3 minute read 3 Sep 2020
EY - Child at pedicatric check up

How COVID-19 has impacted physician interactions and learning

By EY Americas

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

3 minute read 3 Sep 2020
Related topics COVID-19 Digital Health

Results of our survey highlight the need for increased digital capabilities across patient care, pharma sales rep engagement and education.

In brief

  • Physicians largely do not support the resumption of traditional in-office pharmaceutical sales methods, so marketing groups need new approaches.
  • Nearly half of physicians feel up to 25% of patient visits could be better handled virtually, and 82% anticipate that telehealth will keep increasing.
  • Online testing is the most common channel used to earn credits, whereas conferences were cited the most before the pandemic.

The pandemic has upended traditional norms around when patients seek care and how physicians provide it — and the impacts may resonate in the sector long after COVID-19 treatments are developed and social distancing fades from memory. Yet, for physicians, that’s just one interaction with new implications: how are they achieving their continuing medical education (CME) credits and interacting with sales reps from the pharmaceutical industry?

These are the questions we posed to about 400 physicians, across six specialties and in hospital and office settings, in June 2020. With a focus on the now, next and beyond, we present the insights that they shared with us to better understand the dynamics of the current and post-pandemic environments. The full report includes overall results, sometimes per specialty, but the highlights are below.

Patient care

Before COVID-19, 80% of physicians did not utilize telehealth to interact with patients. Today, 95% of physicians have increased their virtual technology usage, and 58% of those have increased usage by 50%. Nearly 60% of overall respondents say that patient communication technology is properly suited to complete patient interactions and that there is proper training to leverage digital tools for patient interaction.

Nearly 90% of physicians feel that the importance of patient communication technology will continue to increase, and 82% anticipate that their telehealth usage will continue to increase, too.

Marketing operation functions should launch innovation centers and push technology throughout the organization, to enable discussion with patients in an agile way:

  • Group health care practices by innovation expectation and prioritize them based on their needs
  • Vary communication channels by practice expectations

Sales rep interactions

Before COVID-19, 41% of physicians saw sales reps, and most interactions were product discussions and sample drops. Now about half of respondents say that sales reps are not permitted into the office and that they have not received sample drops. Interactions have largely shifted to email (30%), videoconferencing (20%) and phones (18%).

As stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures are lifted, 63% of physicians will either reassess their policies toward the reps at a future date or further delay access. The other 37% anticipate allowing modified access to their offices. Also, online sampling was infrequent in the past  — 65% didn’t participate in it — now it has become a major consideration across specialties. About 60% of physicians anticipate that future sales rep interactions will decrease by 50%.

Marketing functions at pharmaceutical and biotech companies should adjust staffing and technological/user experience capabilities to meet HCP needs. This may include:

  • Per diem/contractor sales reps to fluctuate as needed
  • Democratization of IT department
  • Shift in power from COOs to CIOs
  • Increased data analytics capabilities to track customer needs and personalize the response


Before COVID-19, physicians most frequently participate in conferences to gain CME credits, although 88% of respondents had experience using online platforms. Of the physicians that had participated in virtual learning, 61% considered the online platforms comparable to in-person activities.

But today, online testing has become the most common channel used to earn CME credits. Of those who didn’t use virtual learning platforms before COVID-19, 72% plan to increase their usage of online learning in the future.

In response, medical education/medical affairs functions should restructure and pilot more virtual medical education content:

  • Develop TA-aligned teams to launch specialized medical education programs based on a health care’s practice needs
  • Design online platform in-house or collaborate with a third-party technological platform to increase practice engagement with the company
  • About the survey

    The online survey, conducted in June 2020, included 401 US-based physicians across 6 specialties, practicing at either an office or hospital setting.


The pandemic has shifted the dynamics across patient care, sales rep tactics and medical education, with implications for how you operate, particularly in marketing functions.

About this article

By EY Americas

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

Related topics COVID-19 Digital Health