Pharmaceutical reps and the Twilight Zone
Thursday, July 03, 2014
I had lunch today with a pharmaceutical representative, or "sales specialist." We talked about what was going on in my life and my career. We talked about the importance of transitional care from hospital to home and how to improve patient adherence to recommended treatments.
We talked about cardiovascular disease, diabetes management, pharmacy economics and bone fractures. We talked about pretty much everything, but what we didn't discuss was drugs. Not a single drug was mentioned.
It was like I could hear the words of Rod Serling whispering in the back of my mind, "You're traveling through another dimension — a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's a signpost up ahead: your next stop: the Twilight Zone!"
I remember the days of the high-pressure sales representatives. Although I've never personally worked in that setting, I've had friends who did, and the stories I heard weren't pretty. From my perspective as a retail pharmacy manager, the pharma representative was just someone looking to find out if I stocked their latest drug and who was writing for it.
Maybe they would drop off a few pens and sticky pads.They seemed to come at the busiest times. I rarely knew them by name, and they certainly didn't know mine.
Maybe there are those who currently work in this field who would say things haven't changed. But from my perspective, the whole profession has undergone a radical transformation. And this lunch encounter was not the first time I've been impressed with the new approach many pharmaceutical manufacturers seem to be taking.
Recently, I was invited by another pharmaceutical sales specialist to a dinner event in which the speaker was going to talk — not about the company's pipeline or newest drug, but about management and leadership skills. Weird. Twilight Zone weird. And I have to admit, I like it.
Do not misunderstand. I am appreciative of the drug-specific education and training that is still offered to me from time to time. I have an appointment to sit down in the near future with the representative of a new oral oncology drug that I would like to learn more about.
I'm also in regular communication with representatives that help me provide cost-saving coupons for their products to my patients when their co-pays are simply too expensive. I keep a file with business cards and drug names, so I can quickly reach out (when needed) to my local salesperson to answer any drug-specific questions I may have.
Yet, what I like about the new approach I'm seeing is a more consistent interest in the big picture, in forming relationships, in helping both patients and providers reach positive outcomes. When I have gone to drug-specific detailing events, the communication seems deliberately much more transparent and open.
I don't sense the pressure I used to perceive in the past. I'm hoping that this also means there is less pressure on sales specialists to simply produce more prescriptions in their market, but I'm not sure about that.
I do know that many physician practices across the nation are pushing back and refusing to see reps from pharma companies in order to avoid the appearance of being unfairly influenced by their efforts. A study published recently suggested that reducing pharmaceutical detailing resulted in decreased prescribing of brand-name drugs for both approved and off-label uses.
But I have to admit, I'm not entirely happy to hear about blanket restrictions on sales representatives' access to prescribers. I'm glad such restrictions aren't in place where I work.
From my perspective, the pharmaceutical sales approach has undergone a dramatic change.One could call it a "journey," and we're moving "into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination."
I think I see the signpost up ahead. It says "Thanks — it's about time."
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