The increasing number of clinicians willing to meet virtually has driven the rate of rep-friendly physicians to a record high of 60% in the U.S., according to a recent report released by Veeva. 

That figure, a cross-specialty tally, is up from an average of about 20% during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report shows the extent to which in-person visits, long a staple of the typical drugmaker’s marketing playbook, have been complemented by virtual meetings in the engagement mix. With more than half of all accessible physicians using video in combination with in-person, video is supporting its offline cousin, not supplanting it.

“Video actually expands access,” said Dan Rizzo, VP of business consulting for Veeva, which compiled the data as part of its latest Pulse Field Trends Report analyzing over 600 million HCP interactions and activities on its platform. “If we think about the pool of physicians who use in-person and video versus a pool of physicians that use in-person only, the latter group is not the majority. [That group] meets with pharma two-and-a-half times less than the doctors that meet with pharma through both in-person and video.”

Those findings dispel the notion that doctors who started to hold video calls with drug reps during the pandemic would no longer do so in person, said Rizzo. Moreover, virtual interactions, which tend to be longer (averaging 18 minutes in the U.S., per Veeva’s data), may actually pave the way for more conventional engagement.

“If I’m having this conversation over the course of 20 minutes of a video, you’re more willing to meet with me for three or four minutes when I show back up at the office,” said Rizzo. 

Veeva’s data bears that out. Oncologists who met only in person averaged 4.5 meetings with pharma per month, for example, while those who engaged via a combination averaged 11 meetings a month.

The percentage of accessible doctors — i.e., those willing to see pharma reps — has been a closely watched data point for years. Conventional wisdom holds that only about a third of physicians open their doors to reps, virtually or otherwise. Rizzo said Veeva’s access figure is higher due to broader coverage and the way it defines accessibility. 

But most agree that the rate reached a new low during the pandemic. Circa 2010, roughly 60% of clinicians were rep-accessible. In the years leading up to the pandemic, estimates showed access declined further, largely due to the industry-wide downsizing of pharma sales forces, as well as the trend toward organized medicine — i.e., doctors becoming employees — and more institutions banning reps from their medical practices and hospitals.

While the new study suggests access is back, there’s a caveat. Not all reps are seeing a rebound. Physicians are extremely selective in whom they spend their time with. More than 50% meet with three or fewer companies, Veeva found, and willingness to meet differs by specialty. 

For example, 55% of oncologists meet with three or fewer companies, and 30% of psychiatrists limit access to just one company. “It is a scenario where HCPs are choosing who to spend time with and being really thoughtful around where they get value – and where they don’t,” explained Rizzo.

Psychiatry, internal medicine and neurology were the three specialties associated with the lowest levels of engagement.

With in-person meetings no longer the sole indicator of HCP access, Veeva argues, investments made in omnichannel capabilities like video should continue to yield results and can be a “differentiator” when combined with face-to-face selling. Pharma’s digital media spending, for one, is expected to continue growing over the next two years, albeit more slowly.

“Compared to the days of just showing up in person and getting that 20-second ‘hello’ or that three-minute meeting, when reps were just flooding the doors,” said Rizzo, “It’s a different model today.”