Medical Affairs Leadership Explore
The Use & Benefits of Remote Engagement Globally

Dr. Kumaran Krishnan

Associate Director MSL and Digital Transformation, Teva Europe

Marco Avila

VP, Medical Affairs,

Teva Europe



In the “always connected” environment that we currently live in and the endless resources available at our fingertips on the internet, people with medical conditions have more information about their condition and treatment options than ever



In the United States alone, since as far back as 2001, more than 52 million adults have searched the internet for health and medical information.1 This figure rose to 93 million in the year 2016.2 Such a high level of knowledge among patients visiting healthcare professionals (HCPs) is changing the patient-physician relationship when it comes to choosing treatment options. Gerber and Eiser3 opine that the availability of medical information online will influence the course of relationship and possibly influence health outcomes.


Therefore, physicians, in order to be a step ahead of their patients, access medical information online regularly. Several studies4, 5 have outlined that more and more physicians are accessing the internet for medical information either just before seeing or while with their patients in order to seek information or to better and quicken their decision-making process. This shift in consumer behavior is fast replacing the standard practice of fulfilling medical information requests from HCPs, which includes responding through traditional face-to-face interactions via medical or sales force personnel or often a written standard response letter sent via email or by post.


There is also a trend among HCPs toward not meeting industry personnel face to face due to lack of free time. In other words, pharma industry representatives are often denied access to HCPs.


In order to engage customers to drive medical strategy and address unsolicited medical inquiries, the industry is forced to consider novel strategies of meeting customers in their channel of choice.


The key drivers of the trend we currently observe in the healthcare space are:

  • Availability of a wide variety of online information

  • Accessibility of the internet across different devices such as mobiles, TABLETS, AND DESKTOPS

  • An increasing number of people being well informed

Although this “always connected” trend is a great opportunity for patients, physicians, and the healthcare industry, it also poses significant challenges on the type, quality, and reliability of the content available from these online sources. Healthcare companies are therefore under tremendous pressure to provide credible, unbiased, reliable, and high-quality medical information about their products and services and, most importantly, make them available on demand whenever and wherever the customer requires.


One emerging “on-demand” trend in engaging with HCPs is connecting remotely to discuss medical content using a dedicated audio-visual and screen-sharing platform. The use of such a platform comes with its own opportunities and challenges.


Although there are many scholarly articles and industry reports available on the use of the internet in searching for medical information, there is a clear need for a study when it comes to understanding the opportunities and challenges and predicting the future trend in the use of modern on-demand digital technology in discussing medical content with HCPs.


This study aims to understand the OPPORTUNITIES, CHALLENGES AS WELL AS PREDICT the future trend in the use of modern on-demand digital technology while discussing medical content with HCPs; identify how frequently the healthcare industry engages with the HCPs REMOTELY; AND IDENTIFY THE types and methods of interaction along with the key opportunities and challenges for such engagements.

The survey was designed by the authors and conducted online using an online survey development cloud-based software to collect responses. 

Respondents were invited to participate in the survey via the authors’ network. Duplicate survey responses from a single IP address were not accepted.


As this research was more strategic in nature, the targeted respondents were personnel holding senior positions within the industry. These were individuals who were responsible for taking strategic decisions regarding the identification and implementation of customer engagement plans. Having said that, responses were also collected from some end users such as medical science liaisons (MSLs) and commercial sales representatives to understand their perspectives.


There were 104 respondents from across the world. As this is not a probability-based sample, calculation of the theoretical margin of sampling error is not applicable.


Although 30 physicians from certain key markets also responded to the survey, which allowed the authors to understand the customer perspective, the sample was too small to provide statistically significant results. The authors are confident that the information gathered from this survey can be used to make important business decisions related to this particular topic.





Do you remotely engage with HCPs?

When asked if their organization remotely engaged with HCPs, 80% of the respondents said that they engaged only through emails and phone calls and did not have any dedicated platform to engage remotely. At the time of the survey, 48% of respondents had only face-to-face engagements, 19% were thinking of piloting remote engagement platforms, 14% used audio-visual platforms, and 7% were involved in piloting a dedicated remote engagement platform.


