Drug rep bashing

The (London) Independent on Sunday printed a one-sided, gleeful attack on pharma sales reps. This kind of attitude makes for a lively read but ignores the role of other players in the system.

Bye-bye “big pharma” sales rep. A host of forces are now converging to clamp down on hard-driving, gift-toting pharmaceutical pitchmasters who have been ambushing physicians for the past decade.

The article goes on to criticize reps for their good looks, sunny attitudes, charisma and expense accounts. It also says that the drug companies are questioning whether the sales efforts even pay off.

But let’s turn this analysis around for a moment. Reps are paid to do a job, and these days they follow a highly regulated protocol for what they can say and do. Their performance is measured objectively by IMS sales audits and they are paid and promoted based on their performance. Is it their fault they are young and inexperienced and cheerful?

Contrast that with physicians, who are much more experienced in life and are better educated than the recent grads. If physicians weren’t interested in hearing pharma pitches they wouldn’t let themselves be “ambushed” and detailing would become a thing of the past. And we know for sure that docs –whether they realize it or not– let reps influence their prescribing and don’t spend as much time as they should forming independent judgments.

Furthermore, physician effectiveness is not measured nor rewarded nearly to the same extent as reps. I wish it were.

The article does mention that medical schools are preparing to teach their students how to evaluate drug company claims, something I have advocated. I didn’t realize these programs were in development, but am pleased that they are.

January 29, 2007

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