Only one event in recent history has catapulted our industry into a virtual environment after years of slow virtual integration within healthcare. You guessed it – COVID-19. From how various stakeholders interact with each other and amongst themselves to the immediate development of tools and tactics that serve to limit the impacts of the economic and social fallouts of the pandemic, one thing is clear: virtual engagement will likely remain a mainstay in how we do business and care for patients going forward.

All of the market access and healthcare stakeholders have been impacted by this massive shift in how we engage—patients, providers and healthcare professionals (HCPs), government and private payers, and manufacturers alike. Before COVID-19, 64% of pharma meetings with HCPs were reportedly held in person; with the pandemic, this has evolved to 65% of meetings held virtually across all therapeutic areas.1 Patients have delayed care and canceled elective procedures in many cases or moved to virtual visits with their providers. Payers have had to change their coverage policies to accommodate the need for virtual engagement and the rise of telehealth. Manufacturers have had to reassess all aspects of their customer engagement models. Needless to say, this current environment has forced change in a way that would have likely taken years to implement otherwise.

One of the most prominent changes in virtual engagement this past year has been the advancement of telehealth and telemedicine tools in healthcare. Telemedicine services grew by >1200% in March 2020 and >4000% just a month later.2 According to a report by JD Power, patient satisfaction with telehealth is approximately 86%.3 Utilization has varied over the past year, but most stakeholders agree that the use of telehealth will remain integrated within the delivery of care going forward.

Other virtual engagement market access tools that have been employed or developed include the following:

  • Engagement portals with HCPs
  • Web conferencing for meetings and education
  • Email marketing
  • Virtual or electronic provider detailing apps4
  • Social media platforms
  • Remote patient monitoring
  • Digital therapeutics
  • Wearable devices

Our new virtual landscape does not come without challenges, however, but these challenges open the door to opportunities for stakeholders to engage with their customers, especially for pharma. HCPs and payers are likely flooded with emails and requests for meetings and may be overwhelmed; 57% of HCPs said pharma sales reps are failing to understand the real impact of COVID-19 on their practices.1 Therefore, implementing a targeted strategy for engagement and ensuring virtual meeting content is streamlined and innovative can provide advantages in gaining an audience. Time with customers is increasingly limited, but 88% of HCPs said they want to hear about new treatments despite the pandemic.1 Ensuring that tools like educational resources and value propositions are innovative, relevant, and engaging will be key for the future of market access. Field teams will need to be flexible and resources will need to be fully revamped as necessary to accommodate the potential for mixed engagement, both in person and virtual, in the future.

Manufacturers should develop a digital and hybrid approach to meeting the needs of customers. This includes:

  1. Keeping abreast of the rapidly changing environment and identifying innovative digital and virtual solutions
  2. Understanding the unique challenges and needs of each stakeholder and how these needs may change over time
  3. Shifting resources internally as necessary to address these changing customer needs, and
  4. Identifying opportunities for collaboration with key stakeholders

Eighty-seven percent of HCPs indicate that they prefer all virtual or a combination of virtual and in-person meetings post-pandemic,1 a clear indication that virtual engagement is here to stay. Now more than ever, market access players know that coming together to identify new solutions in a flexible and fast-paced environment is imperative. Manufacturers have a major opportunity in developing partnerships that offer unique and efficient virtual engagement solutions.


  1. Reinventing relevance: new models for pharma engagement with healthcare providers in a COVID-19 world. Accessed April 14, 2021. (link)
  2. Whaley CM, Pera MF, Cantor J. Changes in health services use among commercially insured US populations during the COVID-19 pandemic. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(11):e2024984. (link)
  3. Telehealth patient satisfaction surges during pandemic but barriers to access persist, J.D. Power finds. Press release. JD Power. October 1, 2020. Accessed April 14, 2021. (link)
  4. How pharma can fully digitize interactions with healthcare professionals. 2014. Accessed April 14, 2021. (link)