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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 19498

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: news

Blackburn W
Future Pharma: A closer look at the iPad in pharma/physician relations 2011 Apr 20


Wendy Blackburn explores how physicians are taking to the iPad—and why they still need old-fashioned pharma sales reps

Full text:

Since the launch of Apple’s original iPad in January 2010, much has been written about the potential use of the iPad in the healthcare setting.

eyeforpharma’s Andrew Tolve delves into a broad and deep review of the promise of iPad and similar devices in his articles, ‘Future pharma: Making the most of the tablet takeover’ and ‘Will the iPad kickstart a pharma sales and marketing revolution?’.

No doubt, the device’s ease of use, connectivity, elegant display, lightweight mobility, eco-friendliness (less paper), and quick startup make it an enticing tool.

But with many things technology (and most things “Apple”), it is healthy to take a closer look beyond the hype to better understand how truly ingrained into the health and medical landscape the technology has become.

To take it even further, our team recently conducted research to better understand how pharma sales reps are using the iPad to enhance their conversation with physicians. Read on to see what we discovered.

Medical institutions and physicians

It’s no surprise there is evidence medical institutions such as med schools and large medical centers are adopting the iPad. What may be surprising is the rapid rate of adoption.

Stanford School of Medicine announced in July 2010 they would begin distributing iPads to all incoming medical students. University of California, Irvine, announced the same shortly afterwards. And in November, the University of Chicago Medical Center issued iPads to internal medicine medical residents in a pilot to help the residents spend more time with patients—and less time at a stationary computer.

In addition to the educational setting, iPads are popping up in the clinical setting as well.

St. Jude Medical Center began running a pilot program of iPads for physicians in clinical practice in August 2010. And Cedars-Sinai was experimenting with iPads in the clinical settings to enhance physician-patient experience as early as January 2010, the month of its release.

Twenty-seven percent of physicians (both PCPs and specialists) have tablet computers such as iPads, about five times the level in the general population; 79% of physicians say they prefer iPad for clinical use.

So we’ve established that medical institutions and physicians—who are known for being early adopters of technology—appreciate the iPad and see its potential in the field.

What are they doing with those iPads? According to research from Knowledge Networks, reference applications such as Epocrates and WebMD are the most popular mobile medical apps, but apps from pharmaceutical manufacturers receive minimal use.

Pharma reps

We often receive the question at Intouch: Are pharma companies adopting iPad?

Without even having to disclose any of our clients’ confidential information, we can see there is certainly evidence of this.

A December 2010 Wall Street Journal article stated Abbott Laboratories, Medtronic Inc., and Boston Scientific Corp. were among those in our industry making the move to iPad.

The article also said medical device giant Medtronic purchased 4,500 iPads for its sales and marketing teams and “could buy as many as 6,000 iPads.”

To learn more about what Medtronic is doing with all these iPads, read this interesting article on Apple’s website.

Other sources have referenced companies such as Otsuka Pharma and Novartis as the latest to adapt the tool.

These days, the question seems to be more who “isn’t” using—or at least considering integrating—iPads into their sales process.

But do physicians appreciate the iPad when a rep walks into the office with one?

Physicians prefer reps with iPads

Intouch Solutions surveyed 100 physicians (both generalists and specialists) in March 2011 on their view of receiving product information from sales reps via different methods. We found:

Two-thirds had viewed details on a tablet device and more than one-third had already received an iPad detail from a pharma sales representative.
Of those that had received an iPad detail, 68% reported being extremely satisfied or very satisfied with the format.
A few of the verbatim reasons cited for liking the iPad detail method included “easy to read and follow,” “easy to see and sign,” and “easy to understand and remember.”
8 in 10 rated digital detailing (iPad, iPhone, iTouch, Tablet, etc.) as the same or better than previous methods such as paper-based visual aids.
Some complaints against digital detailing included references to “glitches” and computer/equipment issues.
Satisfaction with digital detailing varied by physicians who had bee practicing longer vs. a shorter amount of time.

Overall, digital detailing—information delivered in person by a representative via digital device such as a smartphone, iPad, or tablet—was still the preference.

But this preference was higher by a wide margin among younger physicians.

Significantly more physicians who had been in practice 20 years or less believed digital detailing was better than previous methods such as paper-based visual aids.

The opposite was true for physicians in practice more than 20 years, who were more comfortable with paper-based details.

It should be noted this was US data only. When the data was released, I saw several folks on Twitter calling for similar research in the UK and EU.

To date, I haven’t seen that conducted but I will be on the lookout.

Here’s the full press release. And if you’re interested in seeing more data from the study, let me know.

Is iPad right for your sales force?

There’s been a lot of talk about the shrinking pharma sales forces (which were likely too bloated to begin with, IMO) and the impact on pharma/physician relations.

My position is—and some of the research has supported—that at the end of the day, sales reps still matter.

As old fashioned as it may seem, physicians still need reps and many prefer to have a relationship with them.

For pharmaceutical companies to survive and thrive, they must consider the customer first.

Pharma companies should consider many factors—customer preference, average age of the specialty physician sector, sophistication level/format of the information in the detail, and a host of other considerations—to determine if iPad is right for their own sales force.

The iPad is becoming a tool that is more and more familiar to some—but not all—medical institutions and clinics.

Some physicians—especially the younger generations of physicians—are very responsive to the iPad as a detail device.

What’s been your experience? Are iPads sticking out of sales rep briefcases everywhere? Or is pharma—as usual—slow to adopt?

What’s been your experience with how physicians react to the iPad? Will these reactions last as the shine wears off?

Do you think it’s all hype, or is the iPad here to stay?


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