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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 20008

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: Magazine

Jackson A
Getting drug reps under control
Australian Doctor 1999 Nov 2674


Deciding on a drug rep policy for your practise is imperative.

Full text:

I’m a drug company gimmick and gadget junkie. Recently I acquired a handy wheely travel case, just by doing a quiz. And several years ago another quiz got me a trip to Singapore.

I have more cheap pens than you can wave a stick at, enough mouse pads to carpet my surgery floor, silk neckties galore, and last week I picked up a crazy FM radio that looks like Darth Vader’s helmet.

That well-known party pooper, the Australian Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (APMA), has slashed the permitted cost of items handed out to GPs.

Even so, this largesse can tend to obscure the real heroes of drug marketing – the company professional representative, or drug rep.

Drug reps play a significant role in general practice, and that role needs to be managed.
One of the key reasons for this is the time they can consume. Consider if you saw an average of three drug reps every two days and they took up 15 minutes of your time. If your average fee was $30, your annual loss of income would exceed $10,000.

At the most basic level the drug rep wants to see you so their company can sell more products through your prescribing. Should you pay $10,000 in lost income for the priviledge?

Tips for managing drug reps *Have an agreed practice policy on managing drug reps *Drug reps that last will respond to your agenda, so have one *Develop a basic understanding of modern marketing and sales techniques *Don’t sign up for company schemes about which you feel uncomfortable *If you don’t want to see drug reps, don’t *If you don’t see drug reps, don’t ask for their help

Another reason for managing drug reps is that some GPs feel uncomfortable having them around, even to the point of banning drug reps from their practice. I am told this is on the increase and drug reps are alarmed.

But it is clear drug reps can and do play a vital role in GP education in an area of core skill – prescribing.

Accepting that a product will be presented in a favourable light, drug reps can provide the most time-effective and palatable educational experience in respect of new or recently released medicines. It would be hard to find a government agency or professional organisation that could match it.

Further, the significant constraints applied these days to detailing by the APMA (visit its website at to see the code of conduct), mean unwarranted claims seem to be a thing of the past.

Drug company education/sales budgets also make after hours educational meetings far more agreeable than they otherwise would be.

It is helpful when developing a practice policy on drug reps to consider the characteristics of the prefect drug rep. My list would include:

*First-rate product knowledge – there is nothing worse than a drug would cannot confidently explain the features of their product and answer questions.

*Multi-product responsibility – pity the single-product rep who has to hammer the drug from hell and nothing else. I find the multi-product spiel more agreeable and you can ask them to focus on a product of interest if you like.

*Pleasant personality and good conversationalist – the human resource management machine of multi-national drug companies will usually endure qualities such as these, but there have been exceptions.

*Avoidance of overt sales techniques – I cringe when I hear questions like: “And do you have any problems when you prescribe tablet X?” (knowing that I never prescribe it). Or: “Every time you sign up a patient on pill Y in this research in an honorarium of $Z being paid to your practice”.

*Knowing when it is time to finish a presentation and depart – rather than take advantage of the compliant doctor and prattle on forever.

*A never ending gadget supply.

My policy is that reps are not seen in consulting time or after hours. We only see a drug rep as a group.

Satisfying these two criteria means we only see reps at lunchtime, and lunch is mandatory, for which we are suitably grateful. As a result, we have an excellent working relationship with drug reps.


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Email a Friend influence multinational corporations effectively, the efforts of governments will have to be complemented by others, notably the many voluntary organisations that have shown they can effectively represent society’s public-health interests…
A small group known as Healthy Skepticism; formerly the Medical Lobby for Appropriate Marketing) has consistently and insistently drawn the attention of producers to promotional malpractice, calling for (and often securing) correction. These organisations [Healthy Skepticism, Médecins Sans Frontières and Health Action International] are small, but they are capable; they bear malice towards no one, and they are inscrutably honest. If industry is indeed persuaded to face up to its social responsibilities in the coming years it may well be because of these associations and others like them.
- Dukes MN. Accountability of the pharmaceutical industry. Lancet. 2002 Nov 23; 360(9346)1682-4.