Drug manufacturers spend a lot of money on sales and marketing of their products, in fact they spend a lot more on that than they do on developing their products. One of their primary selling approaches is to have sales reps cozy up to prescribing physicians, usually under the guise of giving them information about the products. A report from Decision Resources Group discusses sales rep interactions with prescribers. (DRG Report) The report is based on a survey of about 1250 physicians. Compared to last year, there has been a drop in the number of doctors who have in-person interactions with drug company reps, with only 54% saying they did so this year versus 67% last year. Primary reasons for the drop are increases in patient load and time spent with EHRs and other administrative tasks. The number of physicians that have not communicated with a sales rep in the last 6 months rose to 39% from 24% last year, although specialists are still having frequent interactions. For example, while 40% of primary care doctors said they hadn’t seen a rep in the last 6 months, compared to 21% last year; only 8% of gastroenterologists hadn’t had such an interaction this year, compared to 2% last year. In-person visits aren’t being supplanted by phone and email, as 12% of doctors said they had an interaction in this form this year, flat with last year. Similarly, visits with “Medical Science Liasions”, the drug companies name for sales reps who happen to be doctors or scientists of some type, also were flat at around 28%. One reason for the less frequent sales rep interactions may be that 49% of doctors report regularly using online resources to get drug information; although unfortunately 46% view pharmaceutical company websites as credible sources of information. Physicians also expressed the greatest need for information and sales rep interaction in the first year after a new product launches.
Personally, I think one solution to the issue of high drug prices would be to help manufacturers control their costs by banning almost all sales and marketing. Direct to consumer advertising should be outlawed. In-person or electronic contact with prescribers should be banned. This elimination of costs would allow companies to cut prices, although I am skeptical they would actually do that. In all seriousness, doctors can get all the information they need from a variety of online sources and if they have questions, drug companies should be allowed only to have qualified physicians respond to those questions by phone or email, but without pushing for use of the product. And the FDA could actually create a better website to help provide guidance on appropriate product use to both physicians and consumers. We would then likely see inappropriate use decline significantly.