Best practices in remote detailing

featuring: Ken Masuo, President Out of Box, former executive GSK, AZ



It’s tough being a pharmaceutical sales or marketer in Japan these days.

Increasing use of generics are forcing pharma companies to decrease MR headcounts; hospital administrators are limiting MR contact time with doctors; and the increasing specialization of medicine requires MRs to provide physicians more complicated messaging. It can no longer be achieved in a 2-minute hallway meeting, by a pamphlet drop, or an article or video on a website.

Doctors are craving for discussions with real product experts, but at the time of their own choosing and--given their comfort with the internet--digitally. They want a concierge service for information about new products and treatment information available day and night.

Today, Ken Masuo explains how—while @ GSK—his team revolutionized digital sale & marketing by making the digital approach not just about banner advertisements, but an actual real person on the other end of the digital engagement via remote detailing, allowing a doctor to connect with a live MR agent online to discuss new medications, guidelines, etc.

What Ken discusses is critical to our approach at enTouch as we provide such syndicated services to the entire medical industry. But, Ken also describes the opportunities and sometimes the internal challenges of bringing innovation into a large corporate organization in a way that only someone with high-level experience inside a pharma company can explain.

It’s a great story that I think will bring a lot of insights. I hope you enjoy our discussion.

- Tamaki Suzuki, enTouch 



TS: Our guest today is Ken Masuo. Masuo-san has more than 30 years of experience in the pharmaceutical space is truly an expert in the industry.

At GlaxoSmithKline, Masuo-san was VP, Commercial Operation Head and managed a team of 2600 people including the MR field-force. Later, Masuo-san joined AstraZeneca as VP of the oncology franchise.

Masuo-san now serves as a special advisor to enTouch, assisting clients with planning and implementation of remote detailing projects. Masuo-san is an expert on today’s topic, digital promotion strategies in the pharmaceutical industry.

In particular, Masuo-san introduced several innovative digital engagement strategies while at GSK, including remote detailing, thereby transforming GSK’s sales and marketing practices.

Remote detailing — or connecting an MR with a doctor using online video and phone technologies — is a topic near and dear to our hearts @ enTouch, being one the main service offerings we provide to pharmaceutical companies.

Masuo-san is a true remote detailing expert,  so let’s jump right into it.


TS: Masuo-san, tell me about your background, especially about what led you to explore digital engagement as a channel of promotion to doctors?

KM: I first started my career working in the areas of research and clinical development  at the Japanese pharmaceutical company Daiichi Seiyaku. Later, I worked in the Business Planning department which focused on international business development. During my time there, I worked in areas of clinical development and project management in Japan and overseas. Then I joined GlaxoSmithKline and there I was leading the commercial team. The last position I had in the pharmaceutical industry was with AstraZeneca. There I was in charge of the oncology team.

What led me to start developing digital tools as a promotion tool was a sense of crisis I experienced. It was about 10 year ago when I was working as the head of the GSK commercial team, I was faced with the reality that-due to development of digitalization and IT-the amount of information which doctors could access had exponentially increased compared to the information MRs were delivering to doctors.

In the past, MRs offered an added value, such as physically delivering copies of medical literature to doctors; however, doctors are now able to instantly exchange such literature among themselves, and through their own network. They are now able to obtain necessary information themselves online. Ways in which doctors gather information have changed. In other words, information which an individual MR can provide doctors has dramatically decreased.  

I don’t think amount of information MRs provide doctors has not changed.

What led me to realize that there was a crisis was this relative decline of information MRs could provide. What was apparent already was that increasing the number of MRs was not the solution to this issue. Indeed, many hospitals were beginning to place restrictions on MR’s visits, making it increasingly difficult for MRs to see doctors.

All of these shifts had led me to think of other alternative means to communicate with doctors.   

In addition to this, I guess it was also about bringing a reform to a working style.

There were female experienced MRs who had no choice but to quit because of marriage, pregnancy and childcare and--on other hand--there were experienced MRs over 60 years old and eager to contribute their experiences and expertise while enjoying their freedom.

I was faced with this social issue and this triggered me to explore an alternative solution.

TS: One alternative solution you came up with, remote detailing, is a particularly interesting approach that you decided to try. Tell me what led you to try using remote detailing and some key learnings from your experience.

KM: I believe changing thinking patterns and practices of doctors via information and input provided by MR is tremendously effective. I had been thinking of ways to combine such an effective practice with digital strategy. Through trial and error, I had realized that changing ways in which doctors think and their prescription behaviours by reaching out to non target doctors or doctors in remote areas via remote detailing is difficult.  

What I mean here is that remote detailing cannot achieve its purposes outside of MR activities. In other words, I was learning that with non targeted doctors, remote detailing could not effective. Just as with other digital tools, all the promotional channels should be used to augment each other, and ideally should be used to bring synergy.

In addition to this, I learnt that depending on different stage of products’ life cycles,  

therapeutic areas, and type of target doctors, different approaches had to be adopted to accommodate a wide range of marketing strategies. 

In the end, remote detailing is also one of detailing activities; therefore, fundamentally, it has to be based on understanding of different needs and need to be tailored for each doctor.

TS: At enTouch, we provide remote detailing services to the pharmaceutical and medical device industries via our software platform and our specially trained group of remote MRs. We often hear our customers ask “What’s the best use cases for remote detailing? Is it the long-tail? Is it to support new product launches or for when you need to convey complex information to prescribers? etc.” In your experience, what uses and situations best support a case for including remote detailing into the sales & marketing plan?

