From the interactivity – or the lack of it – on this blog I wondered if perhaps a problem with writing a blog is that my message may be reaching entirely the wrong audience. A couple of weeks ago, a friend who works with IBM LifeSciences asked me to address his sales group on how I thought the healthcare market was shaping in India and to help them understand how IBM, in India, could engage with healthcare service providers to develop technology solutions for their pressing problems. This was my first interaction with professionals outside the pharmaceutical sales and marketing arena and I must say, it was very stimulating!
After that, I wondered why pharmaceutical sales reps don’t think like the IBM folks and ask questions like them. After all, the objectives are the same. Of course, pharma reps don’t deal with all stakeholders across the healthcare delivery value chain – meaning hospital administrators, supply chain agents, patients and caregivers – and focus only on doctors, treating them as sole decision makers in healthcare delivery. And therein, I thought lay the problem.
Pharma reps undergo company training programs that are quite basic in nature. These deal with disease pathology and basic science, teach them how the products [that they’re supposed to sell] help to control or cure those diseases, how the products are positioned, make them conversational with the marketing support programs and brush up their conversational skills. What these training programs lack is a futuristic view on healthcare delivery. They hardly even cover the healthcare delivery value chain, choosing to focus only on the company’s product portfolio instead. A survey recently found that doctors spend only 8% of their typical working day interacting with pharma reps. Considering that Indian clinicians hardly utilize other sources of information to update their knowledge, this is paltry! But can one blame them when one looks at the value of information provided by the pharma rep? Training therefore, plays an extremely important role in shaping clinicians’ views of a pharmaceutical company and its products.
Training and re-training is a big issue, not just in India but around the world. From a clinician’s perspective, medical schools don’t teach them about technology – they teach them about stethoscopes, ECGs and X-rays, but that’s about it! So, clinicians need on-the-job training to bring them up to speed. But that doesn’t go far enough. Training needs to start in the medical schools and nursing colleges. Courses such as Health Informatics should be a continuous stream throughout medical schools so that medical students learn how to apply technology in a variety of contexts and environments that they will work in the future. Now… just think. If doctors and clinicians are “behind”, and they’re in the industry, imagine the actual technical knowledge of the average patient! And, the patient pays the bills. Doesn’t it sound like they need to be trained as well?