Bad news for pharma marketers: Physicians are becoming harder to reach.

According to data from global sales and marketing firm ZS, the number of physicians who will meet with at least 70% of the pharma sales reps who request a meeting has dropped to 44%, down from 46% a year ago and 80% in 2008.

At the same time, more than half (53%) of all marketing to physicians takes place through "non-personal" marketing channels.

Digital channels in this category include email and SMS alerts.

Today, physicians say they spend 84 hours per year interacting with pharma firms through non-personal channels, which they estimate represents 64% of the total time they spend interacting with pharma firms.

It can be overwhelming. According to ZS:

Today, each of the 26,000 prescribers contacted most frequently by pharmacos receive around 2,800 contacts per year from the pharmaceutical industry.

This amounts to about one contact – an in-person sales rep visit, email, phone call or other – every working hour, including weekends and holidays.

And they receive these commercial messages on nearly every device, including iPads, mobile phones and laptops.

Interestingly, despite the fact that physicians perceive that non-personal channels account for the majority of their pharma interactions and pharma companies estimate that 52% of their outreach is through non-personal channels, budgets don't appear to have shifted yet.

A whopping 88% of sales and marketing dollars are still allocated to sales staff.

Increasingly elusive physicians

With the majority of physicians restricting access to sales reps, and 18% of them now "severely" restricting access by meeting with fewer than 30% of the reps who try to meet with them, it's clear that physicians are becoming more elusive and pharma marketers will need to up their game to reach them.

According to Malcolm Sturgis, the associate principal at ZS who led the firm's study: "To reach physicians, the pharma industry must become more targeted and sophisticated in its multichannel marketing efforts.

"As the variety of alternative marketing channels available today continue to expand, it is critical for pharma to focus on providing a better experience and respond promptly to customer challenges."

That doesn't mean getting too aggressive, or going too broad.

"While non-personal communications provide an opportunity to reach those 'tough-to-see' prescribers, blindly inundating healthcare providers with digital communications isn't the best solution," Sturgis noted.

Pharma marketers will also need to carefully craft the messages they deliver to physicians because of trust: according to a study conducted by Deloitte Consulting, 75% of physicians don't entirely trust information that comes from pharma.

But despite the challenges pharma marketers face in today's environment, a large number (84%) told Deloitte that they are influenced by proprietary data, such as efficacy data, that only pharma companies can provide.

And 65% indicated they'd be willing to interact with pharma firms around that content through social channels.

There are also new channels, like EHRs, through which pharma marketers have opportunities to provide value to physicians and interact with them in meaningful ways.

So as physicians become harder to reach through traditional channels and take more control over their interactions with pharma companies, expect to see pharma marketers adapt by investing more in non-personal digital channels.

For more on this topic, check out these reports:

Patricio Robles

Published 7 October, 2016 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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