Palmtops go where laptops fear to tread

Pfizer Canada Inc. says using handheld computers instead of notebooks when sales reps visit physicians’ visits will slash 30 minutes a day off the time needed to enter data collected from meetings.

Pharmaceutical sales reps at the Kirkland, Que.-based drug maker spend an estimated 10 hours to

15 hours a week meeting physicians to receive feedback and place new orders.

Although all sales reps have laptops, only 20 per cent bring them to physician sales visits, so they have no immediate access to previous meeting notes and prescription orders. So Pfizer Canada gave 1,000 sales reps Toshiba e800 Pocket PCs with Microsoft Pocket PC Office and customized software. The hanheld has a four-inch screen, significant digital storage capacity and flash memory that retains data intact if the battery dies.

Claude Baril, senior project manager of business technology says sales reps carry laptops in their cars while on the road, but don’t always take them into the doctor’s office.

“”There are a lot of items they have to bring already with all the visual aids they use — the very fancy, glossy books they use to detail the physicians. They also have reprints they leave behind — medical studies — and then the samples.

“”So if you count all that, it makes it difficult to carry at the first point,”” he says. “”Then there’s also problems of theft. There are areas in the country which are more prevalent for theft, unfortunately. So if the laptop is very visible, very present, representatives are well-dressed, they have nice cars, it’s just an invitation to take away the equipment.””

The main benefit of adopting the handheld computers

was being better prepared for sales visits, says Baril. Pfizer Canada is surveying field reps about their experiences, particularly time savings.

Sales reps say they are now able to view information, such as doctor profiles or call notes from colleagues’ or their own previous visits, he says.

As Pfizer Canada implemented the technology, it found the most significant problem, still unresolved today, is “”getting used to the writing”” because reps aren’t using a keyboard, Baril says. “”And this is where it’s really sad because entering call notes, which is important and we thought was going to be a huge benefit. It’s still not 100 per cent of where we want it to be because of that.””

Another issue was that some sales reps were too harsh with the handheld, tapping too hard on the keys and breaking the screen, he added.

“”These things are robots, but they’re not tanks. There is a level of care that they have to learn.””

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