The pharmaceutical industry has been undergoing major changes lately including the transfer of a portion of its basic research effort to contract research organizations (CROs) (see: CROs Continue to Prosper; Benefits of Big Pharma Outsourcing) and greater emphasis on marketing including growing expenditures on direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertisements (see: Drug Company Emphasis on Marketing an Unfavorable Shift for Consumers; Effectiveness of "Direct-to-Consumer" Drug Advertisements; Why Drug Companies Want to Sell You Foot Powder). Another significant change for pharmaceutical marketing has been the greater emphasis on e-detailing and less support for CME (see: Growth of Online CME Interpreted as Bad News for Pharma Marketers; Pharma-Free CME Activities: Is This the Right Approach?). This greater interest in e-detailing is described in a recent article, an excerpt from which is presented below (see: Pfizer nearly doubles amount spent on e-detailing):
Pfizer increased its spending on online professional promotion by more than 90% last year, according to a study, a sign the drugmaker is emphasizing alternatives to live sales reps for detailing certain products. Among all drug companies, Pfizer accounted for the second-highest amount of e-marketing to healthcare providers: $27 million through the first 11 months of the year. That's a 93% increase over the $14 million it spent during the first 11 months of 2008, according to a study from marketing-research firm SDI.....The stats reflect spending on e-detailing, online events and virtual detailing....As more healthcare facilities erect gates between physicians and pharma sales reps, industry is increasing use of web-based detailing. Through the first 11 months of 2009, overall drug industry spend increased 7% to $477 million, from $447 million during the prior year's first 11 months....Another possible attraction for marketers, according to [a spokesperson, is the following]: “In ePromotion you have extreme control over the message. You're not putting it in a sales reps' hands to discuss; it's the exact message you want to come across.” That's important to a company like Pfizer. Last year it paid a record $2.3 billion to settle government charges that it improperly marketed certain products for off-label uses, among them Zyvox. Among the ways the government said Pfizer salespeople conducted off-label promotion were improper distribution of samples and handling of doctors' medical questions.
It's significant that this article fails to mention that the cost for having pharmaceutical reps "detail" physicians in person is much more expensive than e-detailing. Rather it emphasizes the fact that e-messages are easier to control centrally by companies, thereby avoiding problems such as off-label marketing and improper distribution of samples by sales personnel. I personally view e-detailing in a more positive light than sales calls regardless of the motivation of the pharmaceutical companies in pursuing this sales channel. Although the pharmaceutical companies can control the front-end of the conversation (i. e., the information transmitted), they cannot control the back-end (i. e., the information received by physicians). This is because the physician being e-detailed about a particular drug can search the web simultaneously for the results of scientific articles about the same product. In so doing, he or she may be able to acquire a less-slanted view of its therapeutic effectiveness and complications of the product. In fact, I would suggest that all e-detailing messages be legally required to contain links to a large set of high-quality on-line articles discussing the drug being promoted.