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When Doctors Slam the Door on Pharmaceutical Marketing Reps, Where Does That Leave the Patient?

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

"Go away" unwelcome mat rugThe job of a pharmaceutical company field rep is tough. In our experience, it’s always been hard work, but lately pharma marketing—the up-close-and-personal kind—is getting tougher. (It’s always been a challenge to see a busy doctor during office hours.)

What’s worse, now there are news media reports about doctors who refuse to see any pharmaceutical marketing representative. We have to wonder, if doctors slam the door on pharma reps, where does that leave the patient?

The physician’s office is the primary gateway and information conduit about prescription medications that benefit the patient. Is it safe to assume that doctors will be equally well informed about advances in medicine if they literally and figuratively close the door to reps?

Will the effort to be independent from marketing communications become a communications barrier between science and patient? Frankly the answer to that question is still being debated.

On one side of the discussion are those individuals—some of them physicians—who want to avoid even the appearance of influence. Nearly a year ago we wrote about the Boston physician who wants CME independence from pharmaceutical marketing & advertising.

More recently, SoMdNews.com published a lengthy article, Just say no to drug reps, with a subhead of “some doctors say contact can be bad for patients’ health, wallets.” One of the core ideas presented in the article was that some physicians don’t want to feel manipulated by marketing messages. At the same time, “doctors who do interact with salesmen honestly believe that they are remaining objective,” the article reported.

“Dr. Orest Bartoszyk, a cardiologist in private practice, believes that with [pharmaceutical] companies’ liability concerns and legal reporting requirements, and with newly skeptical doctors and lower marketing drug budgets, the industry’s abuses lie in the past.”

Pharmacist Leo Mallard is quoted in news reports as seeing a shift to having companies provide more accurate information. “In any event, Mallard said he doubts the salesmen have any real effect now, both because doctors know to be skeptical and because the freedom to prescribe has been limited by insurance companies’ formularies, or lists of covered drugs. If there was an arc of influence by drug companies, it has been diminished by the tightening of regulations.”

UPDATE: Additional information on this topic was published recently by Pharmalot. “A new survey finds that 10 percent [of doctors surveyed] no longer see reps and, in general, 78 percent use their computers, iPADS and other mobile devices to gather info about drugs and devices. The survey was conducted by Sermo and FiercePharma, queried 98 physicians.

“But what info do docs want from a rep? The most common response was personal interaction that allows questions to get answered; and info about formularies, drug costs, clinical trials and patient profiles. Docs would also like to ask reps about ways other docs are using samples, side effect info, dosing and efficacy issues; comparisons between meds; educational materials and reprints.”

Please let us know what you think; we’d like to hear your voice in this ongoing discussion. Does the pharma rep communicate for the benefit or detriment of the patient? What’s your approach or policy?

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