Drug companies are putting their in-house medical staffs on call for prescribers to ask product-related questions or report adverse events via smartphone.

A “Contact Manufacturer” feature, which launched last week on the iPhone and iPod touch, enables physicians and allied health professionals to call medical affairs groups at two pharma companies, Pfizer and AstraZeneca, and pose on-label questions or file AERs on multiple brands. The feature now appears in the drug profiles of 40 Pfizer brands and eight AZ products available through mobile vendor Epocrates’ drug reference.

“This is a way for us to provide physicians with greater access,” Freda Lewis-Hall, MD, Pfizer SVP and chief medical officer, told MM&M. “This puts us literally in their hands.” Kristen Neese, Pfizer director, worldwide communications, added that the 40 brands—which include Lipitor, Chantix, Viagra, Pristiq, Sutent and Celebrex—are its most widely prescribed products and the ones which elicit the most queries.

The AZ products include Nexium, Symbicort, Crestor, Atacand and Seroquel. In addition to clinical questions and adverse-event reporting, physicians can also contact AZ with questions on a drug’s formulary status and to request samples or educational resources.

“AstraZeneca is committed to providing healthcare professionals timely and accurate information on our products,” said Elizabeth Shaheen, AZ senior manager, commercial communications. “The Epocrates contact manufacturer iPhone application provides physicians another way to ask product questions and receive an accurate response from AstraZeneca at their convenience.”

The first company to use the tool, Pfizer piloted the feature on Epocrates earlier this year with just seven brands, enabling users to access only the AER feature. HCPs asked to be able to query medical specialists, as well.

Prior to its Epocrates effort, Lewis-Hall said Pfizer experimented with offering medical information to physicians chatting on physician social-media site Sermo. This beta “initially met with some resistance,” she recalled. “It was thought maybe if manufacturers were involved, the information would not be trusted.” However, she said, soon after the Sermo pilot began, it won praise for having made unbiased and timely information available. “We thought, ‘Well, if you can do that while they are chatting, why not when they are actively seeking information.’”

Pfizer hopes the function enhances patient care. Epocrates is working to enable clinicians to reach companies via e-mail, as well, and to launch the tool on other mobile platforms.

“It’s something we will continue to enhance,” said Neese. “As we move forward, we will look at other products and geographies. Certainly any newly approved products would be part of the functionality.”