The New York ePharma Summit ground through the usual series of topics marketers roll through when talking about the promotional space – becoming customer-centric, what to fear/anticipate over the next five years, and providing quality content.

Yet it was in a Tuesday end-of-day panel comprised of doctors and a Pfizer executive that zeroed in on the real issue: what doctors need as opposed to what pharma thinks they should want.

This was an almost-touched-on issue in a presentation that told the largely empty ballroom that the key to a physician’s heart was the ability to provide customized details that kept reps and doctors from flipping through irrelevant slides with narratives that could be pieced together on-the-fly.

While time-saving, the late-day panel, which included cardiologist Jordan Safirstein and Kecia Gaither, Ob/Gyn and maternal fetal medicine director of Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Care in Brooklyn, highlighted why the custom tablet detail is a solid, but not on-target effort.

Safirstein said the bigger issue is that “Pharma has to find a way to insert its way into doctor’s lives,” and current efforts tend to be a mix of inefficient old-school approaches and information that doesn’t aid decision-making for the increasing number of doctors who do not get to choose what medications they prescribe, but are left to navigate formularies and treatments determined by group health organizations.

Safirstein said pharma needs to think outside its immediate interests — as in brand-centric thinking — and become a true resource beyond, say, being a source of patient co-pay cards. “No one ever says ‘Thank God you gave me that co-pay coupon, Doc,’” he said, noting that these cards do trigger a reaction when they end up in a stack that have expired and are of no used to patients. His solution: integrate coupons into EHRs so there’s no effort and no patient alienation. Saperstein noted that the marketing doesn’t have to focus on doctors but can be tools they can provide patients, such as an iPhone heart monitor patients can use to track their heart rhythms — as long as it doesn’t lean heavily on drug promotion.

Perhaps most surprising is that Pfizer executive Wendy Mayer, the company’s worldwide innovation VP, acknowledged that there is a gap between knowing what healthcare providers and organizations need and getting that messaging to filter down to the brand marketing level. Mayer said the organization is moving in that direction, but has to wend its way through several other awareness-into-action needs, such as the right channels and patient focus, and that the professional-centric messaging will follow.

The need to hit that final target is not an optional one. “Physicians really have no say anymore for drugs they want on the formulary,” Gaither said. The Brooklyn physician laid out the mindset pharma needs to adopt if it hopes a drug pitch makes it across the threshold, recalling a patient for whom she had to advocate a higher-priced medication which would help fetal lung development in a 24-hour period as opposed to the cheaper drug which would take 48 hours. She won on economics, pointing out that should the infant be born with under-developed lungs the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit coverage would cost far more than the more expensive drug.