Prescription drug manufacturers are marketing and selling machines and two favored techniques are use of direct-to-consumer advertising and sales reps meeting with high-prescribing physicians. Manhattan Research does regular surveys of physicians regarding their interactions with drug company sales reps, primarily for the purpose of helping the manufacturers maximize their reps’ efficiency. It recently released selective findings from the most recent survey of 1814 doctors across 25 specialties. (Manhattan Research Release) 64% of doctors reported meeting with a sales representative in the last six months and 60% said they want to meet with sales reps in the future. But the value of these meetings is unclear. Physicians who meet with sales reps say that they are shown information they already have 51% of the time. 74% of doctors say they use search engines weekly or more often and 52% use digital pharmacy resources regularly. Physicians therefore find meetings with sales representatives more valuable when information other than product data is given to them. Reps increasingly use technology to help with meetings, primarily via tablets, although the percent of reps using tablets was reported to be down in 2017 compared to 2013. Doctors are more satisfied with meetings when a tablet is used to help present information. Other aspects of engaging physicians are also important, according to the survey, including ongoing emails from reps and self-detailing programs.
Now I don’t really care about what makes drug sales reps more effective. I report on this mostly to illustrate the lengths to which drug companies will go to influence doctors to prescribe their products, particularly their branded, very expensive products, and to demonstrate the extensive physician receptivity to such efforts, notwithstanding that doctors are perfectly capable of getting the data they need without sales rep interactions. Given that drug prices are widely acknowledged to be a substantial source of excessive health spending growth, anything that might justify lower prices would be helpful. As I have mentioned before, drug companies spend far more on marketing and selling their products than they do in research. I think we should help them with that problem, and it is a problem for society. We should ban direct-to-consumer advertising and we should ban interactions between sales representatives and prescribers. Drug companies can provide physicians with all the information they need to decide if a product is appropriate for a patient in print, by video or in other electronic forms and they can have neutral question-answering call and chat centers if a physician thinks they need more information. This dramatic reduction in drug company expenses could presumably be passed on to consumers and payers in the form of lower prices. And physicians could show a little more concern about this problem by voluntarily refusing to meet or communicate with sales reps.