KM: The concept or purpose of remote MR is very close to point detailing or 説明会 provided by pharmaceutical companies’ MR. Doctors allocate their time for an appointment and are  prepared to listen to what an MR has prepared to communicate with them.

Regular MRs are supposed  to visit their target doctors periodically. It might be once or twice a week. However, when visiting doctors, MRs are sometimes hesitant to deliver all the messages they are supposed to communicate to the doctor. They sometimes postpone delivering all the information of a particular product or decide to deliver the information on a few separate occasions. Similarly, because doctors know that MRs will come back for visits sometime soon, they also have a tendency to think they don’t need to listen to everything in one visit and are less likely to focus on listening intently. On the other hand, doctors who book a remote detailing session are prepared to listen to the information from A to Z. In other words,  their level of engagement is much higher than regular MR visit.

Indeed, after a remote detailing session, doctors frequently give feedback that they understood the product information well and received a very clear story.  

Unlike the fragmented information often delivered by field MRs, remote detailing has the effective advantage of providing doctors with a story based explanation.

From this perspective, in cases such as that doctors don’t change their ways of thinking or target doctors don’t change their practices, remote detailing can play an appropriate role.  

For instance, any pharmaceutical company will have doctors whom they identified as critical targets for a particular product, yet have not yet been able to influence them to change their minds or prescribe the product. For doctors like that, remote detailing can be a very valuable tool.

Collaborating with regular MRs is also critical. MR and remote MRs should always be on the same page in terms of what their target doctors are thinking, and deliver consistent and customized messages collaboratively.  

Regarding long tails approach, remote detailing is conducted by a remote MR so it has its costs. Hence, reaching out to non target doctors who are not even listed as part of long tails approach via remote detailing would not typically be effective.

Just to reiterate, when marketing people analyze, there must be a group of doctors who are already identified as target doctors and/or high potential doctors yet have not come adopt or prescribe the product. For such a group of doctors, using remote detailing offers tremendous value, and it is also the type of target group pharmaceutical companies need to think of a better way to reach out to.  


On the other hand, there is another group of target doctors for remote detailing, that is doctors who are already prescribing. Pharmaceutical companies must already have a good relationship with these doctors.

Essentially, remote detailing can be used as a way to maintain relationship, while field MRs focus on new doctors and increasing new prescriptions from new doctors.   


TS: Even if a pharmaceutical sales or marketer is eager to include remote detailing as part of their overall sales and marketing plan, they often receive pushback from other members of the organization who are not convinced doctors will accept such a channel or for other concerns. Having led the introduction of remote detailing services @ GSK I am sure you have experienced such pushback and resistance to change many times. Can you tell us a bit about your experiences and the strategies you employed to help lead your colleagues to take a new approach to marketing? 


KM: Fundamentally, we all have a tendency to reject what we may perceive to threaten our existence. MRs and sales people with territories indeed have a strong tendency to see anyone who comes into their territory as mere intruders. This even applies to anyone coming from HQ, as well as their own managers. Considering this, when remote detailing is introduced, front line sales often say it will not be effective or it should be used only with non target, long-tail doctors. This is only natural. In order to overcome such an objection, or it may be the the only way to overcome such an objection, is to have the commitment of management leadership. What’s important is to make MRs and sales accurately understand the current circumstances under which they are placed and make them realize that in order to overcome such circumstances, any and all means need to be tried and tested.

There are many ways to communicate this message internally but there has to be a leader who can take initiative and lead. Either way, ones who benefit from this change is MRs themselve; hence, encouraging and leading MRs themselves to take initiatives and actions is required.

 Superior MRs essentially use any and all means available to achieve their goals, such as wholesalers’ MS, their own managers, or digital communication. I believe that any MR who is open and flexible enough to take advantage of different means available to him or her will be the one who is already most successful.

An effective approach is to one-by-one gain buy-in from MRs and increase a number of MRs with such a mentality, thereby building the best practice that works.

TS: I guess in the end it is all about success. What are the key points our readers/listeners should take to ensure that remote detailing can be a key success within their organization?

KM: The key is as that the organization as a whole needs to be committed to overcoming obstacles and achieving a maximum results. It is critical to lead everyone in the organization to share the same goal and motivate them to achieve maximum results using any and all means available.  In other words, MRs use remote MR for their own behalf effectively and achieve the best results they can within their own territories.  In the end, MRs themselves benefit from remote detailing, and ultimately a whole organization benefits from that effort.  

TS: Masuo san, Thank you very much for sharing your story.  


TS: Today we spoke with Ken Masuo, an expert in digital promotion strategies in the pharmaceutical market and a first-hand implementor of one of the most successful such Japanese programs to date while at GSK.  

Doctors are seeking information of drugs and pharmaceutical companies also hope to deliver information to doctors and strengthen their relationship with doctors. However, the past approach of solely relying on MRs has become inadequate and the use of digital has become indispensable. For this reason, remote detailing can be a beneficial tool.  

What was interesting about Masuo-san’s experience was that unless well-integrated and coordinated with MR activities, remote detailing often cannot achieve its total goal. Remote detailing is one of many multichannel strategies and it plays a complementary role to MR activities. Remote detailing is not meant to replace MRs, it is meant to improve the performance in their territory, and MRs and other sales team members need to recognize remote MR as partners.

Also, Masuo-san makes the important observation that in order to achieve results, an organization as a whole needs to have an unified goal and needs to be willing to try all the things that have the potential to meet those goals.

As a leading remote detailing service provider, enTouch is committed to providing the best service to pharmaceutical and medical device companies and enabling MRs to experience advantages of remote detailing.