Pharma's new best friend

James Chase
James Chase

So I don't own an iPad. In fact, I have never even used one. You surely assumed that since I work in the media, I probably fit the target iPad demographic. I even write stories about physicians—undoubtedly the most fanatical and fiercely loyal of the tablet device's 30-million-plus US fan base.

Just what is the deal with physicians and iPads? I understand the arguments about the function and the form of the device, and its conduciveness to both the professional rigors and personal preferences of healthcare professionals. But that's not enough. It can't be enough, alone, to explain why, in April 2010, a sizeable population of intelligent, mildly disgruntled former Blackberry users organized its ranks and started a stampede with the aim of buying as many units as possible of these unproven devices—which, to be honest, were a little difficult to hold and appeared to be missing a USB port, and shipped with just enough RAM to allow two alerts to be set concurrently, provided nothing else was running.

Amazingly, the doctors' instincts had been spot on, and over the following weeks and months, the flow of traffic between doctor's offices and Apple Stores would only intensify. Even so, few could have predicted that this phenomenon would have the stamina to run and run and run in the way that it has. Because you are reading MM&M, then you may have seen the latest screen-shattering numbers to emerge from Manhattan Research's annual surveys of physicians.

A few weeks ago, MR's Taking the Pulse 2012 study revealed that 62% of physicians now own tablets (up from 35% in 2011) while a whopping 85% own smartphones. Just before press time, these results were compounded by the release of new data from ePharma Physician 2012 (which focuses only on those doctors seeking health information through digital channels). The study revealed that 65% of ePharma physicians see reps with iPads (vs. just 30% the previous year). Not only that, as a direct result from a meeting with an iPad rep, 35% of doctors said they would be more likely to request a sample, while 29% revealed they would be more likely to consider prescribing the drug being promoted.

To their credit, pharma companies wised up quickly to the revolution, and most acted with unprecedented speed and precision to rework their platforms and redeploy their iPad-enabled ranks.

In many cases, these orders came from the top. Novartis CEO Joe Jiminez distributed an internal memo around that time, which read, “It's clear that we need to move quickly to incorporate this kind of cutting-edge technology into the way we work.”

Apple's tablet device, it seems, is now pharma's best friend, too. But it's not as simple as just rolling up to the physician's office, flashing your iPad for five minutes and watching market share soar. Doctors can be fussy about their expectations for these interactions.

“They have very high standards for what they expect these campaigns to look like,” says Monique Levy, VP Research, Manhattan Research. “They want them to be crisp and interactive and have all the possibilities for what these devices can offer. There is something about the [iPad rep] engagement that is really crystallizing their thinking.”

“Crystallized” thinking. I had suspected all along that chemistry was involved. Maybe that was it.

For more mobile health trends and insights, see The Mobile Guide 2012, distributed free with this issue.
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