July 30, 2020
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Virtual or Face to Face, Field Engagement Is Still About Relationships

June 16, 2020

If anyone had doubts about the power of virtual engagement, telemedicine and digital health, COVID-19 has laid them to rest. Throughout the pandemic, technology has kept hundreds of thousands of patients, HCPs and field teams connected, engaged and productive.

Case in point: In a five-day period in March, our Syneos Health Deployment Solutions teams essentially flipped a switch and moved sales reps from 99% face-to-face interactions to more than 90% virtual. Without tools like Veeva Engage, Zoom, Webex and Microsoft Teams, our work would have ground to a halt.

But even more important are the relationships our sales force has cultivated with providers and hospital staff. In many conversations over the past few weeks, sales representatives have told me how friendship and camaraderie with physicians—often built up over years of face-to-face contact—were the key to sustained, virtual engagement when health systems and practices closed up in March.

Our sales reps’ passion for providing critical information despite all obstacles is impressive—and it’s good to learn that the relationships are valued on both sides. As one sales team member told me: “If they wanted to see us before COVID-19, they definitely want to see us now.” 

As cities and states thread a path to reopening there are new considerations for time-tested, in-person interactions. Safety protocols have varied depending on the customer, the state, the hospital system, and sometimes the therapeutic area. These variables aside, our representatives say they have continued to nurture key relationships throughout the crisis.

Many in the field say the pandemic has created an emotionally charged environment that underscores camaraderie. After all, we’re in this together. Every interaction must be predicated on empathy, one representative told me.  “We take our lead from what they put forward. Maybe there is no hugging today, but people still want to have lunch.”

How will the picture change in three months, or in six?  In a May survey of physicians in five therapeutic areas, Syneos Health found that only one-third of doctors were ready to receive product information through in-person visits. And among oncologists, less than one-quarter said they would do so. Yet doctors also told us they are eager to continue receiving information and samples.

We believe face-to-face interactions will keep gaining traction as more regions return to normal. In the survey, half of physicians said they will let reps back in over the next two-plus months, provided they stay in their cars until called. As for our own sales staff, just over one-third had been instructed by their customers to re-enter the field as of June 1, and by mid-July the total should nearly double.

If there is a silver lining to the pandemic, it is the ability to flip the switch and go virtual, both in our personal and professional lives. The impact, in our case, is avoiding interruptions as we deliver important information to physicians and patients.

That said, there is no switch we can flip to turn off the tragedy of COVID-19 or ease the burdens and risks faced by nurses, doctors and hospital staff. The transition to virtual was nearly instantaneous; the return path, we now know, will be cautious and deliberate.

In conversations, our sales teams express a sense of honor and pride in their relationships with providers and hospital staff. We’re grateful for every opportunity to engage with these individuals, and gratified to know that so many of them feel the same way.