Should a doctor pay for MRs?

May 8, 2021 0 By FM

The drastic coronavirus attack across the world did pause our lives but also led to unpredicted development in the health sector.

In recent years, healthcare innovators have brought us artificial intelligence algorithms that can read chest X-rays better than radiologists. It has brought us inexpensive genomic sequencing that can guide personalised cancer treatments leading to vast improvements in health management.

At the same time, the pandemic has placed disorganised demands on the modern healthcare system. As the pharma sector is finding out, today’s technologies can create the efficiency and flexibility needed to navigate uncertainty. However, this transformation requires a shift in mindset, not just amongst the consumers but also those serving within the industry.

The pharmaceutical sector is divided into two segments: one is the ‘acute segment’, which involves anti-virals and anti-bacterials. The second is ‘chronic segment’ which includes drugs for hypertension, diabetes and mental health which have long-term implications. Till COVID-19, the chronic segment was doing very well.

But now, the consultation guidelines given during the time of the COVID-19 in the pharma segment have altered the landscape tremendously where telemedicine and teleconsultation are playing an important role.

While most of us have written about recent trends in the pharmaceutical sector during the pandemic, not many have focused on the challenges, opportunities and innovations that the industry has thrown open in front of the healthcare workforce, including the doctors and the medical representatives.

Acceleration of Digitization

While the pandemic has raised unparalleled demands, the industry — especially the pharma industry — has shown a response that has demonstrated innovations to bring in the best possible services. However, the most important human resources who would utilize the services of the pharma industry are the doctors and the medical representatives at the moment. Doctors and medical representatives utilized digital platforms and calls to communicate during the pandemic. The most important question that arises is whether digitization will accelerate or whether it will go back to the old model of servicing by medical representatives. The pharma industry has bounced back post-COVID-19 and this is definitely a good sign. The business will always be broken down into two categories: a) where contact is required b) where physical contact is not required.

Fieldwork: An interface

The first thing which we need to understand is that ‘field work’ is the interface between the doctor and a pharmaceutical professional. This is where productivity is actually derived from. Post-COVID, when the norms were relaxed, doctors had started seeing patients and medical representatives. Things were returning to normal. Doctors, who would earlier feel the need to consult the patient over the phone, from a mobile application, or through virtual consultation, were reducing the gap by meeting patients and medical representatives in person. However, that scenario also created multiple challenges.

Pay per visit

Doctors can be categorized as those a) who would like to meet in person in spite of the virus b) those who would meet through virtual platforms and would not involve through in-person discussion and c) those who would never prefer to meet anyone during the pandemic. This is where companies began to innovate for gaining profitability on their slacked services. While every service is now being paid, the services rendered by pharmaceutical representatives which were earlier free of cost have now begun to change.

Now some hospitals charge a consultation fee for receiving a consultation from a pharmaceutical representative.

For example, Fortis Hospital Mohali enforced and issued a circular for medical representatives. In case the medical representatives wished to meet the doctors, they would have to deposit a fee at the counter for every visit. This raised numerous questions in the medical representative fraternity. There is a possibility that if this is implemented or accepted, then there is a strong chance that it might percolate to other institutions as well.

Digitization challenges

Medical representatives from companies are now focused on offering paid consultation. The rationale is that the data offered by these representatives might be chargeable and not free. But the question that arises is, ‘Why would a doctor invest in a 25 MB file from a single representative?’ If the doctor wants to meet 20 different representatives, then it will be a big challenge to invest such a huge amount. Another level of challenge is that all doctors are not digitally literate, especially those in rural areas and those on the outskirts of the city. The IT infrastructure in India is not as advanced as in other countries. Hence, it is necessary to contemplate if such issues can be resolved by medical representatives, pharma companies and doctors.

COVID-19 has pushed the whole ecosystem five years ahead in time. What seemed impossible yesterday is now an innovative theory applied across the sector. While the industry might see tremendous shifts, these shifts must be in favour of the workforce which has been the backbone of industry, especially the doctors and medical representatives. The government and the industry must work towards a collaborative way of implementing practices, innovations and mandates that are feasible for both the doctors and the medical representatives on the whole.