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Making sense of e-detailing in Japan's pharmaceutical sector

The branded pharmaceutical industry is performing at a level of productivity that is lower than what modern technology allows for.

For decades, pharmaceutical companies had a simple business model. They hired thousands of sales reps who would hustle from door-to-door, desperate to win a few minutes time from physicians to attempt to convince them why Product A had superior efficacy and/or fewer side effects than Product B.

The practice, which has changed little over the years, is unwieldy and inefficient. Is there a better way?

The branded pharmaceutical industry is performing at a level of productivity that is lower than what modern technology would allow it. The current, labor intensive approach to selling (and largely qualitative approach to physician segmentation) is not the result of technical limits. Physicians have been quick to use PCs, tablets and the Internet; pharmaceutical companies have plenty of data at their disposal. Instead, the industry is making a conscious choice—based on inertia and fear of ceding some market position and dropping out of the "MR (Medical Representative) arms race."

Now, however, after much trial and error, the industry might be on the cusp of something much more promising—and Japan is leading the way. The practice is known as "e-detailing" or electronic detailing. The term refers to interacting with physicians virtually rather than physically. It often takes place through a company’s own website or through a physician portal coupled with email-driven promotions and attached explanatory videos offering up-to-date pharmaceutical product information.