Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Drug Sales Rep Brush-off

Today, while at the optical shop where several ophthalmologists and their assistants are working diligently to serve their customers and patients, I observed one of the employees answering the ringing phone, exchanging a few brief words with the person who had called and then hanging up with an audible "clank" as the receiver hit the phone's cradle. I thought I heard her say: "No thanks, we are all set!" as she hung up. The same instance she was hanging up the phone she gleefully swung herself around toward me and she declared prouldly: "Boy, that felt really good!" I didn't know what she meant and so I politely asked what she meant. "Well," she said "this was one of these drug reps and I just love to tell them off. We only allow those we already know to come in." So, it was having given a drug sales rep the brush-off that had just made her day. LOL.

This scene instantly reminded me of an article I had come across a few years ago while I still was a medical assistant student. The article was titled "Doctors Closing their Door to Drug Salesmen". I seem to remember that the article stated that the number of drug sales reps has grown from nearly 45,000 to almost 88,000 in just two years. This would have been between 1996 and 1998 when I was still in medical assisting school.

I recall that I used this article for an essay on pharmaceutical drugs and drug promotion. I was writing about the pharmaceutical industry and how it had spent more than $16 billion that year to persuade doctors to prescribe their company's drugs. On top of that they had invested nearly $10 billion for free samples of various drugs that were widely advertised to consumers. In my essay, I was trying to highlight any pros and cons.

After my work was turned in, reviewed, and graded, I remember a few words of wisdom provided by my instructor. As she was sharing her experiences out in the field as an RN she mentioned that she had witnessed drug representatives resorting to excessive means in an attempt to ward off competition and win over physicians and their prescription pads. Their goal was to out do generic competition and to maximize sales of drugs protected by patents, which if they were successful, would earn them their hefty commissions.

Upon graduation, I worked in different medical offices, from small private practices to larger group practices and indeed drug reps were calling the office regularly to see when they could come in to promote their products. It usually was us medical assistants working up front at the reception desk who booked them and informed the doctor when they would be coming in, usually during lunch time. Along with their heavy bags full of sample products and brochures, the pharmaceutical reps would also bring a wide variety of promotional gifts, from ink pens and scratch pads with their logo for the medical assistants, to titanium golf clubs and other extravagant gifts for the doctor, especially around Christmas. A delivery boy would already have dropped off the drug company funded lunch for the entire staff and we would set it up in our staff break and lunch room area. Once the lunch was over and the tables cleared, the drug rep would proceed to give a brief presentation, a mini lecture of sorts, to us and the doctor about the product they came to promote.

Personally, I do not like, nor dislike the drug reps and I do not doubt for a single moment that drug reps are professional, educated and nice people with a difficult job. I hope that the doctors they visit during these lunches and lectures are independent thinkers and will not sell out their patients to the drug companies and the products they sometimes "push". Although it may look strange to the patients and be a bit bothersome to the working medical office staff when the drug reps are standing there in their dark business suits on a busy day waiting for the doctor to take a break, or for us medical assistants to finally take them to the back office area where they can leave their samples, I was always thankful for the treats and a well spent hour leaning about new medications on the market.

Regardless, whether I like the drug reps, or not, or whether I agree or disagree with their methods to grasp a foothold in the available territory, it is clear to me that many needy patients will benefit from the medication samples and from time to time, the medical assistants will benefit from the free continued education classes they provide. As far as the free ink pens, scratch pads and lunches, a medical assistant colleague once said to me, that if we don't take them, someone else would. Goes to show that not everybody in a medical office objects to accepting promotional gifts that were funded by the drug industry. She may have had a good point there.

What are your experiences? How do you see it? Please feel free to comment!

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1 comment:

deb said...

I read your posting and sharing of your experience with pharmaceutical reps with interest. I am currently teaching Medical Assisting, I am an RN, Nurse Practitioner and I have worked for a drug company. You are correct that it is a very difficult job and one risks total rejection all day long. But, it is a job and all the expense and lunches aside, as a clinician I have learned to value the information and education and even the pens I recieve from qualified professionals. I have seen this coin from both sides now and I thank you for the reminder to include this as a section of learning for my students. They will face drug reps, some good, some pushy, all trying to do their jobs and detail a clinician. We all appreciate a break in our jobs, let's remember to give the reps a break too. Less and less have any drug samples anymore, but all have much information to share and the pad of paper!