this environment, we need to rethink convention and revisit the traditional approach to promotional med-ed to ensure better compete with the alternatives. It’s a customer experience challenge. We need to examine each element of the model to ensure value exceed costs through out.

Start with recruitment. Brand’s need to aggressively experiment with cross-channel forms of recruitment to complement and in some cases replace the access-constrained rep. There are customers who would benefit from promotional education but simply don’t know about the meetings because reps can no longer deliver invitations.

Next, we need to think meeting formats. The primary form of interaction is the didactic

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