Insider tips for drug reps to get more face time with clinicians

Dear drug reps,

I write you today as a primary care provider who — at the risk of giving you “the keys to the kingdom” — has advice for you.

First, I am not anti-pharma.  I recognize the need that my patients and I have for new medications, and I believe that innovation in medicine can grow from free enterprise.  But it’s rare that I walk away from an interaction with you when I don’t think that with a little perspective from inside medicine, your work, and the help that my patients and I derive from it, would be much improved.

So here goes:

Forget as much of what your bosses tell you to say and do as you can. When they accompany you on your visits, they inevitably do a worse and more annoying job selling us on your drug than you do.  If it would help, I’d be glad to tell your manager that I don’t want him or her to join you.  I hate being “tag-teamed.”

If we’ve told you we’re behind or busy, just come back another time. “I only need two minutes” is never true — you’re making me even further behind, and you won’t have my complete attention when I’m slammed anyway — even for 15 seconds.

Be honest to the point of transparency by sharing the drawbacks of your drug along with its merits. It will win you points and engender trust.  One-sided information about anything is biased information, and scientifically trained people resist biased information with uncommon enthusiasm.

Always know the approximate cash price of your drug. When I ask you what your product costs a cash customer, and you say “I don’t know,” I am always stunned.  In what other industry does the seller not know the price of his own product?  If you believe in your drug, you will be proud to proclaim, loud and clear, just what it costs. Even if it’s a lot, I will give you credit for knowing and sharing it unflinchingly.

Leave your devices in your car and have a conversation with us. Trust is built between two people, not two people and an iPad.  If you have data you want to share, share it verbally.  If we want data, we’ll ask for it.  Or just leave it; I love it when reps leave published research about their drug on paper, and I do read it.

If you are given a drug to sell that you don’t believe in, find a way to make your company aware of it. No, you can’t put your job on the line by saying, “Boss, let’s be honest: our product sucks,” but you can team up with other reps to provide feedback — anonymously, if necessary — to make it clear that the company needs to go in a different direction.

Finally, get to know us. Not just details about us, like what we do on the weekends and how many kids we have.  Drop the scripts.  Be real.  It takes time, but that’s the only way real trust is built.

I say these things knowing how far your industry has come from the days of bribery with gifts, vacations, and marketing swag, but it still has a way to go.  If you don’t believe me, let me show you the numbers in this short PowerPoint presentation — it’ll only take fifteen seconds, I swear …

Paul B. Kubin is a physician assistant who blogs at Inside PA Training.

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