When asked how frequently they remotely engaged with HCPs, 47% of the respondents replied that they engaged sparingly, 25% engaged at least once a month, 7% at least once a week, and 7% every day or every other day.


A total of 52% of the respondents outlined that less than 10% of their total HCP engagements were conducted remotely, 25% of the respondents conducted 10% to 25% of their HCP engagements remotely, and 10% of the respondents stated that 25% to 75% of their HCP engagements were conducted remotely.


Among the organizations currently engaging with HCPs remotely, 35% of the respondents outlined that they dedicate a proportion of their current customer-facing staff time for remote engagements from remote locations such as their home offices and 12% from their offices, whereas 10% have dedicated office-based MSL staff to handle remote calls and 7% are currently thinking of deploying dedicated MSLs for this activity.



Remote engagement methods used to engage with HCPs

Among the most popular scenarios, 52% of the respondents outlined that the MSLs preschedule remote discussions and conduct them from PCs, tablets, or mobile phones.


In all, 6% of the engagements arise from ongoing face-to-face detailing with an HCP, where a commercial sales representative connects the HCP with a remote MSL via a tablet.

Frequently used scenarios for remote engagement



Prescheduled calls with HCPs and using PCs/tablets/mobile phones to connect are the most popular trends.

Opportunities and Challenges

Key Challenges for Remote Engagement

When asked about the opportunities presented by remote engagement, a majority of the respondents outlined that it shortens the response time, followed by decreased travel time, leverage of data across channels and functions to enhance customer experience, increased access to HCPs, and significantly reduced costs.


Among the existing challenges, the absence of a clear organizational digital strategy and investment is seen as the major challenge, followed by unprepared customers, regulatory and healthcare compliance, lack of stable internet connectivity/bandwidth, and lack of dedicated staff or staff time.

Opportunities for Remote Engagement


The internet is dramatically changing the way patients and HCPs access medical information about disease states and choice of medication. This is also changing the patient-physician relationship and customer expectations.

In an “always on” environment, HCPs also demand credible and unbiased medical information quickly, much quicker than the traditional face-to-face methods.


Although face-to-face engagements with HCPs are traditionally preferred and considered most effective, in a fast-paced environment that requires credible answers immediately, novel digital platforms can be used to leverage effective engagement when demanded by the customers.


Remote engagement platforms that do not require expensive hardware or high internet bandwidth and are easy to use offer tremendous opportunities to the healthcare sector in terms of quick or immediate credible responses to HCP questions about disease states and treatment options, leading to an improved customer experience. From the point of view of business, decreased pressure on travel budget and travel time and significant cost savings are seen as the key opportunities of remote engagements.


There are key challenges too in this area, ranging from lack of digital strategy to absence of dedicated personnel; lack of sufficient budget and support from senior management; and lack of stable internet connectivity, bandwidth, and firewall at the customers’ end. Leveraging modern technology can help us overcome the technological challenges, whereas the right attitude, investment, and a push from the business side are imperative to make things work.

Finally, in order to provide quick and credible scientific information to HCPs, there is an increasing need for the healthcare industry to EMPLOY modern digital remote engagement platforms.

Although this research has identified the key trends, challenges, and opportunities, there is a need for further structured and in-depth research on the beliefs, attitudes, and preferences of individuals who are using but not willing to use novel digital technologies. Interestingly, the dialogue with customers on remote engagement uncovers a more fundamental challenge that revolves around developing a content strategy to support remote engagement and connecting the customer to the best qualified person quickly and seamlessly.

1.    The Pew Internet and American Life Project. Published February 1, 2001.


2.    Jane Weaver. More people search for health online. NBC News Web Site. Published July 16, 2013.


3.    Gerber BS, Eiser AR. The patient-physician relationship in the internet age: future prospects and the research agenda. J Med Internet Res. 2001;3(2):e15.


4.    De Leo G, LeRouge C, Ceriani C, Niederman F. Websites most frequently used by physician for gathering medical information. AMIA Annu Symp Proc. 2006:902.

5.    Martin S. Younger physicians, specialists use Internet more. CMAJ. 2004;170(12):1780. doi:10.1503/cmaj.1040621.

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