Years ago, pharmaceutical companies used to market directly to prescribing doctors, not on TV directly to patients, nor to insurance companies. Pharmaceutical sales representatives came to each doctor's office to discuss their products.
Pharmaceutical sales representatives (drug reps) came to each doctor's office to discuss their products. They would provide samples, information on new products and indications, research studies, and insurance information. All this discussed over a complimentary lunch for the doctor and his or her staff, too. What a great deal! In those days, drug reps often handed out things such as coffee mugs, tissue boxes, and pens.
The threat of new government regulations caused the pharmaceutical industry to phase out the giveaways in the early 2000s. Now, even the drug reps find themselves in jeopardy of going the way of complimentary pens.
This threat of additional government oversight caused drug manufacturers to fall on their swords. They are hemorrhaging jobs left, right, and center. They can no longer afford the lengthy and costly research to pass Food and Drug Administration muster and bring a product to the market.
What is happening to the American dream? My brother has been a drug rep for more than 10 years. He has a good-paying job with benefits that are flexible and stable. Better yet, he enjoys the challenge and satisfaction of speaking with educated physicians, trying to get them to see the merits of his products. His American dream is being replaced by telemarketers, TV commercials, and technology. The final indignity for drug reps is being replaced by U.S. Postal Service business reply cards or, worse, cartoon avatar drug reps on pharmaceutical company Web sites.
Drug reps are college-educated with up-to-date scientific information on their products and even related disease states. I benefit from the information they share with me, and my patients benefit from the drug samples and education materials they provide. The information does not directly change my prescribing practices. It may help me to understand nuances of certain products. This understanding may give a drug rep's product an advantage or disadvantage. I make prescribing decisions based on many sources and practical experience, not on a glossy marketing detail piece.
Currently, it's politically correct to refuse to see drug reps for fear of being influenced unduly by their "tainted" speech. I challenge my professional colleagues to buck this trend and benefit from the information and samples that drug representatives hand-deliver to your office. It will be well worth a few minutes of your time.
The author is a family physician in Mullica Hill, New Jersey. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org